How to Find Your Passion When the Retirement Honeymoon is Over

A question I usually ask when a client is considering retirement is, “How would you spend your time if you won the lottery and never had to worry about money again?”   Most people say they would quit their jobs. They tell me they would sleep late, enjoy leisurely schedules and take care of some long overdue projects. Many say they would travel. “Yes,” I say nodding,   “Sounds lovely. After some time passes and you’ve done all that, then what?” This question usually elicits the deer in the headlights stare followed by a long silence. That’s when I know they haven’t thought past the honeymoon phase.

A 2012 study that compared the effect of retirement on more than 40,000 men in 16 countries showed the initial rush of life satisfaction experienced immediately after retirement (the honeymoon phase) took a nosedive after a few years. The crash can have disastrous results on marriages, friendships and health. Men generally have one main identity which is defined by their occupation. Their friendships are largely confined to work relationships and when they lose touch they can become isolated, lonely and depressed.

You’ve no doubt noticed the study was limited to men. What about women? Many women who have devoted their early years to raising children join or rejoin the work force when the last chick is old enough to fly solo. It is not uncommon for women to be hitting their strides in their 50s and 60s with no desire to stop while their husbands are more likely preparing to wind down. That, as you can imagine, can lead to some conflict of interests even in the happiest of couples. If you’re dealing with this, see I Do. I Don’t.

Some of us, the lucky ones, work because we want to and because we love what we do. Some of us work because we need to but even if that’s the case work doesn’t have to be a four letter word. Today, there are job opportunities that didn’t exist even a decade ago with many more on the horizon. Now is your chance to dust off some long dormant dreams and pursue your calling. To be clear, just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean it’s you calling. The work you choose has to provide a psychological paycheck, too.

But what if you don’t know what you want to do?

One day many years ago I was babysitting my nephew when he looked at me and announced, “Aunt Janet, one day I’m going to grow up and I’m going to be an architect.” He was 5 and couldn’t properly pronounce the word but his determination was unwavering. Today he is a successful architect living in California with his wife, who is also an architect, and 2 children.

It’s not that clear to most of us.

I didn’t discover my own calling until I was nearly 40. I was working in our family business keeping books when my mother made an observation. After noticing the number of employees who visited my office to discuss personal issues she said, “You know this is what you should be doing” and in an “aha” moment I realized she was right. So I went back to grad school to get the credentials I needed to become the person I’d always been.

If you haven’t found your passion yet don’t despair. As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”


The place to start your search for your second half vocation is within. It is not uncommon for our dreams to be buried under so much debris from our daily lives we have lost touch with them. Take the time for some reflection. Go somewhere you won’t be disturbed and turn off any electronic gizmos that could distract you.  Then try these exercises to see if they reveal your core passions. If you need help, ask for input from others who know you well and who will answer you honestly.

  1. Make a list of jobs you’ve had in your life, paid or unpaid. Then under each, write the parts you liked the most as well as the parts you disliked.
  2. Who do you enjoy spending time with? What kinds of things do you like to do with them?
  3. Do you belong to any clubs? Volunteer organizations? What do you like about being a part of them?
  4. What did you dream about being when you were a kid? Is any of it still relevant?
  5. List the accomplishments in your life to date that are significant to you. Let your thoughts flow freely and include all of them, no matter how small they seem to you. Which ones have given you the highest sense of satisfaction?
  6. Think of times when you felt fully alive, when all your senses were engaged. What made those times so special?
  7. Is there something you love to do? A skill you have developed that gives you pleasure?

Food for thought:

What common threads can you see in your answers?

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