chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.


Experience January/February 2023

Avoiding the Slippery Slope into Oblivion

Douglas Denton Church


  • Finding meaning and purpose after retirement can be difficult especially for those who found satisfaction and purpose in their work life.
  • Here are insights on how to transition successfully into retirement and continue leading a fulfilling life including identifying one's aptitudes, abilities, and interests, even in the face of physical limitations brought about by aging.
Avoiding the Slippery Slope into Oblivion

Jump to:

For those of us who found satisfaction and purpose in our work life, when that slows or comes to an end, it raises the challenge of finding purpose and a new meaning to keep us stimulated and engaged in life.

This isn’t easy. But you can do it—and you have too much life left and too much to offer not to do it.

What Replaces the Work?

As an attorney, The Work was stimulating every day. New clients and new problems to solve added flavor and color to our daily grind. What happens when those elements of a satisfied life start to ebb and grow faint?

Among the many challenges we face, this may be one of the hardest to solve because we must choose to stay engaged and to not let the long, slow slide into oblivion prevent us from enjoying what life there is left to live.

Taking stock of your aptitudes, abilities, and interests is the starting point. We may experience physical limitations brought about by the aging process. In other words, climbing El Capitan may no longer be on the table. But if rock climbing is on your bucket list, lots of alternatives will challenge you at any age.

As lawyers, we engage in a significant amount of research and writing. How can we put those skills to use in new ways? There are many ways.

My uncle set out to document our family tree, and his genealogical research took him across the country to courthouses, graveyards, and old churches. The result is a scroll that’s now more than ten feet long with entries that span generations. The research also led to stories about famous and infamous ancestors, and his ability to give the story a life of its own makes for wonderful and entertaining reading.

I’m not a mechanic, but I have a great interest in old cars once someone else has restored them. Who knows? Maybe that’s the interest that sets you off on an adventure of discovery. Where is that 1955 Chevy convertible that’s calling your name?

What does it take to motivate yourself to undergo this reorientation and find ways and means to continue to find satisfaction, stimulation, and meaning in life? As is true for many of life’s endeavors, it takes focus and energy. In some cases, it also takes an outside influencer to push us into a better place.

The picture of the recent retiree who sees retirement as the time to sit in an easy chair, read the papers, watch TV, and take naps isn’t the model to be pursuing unless you’ve given up on staying off the slippery slope. It could be a spouse or a child who challenges you to get up! It may be an old friend, a new friend, or a new interest.

A recent visit to a pickleball court fascinated me. The number of players who looked to be about my age was amazing! They were getting great exercise but in a social setting at the same time.

Once you’ve engaged with a group to accomplish some goal, the group dynamics become important. It could be a book club or a swim team—the opportunities are truly endless—but the result is that someone is expecting you to show up. You’re wanted. And you’ll be missed if you aren’t there.

How my friend found his groove

I have a great friend who had to retire at what I consider to be a very young 70 because of a firm policy on mandatory retirement. He struggled for the first few years trying to find a way to make himself useful.

It was fairly clear at an early stage of his retirement that working around the house wasn’t the answer—or so his wife told him. In fact, when she found him to be a nuisance when he thought he was being helpful in the kitchen, it was depressing.

He began his search for meaning by reading everything he could on transitioning from work life to retirement life. After my friend consumed countless books and articles, he began to develop a list of the things that were of particular interest to him and that seemed to provide both an outlet for his talents and stimulation for finding meaning in life. To his list he added specific things to do to test the waters.

My friend liked to write, so he began writing short stories, which he shared with his friends and family. He’d always been involved in some physical activity. A long-time tennis player, he found a group that played doubles twice a week that was about his skill level, and he joined their club.

He liked to travel, so he set up long-weekend travel plans to places within a day’s drive that focused on some historical event. He liked history in particular, so he made regular plans to visit museums and other venues that housed something of historical interest. He set out to visit all the presidential libraries.

He liked stimulating discussion with his old law firm friends, so he started a bi-weekly roundtable luncheon and invited them to join him for discussion and socialization. He liked volunteering, and he found any number of organizations that welcomed his donation of time, talent, and sometimes treasure.

He particularly enjoyed helping youngsters with reading problems through a program put on by his local school. He mentored more than 50 kids who went from reading two years or more behind their peer group to reading at a college level. His secret sauce, he said, was finding them something to read that was truly interesting to them. Comic books worked.

I called my friend to make a lunch date, and he had to search several weeks out on his calendar to find time. He was enthusiastic about all his activities and said he’d never felt better or had more fun than he’s having now.

He told me he’d found the right combination: family, friends, exercise for body and brain, and remaining engaged. It’s not a bad formula for a life with meaning and purpose after a lifetime of professional focus.

It’s Worth the Work

There are no simple ways to push the boundaries of a life with meaning. It takes work and the sacrifice of the easy way.

Ask yourself this: Why live a long life if it means watching reruns of Seinfeld? Why care about what’s going on around you if you don’t join the fray?

You know you have the ability to remain engaged because you’ve proved it in your professional life. And you have the skills necessary to identify the new ways that will stimulate you and reward your existence. Put them all to use, and do it now.

Just imagine how interesting your obituary will read! Make this year the year you find new meaning and new purpose in life.