Designing Your Retirement Lifestyle: Embracing Your Ikigai

Designing Your Retirement Lifestyle_ Embracing Your Ikigai

In our first article we discussed the importance of finding a good sense of purpose and how many retirees are finding it through paid or volunteer work.  

I’m a big fan of working part time as there is mounting evidence that working at something helps people live a longer, healthier and happier life. I’ve read many studies done on centenarians, revealing that an astonishingly high percentage of them worked for money or volunteered in some fashion until late in life.

During the pandemic I’ve started browsing the obituaries and was attracted to reading the stories about people who managed to live a long life. What I discovered is that most of them who worked didn’t do it for the money. They did it because it gave them a sense of purpose. As highlighted in the first article, we shared how important it is to have a strong sense of purpose in our lives.

If that doesn’t convince you that working is good for you here are some other benefits of working in retirement:

  • It keeps you young
  • It keeps you mentally sharp by forcing you to solve problems and learn new things
  • It gets you off the couch and out of the house, keeping you physically fit
  • It gives you an opportunity to socialize which is a key contributor to happiness and longevity
  • It gives you a good reason to get out of bed in the morning and it lessens the risk of you running out of money in retirement

The big difference is that before retirement we did work that we had to do, but now we are doing work that we want to do. That makes a huge difference. 

Using “Ikigai” To Find The Right Work For You

Below is the simple diagram I use with my coaching clients to find suitable paid or volunteer work and it’s the process I went through to find my own calling.


You need to find somewhere quiet where you can focus and go deep within yourself and answer the following four questions.

What you will learn from going through the process, like I happily discovered, is that you already know the answers to these questions. The diagram just helps pull them out of you.

1) What do you love to do? 

What gives you energy? What makes you come alive and lights you up? What makes you feel good? What do you have passion for? What puts you in a state of flow?

Flow, for those of you who don’t know, is a state of intense absorption in which we forget our surroundings and ourselves. It’s a powerful source of well-being. 

Taking care of your garden can put you in a state of flow, so can solving a problem, creating a piece of art, or playing a sport. 

I’m in flow when, I fish, write, or give presentations.

2) What are you good at? What are your superpowers?

What skills, talents, and abilities do you have? What things come easily to you? What are you really good at, better than most people?

3) What do people like you need?

What problems do people like you have that you can help solve? How will it help improve/change their life? What are people struggling with? How can you help them?

What hard-won wisdom have you gained from your own struggles or life experiences that you can use to help others with their own?

4) What kind of work could you do and be paid for?

What value can you create that others would be willing to pay for?

The first time I used the diagram it led me to considering taking a job at Bass Pro Shop working in the fishing department. My answers to the four questions were as follows.

  1. What do you love to do? I love fishing. It’s my Zen moment and puts me in a state of flow. I go on a number of fishing adventures each year and I dream about my next fishing trip all the time.
  2. What are you good at? I’m very knowledgeable about fishing having read countless books on the subject and I can’t tell you how many fishing shows I’ve watched over the years. Let’s just say it’s something I’m really good at.
  3. What problems do people have that I can help solve? Because of my vast fishing knowledge and experience I felt confident that I could help shoppers find what they needed when they visited the store. 
  4. What kind of work could you do and be paid for? Because of my passion for the sport plus the fact that I love talking to people about fishing, I knew I would be a top salesperson in the fishing department. It was pretty much a no-brainer.

In the end though, I decided against the job. I didn’t want to work for someone else again, nor did I want to be told what hours I had to work. I was tired of working like that. I knew I could come up with something better so I used the diagram again and this is what I came up with.

  1. What do you love to do? After leaving my banking job I learned that I love to write and give presentations. These are new skills that I developed and what I discovered is that both writing and presenting put me in a state of flow. I also love helping and educating people and when I get a chance to do that it makes me feel real good inside.
  2. What are you good at? Because of my personal experience, the research I’ve done and the books I’ve written, I have become an expert of retirement transition.
  3. What problems do people have that I can help solve? I knew a lot of people would struggle with the transition to retirement and many would fail at it.
  4. What kind of work could you do and be paid for? I knew people would buy my books and pay me to coach them so they wouldn’t end up in retirement hell like I did.

If you give this process the time and focus required, at some point your answers to these four questions will line up. The epiphany you may experience is like getting hit by lightning. You will finally achieve clarity and know what you need to do to enjoy a great life.

Doing the work you’re meant to do is one of the most satisfying, remarkable experiences that a retiree can have, and it leads to a retirement fully lived.

Using Ikigai to find suitable volunteer work

Now let’s use the Ikigai diagram to find suitable volunteer work, if that is what you are after. We do that by simply taking the money part out of the equation. 

Before we start one word of warning; it’s important to pick the right kind of volunteer work to do. The work you choose needs to be engaging and you want to be able to see and feel the good you are producing. 

A story about Wayne and how using Ikigai changed his life for the better

Wayne works up in cottage country. He is the guy you call when you need to have a new septic tank installed or have a well dug. By using the ikigai diagram he realized he could use his skills to help villagers in Africa.    

Each winter he travels with some of his church group to Africa and using his expertise to drill water wells, providing access to a basic human necessity. He loves the volunteer work that he does. He told me that the trips have changed him and he now has a greater appreciation for life.

The lesson here is to not undervalue the skills you have acquired. Think about the problems you can solve and the needs you can satisfy.

Reach out to your friends and professional contacts for help and guidance

Many times, others can see a solution that you can’t because they are not as emotionally invested in the situation. You’re just too close to your own situation to judge effectively. Just make sure they give you the straight goods and not sugar coat things to protect your feelings. If they know you well, they will know what your capabilities are and what you would be good at. It’s hard to make yourself vulnerable and ask, but believe me, the guidance they can give is priceless.

You may also want to look into spending some money on a retirement coach to help you figure this thing out because what you choose to do is going to impact the quality of the next 30+ years of your life. I always say the best investment you will ever make is in yourself.

Find yourself some good role models

Learn from others who have done what you want to do. Learn and copy how they did it and you will save yourself a lot of time and speed up your progress.

Don’t be shy about reaching out to them for advice, direction, and encouragement. You will find out, like I did, that many role models are happy to lend a helping hand. And don’t be surprised if some turn into mentors for you.

Ageism and being afraid

A lot of people in their fifties and sixties think employers won’t hire them due to their age and they are right. Age discrimination is a fact of life in this country.

Just remember your chosen role models were once afraid too. They had their own doubts about whether what they were attempting would work or not. They were afraid, but they were excited as well and look what they were able to accomplish. They did it and so can you.

It’s a big mistake to allow a fear of being rejected, of not being good enough, to hold us back. There are a lot of stories about people like us, who have succeeded at what we are trying to do.

Don’t use ageism as an excuse before you even start. I’ve hired a lot of older people in my day, and the reason I did was that they had a proven track record of being able to do the job.

What I know for sure is that age does not determine how well someone can do a job. In fact, many times age helps. By using the ikigai diagram you will be playing to your strengths and fuelled by your passion for the work you do. An employer would be making a big mistake not hiring you.

Best Way To Fight Age Discrimination – Create Your Own Work

Today, boomers are not starting businesses in retirement just because they need the income. A 2015 Gallop Poll showed that 8 out of 10 boomer entrepreneurs started businesses for lifestyle reasons rather than financial ones.

For boomer women, the top reason for going into business for themselves was the desire to pursue their passion, while boomer men were happy to finally be their own boss and to not have to take orders from someone else.

The good news is that things are working out for these new business owners. The average boomer business owner ranks their happiness at 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the happiest imaginable.

And remember what I shared – happy retirees live longer than unhappy retirees.

Be sure to come back and read my next and final article where I introduce you to the retirement lifestyle design process. We will take your chosen sources of purpose that you have identified and then build a lifestyle around that using the nine retirement principles as the foundation.  

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. Vincent Benjamin on October 6, 2021 at 5:35 pm

    I could not disagree with you more. Working is like being under someone thumb. Why would anyone want that stress, I could not image! Working for the past 40 yrs and then working part-time is not my definition of retirement. In fact, this sound like corporate propaganda, that you need to work and waste your retirement years again being under someone thumb, that is BS!

    • Mike Drak on October 7, 2021 at 4:45 am

      Vincent it’s important to understand that every retiree is different and unique in their own way. Some might want to work while others might want to enjoy a life based on leisure. The key is to do whatever makes you happy.
      I didn’t want to work for someone else and take orders again that is why I created my own business. It gives me the autonomy and flexibility that I need something I couldn’t get in the corp.

  2. Maureen O'Dwyer on October 6, 2021 at 8:17 pm

    Well Vincent – that was very passionate. You have most definitely self-identified that you don’t want to work, you should not. I think this advice is for those of us who want a new challenge – which doesn’t or shouldn’t mean working at a job we dislike. I believe the spirit of it is to help people to see their tucked away bucket list and go for it while we still can. Some folks would rather child-mind a grandchild, others need more community time or a “pack to run with”. Some folks might like to day dream or travel a bit more… I don’t think there is one answer because we are still able to change our minds and live in a state of flux in retirement. It’s personal. I hope you enjoy all your retirement years Vincent!

  3. Mike Drak on October 7, 2021 at 4:48 am

    Well said Maureen! I wrote a chapter in RHH about the importance of finding your tribe which fits with your find “a pack to run with.” Is it ok if I borrow your line?

    • Maureen on October 8, 2021 at 2:41 pm

      of course… what is RHH ?

      • Mike Drak on October 8, 2021 at 2:48 pm

        Sorry Maureen it’s Retirement Heaven or Hell

  4. Wayne on October 7, 2021 at 6:00 am

    Interesting article, One work option not addressed was a temporary contract . I am a fan of short term contracts, not greater than 3 months. Basically you have a known start and finish date. As the article alluded to, this gives you a purpose and focus for a very limited time period.

    • Mike Drak on October 7, 2021 at 6:12 am

      I like the thought of that Wayne. I also like the concept of seasonal work something I will be talking about in the next article. You don’t want your work to be “all consuming.” You want to make sure you have time for all the other fun/interesting/challenging things you like doing.

  5. Roger F on October 7, 2021 at 8:29 am

    Interesting article, I feel it could have almost been my biography (morning paper delivery age 13, college medical training, hospital employment 4 years, corporate job for 30 years, semi-retirement seasonal business for 17 years and now full retirement).
    Five years ago I looked into volunteering and evaluated what I could offer. I decided that speaking English fluently was probably my best asset and started at 2 local LINC schools. LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada) schools are right across Canada (Google them) and I find it very enjoyable and satisfying (at least until Covid hit!). The students like having another person to speak with and the teachers appreciate having the help.
    If you are thinking of volunteering, look in to LINC.

  6. Mike Drak on October 7, 2021 at 9:09 am

    Thanks for the comment Roger and I love the volunteer work you are doing. Is there not a way you can help the students virtually? I only do virtual seminars now from the comfort of my home and the people who attend enjoy the comfort and safety of their home as well.

    • Roger F on October 7, 2021 at 12:18 pm

      Thanks for your comments, I have recently started on-line conversations but they are not the same as being in person! Being able to sit with one student reading a book and correcting pronunciation, walking around a class helping students who raise a hand for assistance cannot be duplicated online.
      It is probably only when helping non-English speakers that one can appreciate how hard and confusing English can be. For example, rain, rein, reign, why the same pronunciation but different spelling? Also similar spelling but different pronunciation, rough, bough trough, bought, enough, through…………….!

  7. James R on October 12, 2021 at 6:07 am

    I quite enjoyed this article and this describes much of how I want to live in retirement. Finding something useful I enjoy doing and finding others to do it with is a key objective for me. I’m five – six years away and am keenly exploring lots of options for retirement beyond fishing, reading, cooking and sleeping!!

    • Mike Drak on October 12, 2021 at 10:27 am

      James I’m glad to hear you are exploring your options and learning how retirement works 5 years before retiring. This is one of the biggest decisions you will ever make and what you decide on will impact the quality of the rest of your life so you want to do it right.

  8. Loulou on October 12, 2021 at 7:28 pm

    Hi Mike, I am retired and I love both your articles, they relate to exactly what I am going through and have helped me to figure out how to move forward. I want to keep busy and feel I need to have a new purpose in life (just like you described in the 1st of your 3 articles). I am using this 2nd article on finding and embracing my Ikigai to help me figure out how best to proceed. I can’t wait to read your 3rd article in this series. Thanks so much for sharing your words of wisdom, these articles are very helpful and are much appreciated. Thanks!

  9. Mike Drak on October 13, 2021 at 2:58 am

    Thanks for the kind note Loulou. I used that simple diagram to find my calling and life has never been better. If it worked for me there is no reason why it can’t work for you. I hope you find what you are looking for.

  10. Steve B. on October 21, 2021 at 8:36 am

    Mike, as an advice-only financial planner, I have started to incorporate conversations around purpose in retirement into my work with my clients.

    Your article was excellent and I will be sharing it on my social media channels, as well as with my clients.

    Advice-Only Financial Planner

    • Mike Drak on October 21, 2021 at 8:50 am

      Thanks Steve for your comments and I’m happy to see that you are talking to your clients about the importance of identifying sources of purpose before they retire. The only question I have is how can we get other advisors to wake up and start doing the same thing? Their clients require/deserve more support because retirement transition is not as easy as people think.

      • Steve B. on October 22, 2021 at 10:37 am

        Excellent question, Mike.

        One challenge is that 99% of financial planners are commision-based. This means less or little time is put toward non-income-generating activities, like conversations around transitioning into retirement.

        Hopefully, more advice-only planners who look at the whole picture like Robb and me will spring up in the coming years…

        • Mike Drak on October 23, 2021 at 7:57 am

          Steve every client expects their advisor to act in their “best interests” and one of the most important “interests” of boomers is how to best avoid any bad surprises when they decide to retire. Many advisors are good with the money part but they fall short dealing with the non-financial challenges their clients will be facing when they do retire. That is why Robb asked me to write this series of articles – to help educate his readers about what is heading their way so they can prepare for it.
          I’m hoping the financial industry will change and provide this support to the people they serve. I know you get it Steve I’m just hoping it catches on with others.

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.