Finding meaning in retirement – and the role of a coach
The views expressed here are that of the author and do not constitute provision of any advice.
With longevity on the increase in Australia, how can a person plan a satisfying retirement, given that it may last for several decades? Dr Jon Glass describes some of the emotional, non-financial, considerations at play in answering this question.

Retirement is much more than a simple event with a before and an after. It is radically discontinuous from the world of work (although some may transition to it through part-time work) and challenges conventional thinking, for example, that it is merely an extended holiday. The essence, I believe, is to locate meaning or purpose in retired life, whereas meaning was something that came naturally in the world of work. You didn’t need a coach to tell you why you came to work each day as it was obvious to you. However in retirement, or pre-retirement, it can be very useful to have a coach who helps you to figure out your own meaning.

In order to offer practical rather than theoretical considerations, I have chosen some examples of how to think about life in retirement. These examples may not apply to everyone, but they give a flavour of how to think about retirement.

Judgement rather than measurement

In the world of work there is a strong focus on, and belief in, measurement as a gauge of the effectiveness of an employee. Of course a boss wants to measure an employee’s output and contribution in order to assess him or her, but in retirement that is no longer relevant. And so, as far as retirement is concerned, I prefer to use the word judgement instead of measurement.

I want to illustrate my choice with a couple of examples.

  1. Learning a foreign language in retirement

The traditional “measurement” approach (well hallowed by tradition) involves learning grammar and taking examinations in order to determine progress. The “judgement” approach might see the learner immersing themselves in that language and its associated culture; via eclectic reading, travelling, joining groups, making friends and/or doing language tutoring (plenty of non-English speakers want to learn English and so will want to exchange their native language skills for your English language skills).

Following these varied and more sociable approaches you can then form a continuous judgement of your own progress in your chosen foreign language/s.  

  1. How you use your time in retirement

In the world of work efficiency is considered a prized commodity. You try to use your time efficiently; the boss is watching and measuring your output and contribution. This is not the case in retirement where you really are your own boss. Now you can make a judgement of how to use your time, but efficiency will likely fall away as a criterion for you. This judgement will be purely personal and you may decide that you are spending your time wisely in your own mix of frivolity and seriousness. A retirement coach can help you to understand your values that will drive your decisions here, as it may not be obvious to you at first.

Lifelong learning

Lifelong learning is a new concept that is being talked about. The emphasis is on learning how to learn, coupled with an ability to keep on learning for a lifetime. It doesn’t matter what you learn, but as with everything in life, the more you undertake and practice it, the better you become.

There can be some positive unexpected outcomes from this approach to learning. For example,  your process of lifelong learning may involve you in social networks and/or voluntary organisations, with like-minded people. Evidence suggests that larger social networks and voluntary work are associated with improved personal health; and that better health and increased participation in society means reduced healthcare costs for the community as a whole.

Your legacy

Legacy is a concept with two senses. The obvious sense is that of a financial bequest from one generation to the next. What I want to draw attention to is the non-financial legacy that retirees can plan for.

Retirees with increased free time can help other people through charity work, devotion to family or perhaps through friendship, and be remembered for this.

New activities undertaken by retirees will help define the way in which people will remember them for example, as a person full of interesting ideas, a good listener, or a great cook.

How can you put these ideas into practice?

Many people nearing retirement age might think that the first step for them is to retire. However, planning for retirement in advance can enhance satisfaction in retirement. You can do this by:

  • having discussions with close family members about your impending retirement;
  • pondering the question of just how active and busy you want to be in retirement; and
  • thinking more about your health in your retirement.

Once you have retired, meaning is going to be the reason you will get out of bed each day. Your life can have as much or as little structure as you choose but, I believe, it must have meaning. A retirement coach can be extremely useful in helping you to find the answer to this central question.

A coach will assist you to develop strategies to think about (amongst many other aspects of your life-to-be) how you may want to allocate your time and energy in this phase of your life. In the end, you will have the answer, but the coach is there to help facilitate you finding it.

In the investment world, mass production has always made sense, that is the creation of products that suit many investors at the same time. It is the exact opposite with retirement. Everyone is different. Everyone has had their own life-trajectory and will have their own retirement aspirations. Retirement coaching focuses on the individual.


Thinking about retired life is becoming more important as longevity increases in our society. Although retirement coaching may be a new concept, it fits naturally with this increase in longevity.

Retirement can be a difficult mission, but it is one that can be facilitated by personal judgement, consideration of life-long learning and legacy and with the support of a retirement coach. The nub of the matter is the discovery of personal meaning in the world of post-work.

Deaths in Australia – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018

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