Are You an Empty Nester Looking for Purpose in Life? Volunteer!
What is your purpose in life? The answer is elusive for most of us, especially as it is prone to change depending on many factors, age being just one of them.
How we relate to others and that for which we feel passionately can change as we do, and over time we may find we need to move on to other things.
For many of us, careers, time spent at a job, or caring for family once filled our days and gave us a sense of fulfillment. But what happens when we move on beyond careers, caring for children, and those things that mattered so much?
It’s Not All About Freedom
We can be left in a state of disconnect, feeling ambiguous, perhaps noncommittal. At first, we may covet our free time and be reluctant to take on any responsibilities or commit ourselves too deeply.
We may feel a need for unscheduled time and a strong dose of freedom. That’s common and healthy after suspending our desires for so long.
But not much into my freedom I noticed a hole in my life, an emptiness that all the lunching out with girlfriends, physical workouts, and weekends away couldn’t fill. I was unsettled, off center, and soon became bored with leisure time as a way of life.
I sought out a volunteer position mentoring women in business and that commitment eventually led to a stint on a nonprofit board. I felt once again useful and gratified. I could easily identify my purpose. I was meant to use my experience and knowledge to serve others, specifically women.
I would guess my story is not unique and many other women have found an undeniable need for purpose at this stage. But how do we go about finding a volunteer commitment that is right for us? Here are some simple steps to help guide you.
How to Set Your Priorities
Consider these questions to assess what you need and want.
Group of Interest
Do you care most about children, animals, the environment, food security, or another area of service?
Local or Not?
Are you able to travel to another city, or do you need your volunteer’s position to be conveniently located in your neighborhood?
What do you have to offer? Make a list of your background, your skill set, and your expertise.
Do you have physical limitations that need to be considered, such as, no heavy lifting, standing for long periods, etc.?
Making Service Fun
What do you enjoy doing, and can you blend your favorite leisure activity with being of service? For example, if you enjoy gardening, is there a community garden that needs your help?
Remember to be honest with yourself. Acknowledge that, if your needs are met, your volunteer commitment will be far more enjoyable, fulfilling, and successful. If you would like to meet new and interesting people, then look beyond your social group. If you enjoy travel seek out a stint with an international group.
Keep in mind, we all have more to offer than perhaps we initially expect. Try to keep an open mind, look beyond your comfort zone so your time and efforts benefit others, but also offer you a new endeavor that is stimulating and engaging.
Making the Connection
Use a variety of resources to find where you belong. Visit your local volunteer center, ask friends, neighbors, and acquaintances for a recommendation, and search online.
Look to nationally respected organizations that may have branches in your area but also consider grassroots groups who may be more welcoming, close knit, and in greater need.
Be sure to have an honest discussion with the volunteer coordinator about what you’re looking for, your level of commitment, and what is expected from a volunteer. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to thank them and move on. They want to make a suitable match just as you do.
Groups Looking for Senior Volunteers
Many groups are looking especially for volunteers aged 55+.
Senior Corps is a network of national service programs for Americans 55 years and older, made up of three primary programs that each take a different approach to improving lives and fostering civic engagement.
Senior Corps volunteers commit their time to address critical community needs including academic tutoring and mentoring, elderly care, disaster relief support, and more.
AMAVA offers a “flexible, socially engaging experience.” With AMAVA you can find a flexible job, sign up for a unique experience, or volunteer. Their team can help you find that purpose you’ve been looking for – in your local community and beyond.
Consider Traveling as Part of a Volunteer Commitment
Volunteering for an international organization can be an exciting experience, and there are many organizations looking for mature volunteers.
Be sure to vet the organization, ask to speak with alumni of the programs to get their recommendations and choose carefully to ensure the opportunity is well suited for you.
The whole idea is to share what you know, what you’ve learned over the years for the benefit of someone else. If you can do that while exploring new places – even better.
If you want to volunteer abroad, there are many opportunities to integrate volunteerism with travel. Leyla Giray Alyanak of Women on the Road presents a great article to help women consider what might be the best opportunity and whether they’re ready for international service.
There are plenty of opportunities and lots of need. Take the first step and make a connection. You will be glad you did. I promise.
What does freedom look like when you’re over 50? Can you get tired (or bored!) of having too much free time? What would you rather do? Do you volunteer? How often? For what organization? Please share with the community!