Finding Meaningful Work in Retirement

Finding Meaningful Work in Retirement

Have you heard of the never retire philosophy? These days it’s easy to find people (billionaire investor Warren Buffett among them) who think retirement is an outdated concept. Those of us who are unhappy at work may beg to differ — but maybe that’s exactly the problem. 

With members of the baby boomer generation living longer, fuller lives, today’s retirees are looking for more fulfilling ways to spend their time. For many, that means working, but working on something that is meaningful to them personally.

More than half of adults age 50 and older consider their paid work to be highly personally meaningful, according to research by the nonprofit group, which focuses on helping people find work opportunities for the greater good. It turns out, retirement is a perfect inflection point for seeking out this type of work. People near or in retirement have more time and freedom to consider new opportunities. They are interested in connecting with others and ready to use what they’ve learned in life in a way that extends beyond themselves. 

Not incidentally, there is also the benefit of continued income, which helps get retirees through the potentially tricky post-career years, when savings are most at risk. found that second careers typically last for a decade in duration. For workers older than 55, the right career move can help individuals delay claiming Social Security, at least until full retirement age, or until age 70 to receive the maximum monthly benefits. 

How do you find meaningful work in retirement? Here are some tips. 

Figure Out What You Want to Do With Your Time 

So much of retirement planning is about timing, investing, and financial decisions, it’s easy to neglect thinking about precisely what you want to do. Before making any decision about what to do next, start asking yourself some questions. What gets you out of bed in the morning. What changes would you like to see in your community, your city, or in the world? Who would you help if you had unlimited time and resources? What do you most enjoy doing?

These questions may sound simple, but answering them is often quite difficult. As an exercise, it’s worth doing. You never know where the answers may lead you. 

Get to Know the Nonprofit Sector

If you spent your career at a for-profit company, you might not be as familiar with the nonprofit world. But your skills are likely very valuable in that realm, and volunteering gives you an opportunity to do good with experience you have acquired over the years.

To familiarize yourself with the potential job opportunities in the nonprofit sector, you can start by looking for possible causes on sites like, which includes information on more than 9000 national and local charities, and rates them according to effectiveness, accountability, and transparency.

You can find causes by keyword or use one of the site’s top 10 lists (charities with perfect scores, charities expanding in a hurry, celebrity-related charities, and so on)., a nonprofit database, is less user-friendly but offers extensive information if you know what to look for. 

If you’re not committed to a specific cause but ready to give something a try, you can find volunteer opportunities on This can give you a peek into different organizations, helping you get a sense of the exact skills these groups are looking for in a potential employee while you build a more nonprofit-friendly resume. 

Extend your Expertise

Meaningful work does not have to include charity. In fact, you may find helping others in your current line of work. Some workers are able to transition from their roles to retirement by training others in their organization or their field, or by creating manuals for best practices. 

You may also consider offering coaching or mentoring services to new members of the profession. Or look to local colleges to see if there’s interest in having you share your skills as a teacher. Even a consultant role with your former company could help change your perspective and present new opportunities you couldn’t see when you were stuck in the daily grind. 

Start a Business 

With technology providing such low barriers to entry, it’s easier than ever to start your own shop. You can take your professional services online, becoming a digital consultant or gig economy freelancer. Or find ways to market something you are particularly good at, like party planning, furniture restoration, or personal shopping. Often the greatest constraint is your imagination, so start Googling small business ideas in search of inspiration. 

Go Back to School

College for seniors has taken on a new meaning these days, as more retirees are heading back to school through programs like the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The nonprofit program offers 124 programs at colleges and universities across the country — including Duke, Northwestern, and UCLA — allowing students age 50 or older take courses at a reduced cost. The courses are not for credit, but the education is real, and it could help you expand how you think about what’s next. 

Make Your Dream Job a Day Job

Ever dreamed of working in a history museum or artist studio? Have you always wanted to spend your days helping children or animals? Are you a frustrated poet or novelist? Whatever it is, now is the time to reconsider your career path not taken and try to make your dream job a reality. Create a list of the least realistic, most fantastic ways you can think of to make money and then figure out the steps needed to get there. 

Keep in mind: while being realistic and practical is important when you are just starting out, retirement is freedom from those restraints. With the right experience, flexibility, and attitude, you can find meaningful work that works for you. 

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  • June 27, 2021