Meaning of Retirement and Volunteerism

Retirement means different things to different people and is an uncharted territory.  Many of us look forward to retirement as a time when we can finally do all of the things we dreamed about but never had time to do because of work and/or raising a family. This could include things like traveling, starting new hobbies or bringing back old ones, reading, or volunteering. The list is endless. However, for some people this can be a difficult time of transition, especially for those who find the task of constructing a new life daunting.

When you were young, you may have been asked the question—“What do you want to be when you grow up?”  This question looms large as one approaches retirement. Keep in mind that the average person will live about 25 years after retirement.  That is a long time and most people would become quite bored without some meaningful activities.  What exactly are your dreams?  How can you make this next chapter in your life purposeful?  How can you continue to grow? This is your opportunity to think about the things you have always wanted to do and to create a life that is fulfilling and rewarding.

Volunteer work is one of the most meaningful, rewarding, and formative experiences a person can have in his or her retirement years.  It is also a vibrant component of our society.   It can make an immeasurable difference in the lives of others by providing help to people in need, assisting with worthwhile causes and helping to build strong communities.

Volunteer… it’s good for you!

Volunteering is not only good for others, it’s good for you.

Over the past two decades, we have seen a growing body of research that has established a strong relationship between volunteering and mental and physical well-being. With new studies being done, we are finding more and more benefits linked with volunteering, especially when volunteering after retirement.

As Baby Boomers continue to retire, an increasing number of people will be looking for what comes next and seeking meaning in this new chapter of life.  Many have never really considered their purpose up to now.  Volunteerism is one way to meet this need.  It not only provides us with the opportunity to get involved in a cause that we might be passionate about, but also provides the chance to look beyond our own circumstances and appreciate what others are experiencing

Finding the “Right Fit” Volunteer Experience

Read just about any book on career choice and you’ll find a theme that runs through them all—-choosing a career is all about finding the “right fit.”  The same is true for volunteer work.

Any search for a good fit starts with a good look inside yourself.  This self-assessment begins by asking yourself three questions:

  1. What do you like to do? Here, you might consider all the things that are really fun to you.  Consider the ways you spend your time that make time fly, where you’re so engaged in the doing that you don’t have any thoughts of time.
  2. What do you do best? Here, you might consider all of your strengths. Think about what you are naturally good at doing? Identify those top strengths that you would enjoy using in your volunteer work.
  3. What are your priorities in retirement? Here, you will want to consider how important volunteer work is to you and how much of it, you want to do.

The more you know about yourself, the better you will be at finding that “right fit.”

Steps in finding and landing that perfect volunteer position

Let’s look at the steps to take as you begin this journey. Hopefully these steps will help you gain clarity about the type of life and volunteer work you want to pursue.

Step 1

Begin by identifying your goals in retirement

—–Seek out your desires and have a purpose for your retirement.

First, think about why you want to volunteer?

  • What is it that you want to get out of it?
  • Is there something specific you want to achieve?

Second, take time to think about what you would like to do.

Step 2

Research the issues or causes important to you

—-This is a time for testing and exploring.

  • Focus on interests and causes you find compelling
  • Make a list of organizations whose mission connects with ideas you are passionate about. Visit their websites

Step 3

Identify your top values and motivators

—-This is a time for introspection and looking inside yourself.

Our values form the basis for our choices about what we will and will not do. They can be assessed most easily by asking yourself the questions:

  • What is important about doing that work?
  • What are some possibilities?

As you look at volunteer positions, be sure to consider how many of your top values will be met through the work? This is an important factor for finding fulfillment in the work.

It is equally as important to understand what motivates you, so that you can include those considerations in your volunteer work design as well.  Ask yourself:

  • What motivates you to get up in the morning? What was happening those days that made you eager to get going?
  • What are/or were your top motivators at work?
  • What is it that energizes you?

Step 4

 Determine your interests and skills

To help determine what kind of volunteer job you might enjoy, explore your interests and skills. Take an inventory of your skills and competencies.

Some key items to think about:

  • Consider your business skills and leadership roles acquired along the way
  • Look at employing your skills and knowledge in new ways.
  • Identify the skills that you want to carry into this next chapter of life. Determine how they could be applied to volunteer roles
  • Perhaps you would like to learn a new skill or gain exposure to a new situation. Consider seeking a volunteer position where you will learn something new.

Step 5

Explore opportunities that align with your values, motives, interests and skills

  • Investigate each organization whose vision connects with your interests and values

Now is the time to determine where you are going and to put a plan together.

Step 6

Write a resume to position your candidacy for the volunteer roles you are interested in

  • Design your volunteer resume to introduce yourself and showcase your skills, talents, and experiences to the organization you’d like to volunteer with


It is never too late to get started.  Whether you just retired or are in your later years there is an opportunity out there for you.  For those who participate in volunteering, you’ll find yourself gaining a sense of control, feeling appreciated, having a sense of purpose and being able to “give something back”…all important factors in your quality of life.



Holly McFarland recently retired from Franklin University where she served as the Director of Center for Career Development She is the Owner of HSM Consultants and is a Retirement Coach with Lifelaunch Consulting. Holly’s passion for career services, retirement coaching, and leadership are also evident in the qualifications she possesses.

She received her MBA from Franklin University with a focus in leadership. Holly holds the following coaching qualifications: Certified Career Coach (Career Coach Institute), Certified Retirement Coach (Retirement Options), Certified Executive Coach (Worldwide Association of Business Coaches and Marshall Goldsmith Coaching). Holly is also a Qualified Administrator and Interpreter for the MBTI instrument and a Strengths Advocate for Clifton StrengthsFinder.

You can contact Holly at