When Champa and I began pursuing a new life of service and adventure seven years ago, it was easy to combine those two goals by serving in the Peace Corps.
After we returned home in 2018, it got harder. I couldn’t find the right kind of volunteer jobs. The pandemic upended our travel plans. I had medical problems, then recovered.
My sister, a retirement coach, told me to take time to figure things out. She was right; lately the pieces have been falling in place. I’ve been busy with several fulfilling volunteer roles and other activities. We have new trips planned. Our health is good.
Not Exactly Retired 2.0 has become clearer and I like how it looks.
I now spend several hours daily on volunteer work. Some of it is occasional, such as preparing meals at Urban Ministries of Durham or working with OLLI at Duke. Often it’s more sustained, like helping Durham’s West End Community Foundation to review its communications strategy or promote a wonderful new exhibit of local elders. (That’s Durham Mayor Elaine O’Neal, right, and her sisters Eileen and Eunice in the image by Jamaica Gilmer at the top of this post.)
I remain active with both Moldova and the Peace Corps. When Russia invaded Ukraine, I helped raise funds for the Friends of Moldova to assist Ukrainian refugees, working with a local Rotary group. When Congress considered new legislation to support the Peace Corps, I wrote this op-ed article to rally support. I also serve on the steering committee of the North Carolina Peace Corps Association.
At AmeriCorps Seniors RSVP, which encourages older Americans to serve as community volunteers, I’ve been working behind the scenes as its advisory council chair to help strengthen its local program. That’s one of my fellow council members, Jason Peace, in the above photo, right, kicking off a speaker series we recently launched to highlight nonprofits where older Durham residents might serve. He’s describing Meals on Wheels, which he heads. Sarah Cline, our RSVP program manager, left, spoke as well.
Even as I’ve established a satisfying portfolio of volunteer work, I’ve begun planning new trips, which I’ll describe in future posts, and spending time with our family and friends, going to the gym and enjoying life.
Our blend of service, travel and adventure isn’t for everyone but it works for us. (Some older travelers make the two of us look like homebodies.) The central message of my book wasn’t “join the Peace Corps!” but to be intentional about this stage of life, regardless of whether your personal happiness lies with volunteering, starting a business, church, golf or something else. In other words: Choose, don’t drift.
I recognize my own good fortune but also feel part of something bigger. As retirement expert Ken Dychtwald put it, “for the first time in history, large numbers of older individuals are not interested in ‘acting their age’ and retreating to the sidelines. They would rather rebel against ageist stereotypes and be productive and involved — even late blooming — in their maturity.”
The path differs for all of us. I’ve learned over the past few years how hard it can be to find. We may not even know the destination until we’ve made the journey, and then the journey begins again.