This January, I’ll start my 74th year. I’m part of a large aging population in America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2030, all baby boomers like me will be older than 65.

By 2034, there will be more older adults than children age 18 and younger. Europe is headed on this same demographic path.

Unlike many of my friends, I didn’t retire in my 60s. Instead, I left full-time work at age 67 for a stimulating “encore career” of writing, speaking, and doing research – empowering widows financially and assisting their advisors.

What began as a limited venture quickly morphed into a full-time focus for six more years, including almost 300 presentations plus over 150 publications by me or others mentioning my efforts.

I’ve greatly enjoyed this chapter of my life that’s offered challenging work and meeting interesting new people.

Change is in the Air, Again

But it’s time for a change. That’s partly because I have less physical stamina now. I’m ready to stop sleeping in hotel beds and eating conference food many days every month.

My flights are frequently delayed or canceled. Overnight stays in busy airports aren’t fun either! I also miss my friends and activities here at home.

While thinking about how to move into my next phase of life, I remembered the end of a poem I love, “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver:

“And, when the time comes to let go,
 to let go.”

These lines spoke to me about letting go of my encore career. Yes, I’ve truly loved the work I’ve done, but now it’s time to turn a new page. I also want to leave now while I’m still on top, rather than slowly slipping into oblivion.

But I don’t want an old-fashioned retirement that some older adults embrace in their so-called golden years (I never liked that term!) – retreating from life, resting, and then dying fairly soon.

I would prefer to step into a full life where I can give more of myself in a new phase. Simply, I want to refire, rather than retire.

In their guide to midlife and beyond, Gambone, Whittlinger, and Magnuson coin the word refirement as an opportunity to delve into who you want to be and what you want to do for the rest of your life.

I first heard this word almost 20 years ago, and although it never became popular, I knew it could be a good fit for me.

Seven Questions to Help Define What You Really Want

Here are the questions that helped shape my current direction toward refirement. Perhaps pondering these will spark your own thoughts about the choices you might make.

What Would Your Younger Self Tell You About Your Best Future Self?

I can envision the five-year-old version of Kathleen saying that I need to have more fun. I don’t play as often as I could. That’s great advice for my next chapter.

What Did You Love Long Ago That You Can Love Again?

For me, art has always been a passion. I actually began as an art major in college; however, I soon saw my hippie artist friends struggling to sell their work and not being able to meet even their basic needs. So, I decided on a career that paid a salary and became a teacher.

Today, I’m in a different place where I can do art for personal enjoyment. I recently enrolled in a sketching class. I also used to write little poems as a child, and I’ve taken up that again.

What Do You Value Most?

Defining what’s important to me, I completed a “Rating Your Life Values” activity. This helped identify my priorities for the coming years: intimacy/friendship/love, health, service, aesthetics, and generosity.

I especially treasure friends and family. It’s true that loneliness kills. According to an ongoing Harvard study that’s continued for almost 80 years, “embracing community helps us live longer, and be happier.” I’m definitely focused on making new connections and keeping old ones.

What Do You Visualize for Your Future?

A few years ago, when I started thinking about my future, I created a touchstone poster with pictures. There I featured a photo of my little grandson because I wanted more time with him. Another picture was of me with my partner Charlie. I wanted more time with him too.

I put up a “For Sale” sign on the poster to help sell my house. At the same time, I added a picture of downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, where I hoped to buy a condo near the bay.

Another picture was of Dame Judy Dench, with her stylish short gray hair. She inspired me to change my hairstyle for a fresh look. Now I’m replacing those achieved pictures with new ones to help direct my energies toward refirement.

What’s Your Purpose?

A growing body of literature suggests that having a strong sense of purpose in life leads to improvements in physical and mental health, plus it enhances overall quality of life.

Purpose can make life more meaningful and encourage us to become more resilient. Quite possibly, it can even lengthen our lives.

I’ve already started working as a volunteer for three nonprofits with special projects using my skills and talents. I’ll joyfully offer my services to other organizations when I’m fully refired! Helping my family is also a significant way for me to give.

What Will Be Your Lasting Legacy?

I wrote the Legacy Lifeprint© eBooklet (free at this link) to help others share their stories, values, and aspirations with family and friends.

We’re the ones with the memories. These stories can be a written legacy for our families and friends. Love is eternal, but life isn’t. Refirement is a perfect time to write our stories before we’re gone.

Anything Else?

I love to learn and create new things. So, I’ll take a variety of classes at a nearby college or register for an online offering. It’s fulfilling to design a new program, event, or activity for a group.

I like to explore new places and faces. Yoga, morning walks, and bicycling are my favorite forms of exercise – all good for refirement.

Create a Refirement Wheel with What Matters Most

In summary, most important for me are family, fun/play, focused purpose, friends, and fitness. I’ve posted this graphic where I see it every day. And I’ve already started giving time and energy to some aspects shown on my refirement wheel.

I’m looking forward to January when I’ll complete my transition of letting go of what I loved before as I give more time to my next fulfilling chapter. Your wheel may resemble mine or look quite different, it all depends on your priorities and passions.

Are you living a more traditional retirement lifestyle or planning on it when you leave full-time work? Or have you figured out what you especially want to do with the rest of your life and are refired now or plan to refire in the future? Please share your thoughts with our community and let’s have a discussion.

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