Designing Your Retirement Lifestyle: It All Starts With Purpose

Designing Your Retirement Lifestyle: It All Starts With Purpose

Transitioning to a successful retirement is much more than a math problem, it’s a design problem.

Every retiree needs to design a retirement lifestyle that will work for them based on their own unique values, needs and wants and then ensure they have sufficient cash flow to finance it. The challenge is that most retirees don’t know what they need and want, nor how to get it and therein lies the problem.

In this series of three articles based on content from my two books Victory Lap Retirement and Retirement Heaven or Hell I’m going to show you how to transition from your current career into a retirement of your own design.

This article and the second one covers the first and most important step which is to figure out what your sources of purpose will be in retirement. In the third article I will share how to build a lifestyle around that.    

Purpose: Something To Live For

During my retirement presentations I’ve been conducting a poll asking people to indicate their biggest retirement concern. What I found was that for pre-retirees their biggest concern is having enough money saved for retirement. This isn’t surprising, as the financial services industry spends millions pushing the importance of saving for retirement.

Related: How To Think About Retirement Planning

What I found interesting is when I ask the same question to a group of recent retirees the answer switches overwhelmingly to finding purpose in retirement.

These results match up well with recent studies done by Ken Dychtwald’s AgeWave where 92% percent of retirees agree that finding purpose is key to a successful retirement – 93% of the retirees surveyed by AgeWave believed it’s important to feel useful in retirement and 87% agreed that being useful actually “makes them feel youthful.”

Lesson On Purpose From The Pandemic 

Many of us learned how important having a source of purpose is from the pandemic. If you couldn’t work from home, there wasn’t much in the way of meaningful things to do, outside of just trying to survive. Not having a source of purpose made us feel a little lost, and frustrated, and life got boring real fast. 

Some people woke up to the fact that having a job, any job was far better than just puttering around the house killing time, and taking the dog out for another walk around the block.

When we retire we need to find new sources of purpose in something else, or we are going to be in trouble.

When the kids leave home and we retire our sense of purpose takes a major hit. Suddenly, we wake up to days that aren’t filled by meetings and deadlines, and chauffeuring our kids to their activities. It feels like the things that defined us—our very identity—is slipping away.

We need to find a good way of filling the big hole that was left behind. Until we do that we will always feel like something is missing in our lives. Feeling like this can really mess some people up.

Retiring to nothing is equivalent to digging a premature grave.

At the end of many of my retirement seminars people will tell me stories about a family member or friend who struggled soon after retiring and ended up living a miserable life. 

Many of these stories were about people who enjoyed a successful primary career, they had substantial retirement assets yet they just seemed to shrivel up and die soon after packing it in.

Doctors, teachers, business owners, senior executives, people that should have enjoyed a great retirement but didn’t because they were unable to find a suitable replacement source of purpose. Really when you think about it how do you replace a calling?

Related: Not Another Retirement Planning Book

Purpose keeps the fire going and prevents us from drying out. For me, discovering my purpose is what got me out of retirement hell.

We are all wired to need purpose and meaning. We all need something to live for and when you retire you need to find new suitable sources of purpose because without it you risk your health, happiness, and longevity.

Studies have shown us that;      

  • People at every stage of life are happier when they possess a sense of purpose and we know from the famous “Nun” study that happy people live longer.
  • People with the highest sense of purpose live significantly longer than those with a lower sense of purpose and it doesn’t matter how rich or poor people are, or what gender they are, what race they are or their education level.
  • Purposeful people have stronger immune systems, they can handle stress better and can recover from surgery quicker.

Sources of purpose

Purpose comes in many different shapes and sizes and most retirees have more than one. Your chosen purpose does not need to be grandiose; it only needs to be something meaningful to you.

Retirees find purpose from taking care of a garden, providing eldercare, taking care of a cat, going back to school, learning how to fly fish, training for an Ironman, starting a new business or doing volunteer work. 

Living your purpose strengthens your sense of self; it gives you a way to explain who you are to other people. You no longer have to feel embarrassed telling people you are retired when you have a good source of purpose.

The key is to do whatever makes you feel good about yourself, whatever makes you feel that you still contribute, and that you still matter.

Purpose Helps Keep You Alive

Ask yourself why do rich people like Charlie Munger age 97 and Warren Buffett age 90 continue to work? Why do the Rolling Stones keep touring?

The answer is they work because it gives them purpose and their passion for their work helps keep them alive. 

Their work excites them and makes them want to jump out of bed in the morning. It serves as their own personal ‘Fountain of Youth” and keeps them youthful and energized. Sitting on a couch watching tv doesn’t do that for them.

Related: Addressing Major Gaps In Your Retirement Plan

When you have a source of purpose, you never get up in the morning wondering what you’re going to do with yourself. When you find your purpose life becomes easier, and less stressful. There is no space for negativity to seep in because you are busy doing fulfilling, meaningful things.

Purpose is something that we all need until our last breath, and even having a lot of money will never change that.

So now that we know the important role purpose plays in a successful retirement the million-dollar question is where can we find a good source of purpose?

Be sure to read my next article where I will share how you can discover this.

Mike Drak is an author, public speaker and recognized authority on the non-financial aspects of retirement. After having spent 38-years in the financial services industry, Mike retired and personally faced what he called “retirement shock”. During this time, Mike found himself on a journey of self discovery and authored two best selling books on retirement; Victory Lap Retirement and Retirement Heaven or Hell: Which Will You Choose?. Mike is a Senior Contributor at Booming Encore and dedicates his time to helping other retirees design a fulfilling, meaningful retirement lifestyle for themselves.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Pam on September 29, 2021 at 12:53 pm

    Man, I feel like this was an article pointed directly at me. I have vague goals for my retirement but I can see myself really needing to find a new passion or purpose to be able to retire successfully. I (almost every day) love my job, it is a career, a passion and it takes up a huge part of my life. Finding something meaningful to replace that is going to be important.

    • Mike Drak on September 29, 2021 at 1:17 pm

      You can say that again Pam! You need to start looking for new sources of purpose now before you retire. You need something good – something that will satisfy your needs/wants and values to retire to.

  2. Brian on September 29, 2021 at 1:48 pm

    I can completely relate to everything this article describes. I was fortunate enough to retire early at age 55. The first 9 years, I was fully consumed helping my 4 adult children with renovations, helping out with young grandchildren and volunteering 5 evenings a week at the Mustard Seed kitchen preparing meals for the homeless and school lunches for underprivileged children. That all ended with the arrival of Covid-19. Renovations are finished, grandkids need less attention and the kitchen has essentially shut down. I find myself with significantly less purpose and is very unnerving. Have taken up some gardening. But there is little feedback from plants Haha. Hoping things get better soon so, I can get back to volunteering. Missing the social interaction and the fulfillment i get from helping others.

    • Mike Drak on September 29, 2021 at 2:10 pm

      You are right Brian the pandemic taught us some important retirement lessons. Our need for socialization, the importance of staying healthy and the importance of having a strong sense of purpose in our lives amongst others. You know what you need to do in order to be happy you just need to hang in a little longer until we get this Covid thing behind us. I think I read somewhere it’s healthy to talk to plants but if you hear them talking back to you – you might have a problem.

  3. Cheryl on September 29, 2021 at 3:58 pm

    Excellent post, Mike. One thing you didn’t touch on (and maybe you will later in the series) is being on the same page with your spouse and discussing what your life will look like in retirement.

    Some spouses retire at different ages, which could be positive or negative depending on their individual sense of purpose. But if one spouse thinks they’re going to spend the summers RVing around North America and the other prefers to stay closer to the grandkids or spend more time with friends, that could be problematic.

  4. Mike Drak on September 30, 2021 at 4:06 am

    Good point Cheryl and a very important one. “Grey Divorce” rates are on the rise and when they give something like that a name you know it’s a big concern. In retirement (as well as the pandemic) many couples have trouble adjusting to the increased togetherness, which can put a strain on any relationship and as you pointed out it can even be more problematic if you are two different types of retirees. If your spouse is “comfort oriented” and you are not will they support what you need to do? Will they understand why you need to do it? At the end of the day it all comes down to communicating, negotiation, and understanding. It is not about doing the same things and having the same interests. It’s about being excited watching your partner grow and your partner being excited to see you grow. In RH&H a large part of chapter 4 is devoted to this subject, I even included a cartoon about my wife and I to emphasize the point you raised.

  5. Diane on September 30, 2021 at 9:49 am

    I have been retired for 1 year now. I was doing accounting for a living. I now volunteer as treasurer for 4 different organizations. This keeps me doing what I’m good at, but with more flexibility than a job. I can do the work when it fits into my schedule instead of working my schedule around work. I have taken up biking and have done 2 multiple day trips in excess of 150kms each. I’m in better physical shape than I have ever been and much less stressed. If my priorities change, I can resign from 1 or all positions. I look forward to a future where I will be able to go to the senior’s center for cards and other entertainment. Being busy, but not too busy, is awesome.

  6. Mike Drak on September 30, 2021 at 11:31 am

    I love what you said Diane it’s all about doing whatever makes you feel good about yourself, whatever makes you feel that you still contribute, and that you still matter. Like you I love the freedom, flexibility and autonomy that my new new lifestyle gives me living at a pace that I’m comfortable with.
    Looks like we are both riders. Maybe you should consider attempting Ironman Cozumel next year with me. That will give your friends something to talk about!

  7. Don on September 30, 2021 at 3:13 pm

    I am also struggling with this and have read lots of books on this as I prepare to retire. Actually, the whole process of trying to figure this out is stressing me out 🙂 I think, (for me), this will be much like how I “stumbled” into my career. I did not have a plan to end up where I am today professionally – it sort of just happened as I moved from one opportunity to another. I suspect as I embark on the next phase of my life “retirement years” or “years where I get to be a kid again and let the days just unfold” I will find my new passion. Having some master plan really seems like a stretch – sure I have things I like to do but is it passion? Not sure. I also think the first 6-12 months will be difficult no matter what since I have been working for a large portion of my life. Excited and scared is how I feel and the passion I believe will come as my day will not be occupied with management, meetings, coaching etc.

  8. Mike Drak on September 30, 2021 at 3:23 pm

    Don I stumbled into my career as well and was always jealous of the other kids in school who knew exactly what they wanted to do/be. I’m a big believer in retirement pre-planning and the importance of knowing what you are retiring to. I think you will find my next two articles interesting and they might provide you with the answer you are looking for.

    • Don on October 1, 2021 at 3:51 am

      Looking forward.

Leave a Comment

Join More Than 10,000 Subscribers!

Sign up now and get our free e-Book- Financial Management by the Decade - plus new financial tips and money stories delivered to your inbox every week.