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Taking Advantage of Time

From job to retirement: looking forward to free time

Most of us picture retirement as a period when we will have a lot of "free time" — time to do what we choose. Most retirees enjoy their leisure time, but some find that it takes months or years before they learn how to do so.

Many people both fear and look forward to leisure time in retirement. One survey of employees age 40 and over in seven large companies found that: 

  • "Free time" was ranked first among the things they most looked forward to in retirement.
  • "Boredom, inactivity, loneliness" were ranked first among the things they least looked forward to in retirement.
    As the results of the survey suggest, leisure time in retirement offers some exciting possibilities. Yet, many of us fear that we may not know how to take advantage of those possibilities. One of the major advantages of leisure planning is gaining confidence that we will enjoy our free time when we decide to retire. 

Your job. It's time-consuming

Consider how many hours you devote to a job each week. It's not just the 40 hours on the job, but also the commuting time and the amount of thinking time a job consumes, even in off-hours. Instead of 40 hours, it's more likely that a job consumes 45, 50 or even 60 hours of your time each week. In fact, probably no activity in your life uses more time than your job, with the possible exception of sleeping.

Most people recognize that this is true. As a result, most people are a little concerned about retirement, wondering how to put all those hours to good use. Retirement can and should be a time to do the things that make us happiest. By planning ahead, you can throw away fears about boredom and forget about "vegetating." You can arrange an exciting life for yourself and have something concrete to look forward to in retirement.


Can you relax and enjoy life?

Many people are workaholics. The belief that work is good and not working is bad can be traced to our cultural past. The early settlers of North America considered work a virtue and not working sinful. In often subtle ways, this notion has been communicated from generation to generation down through the years. Although beliefs about the virtue of work may not be as strong today as in the Pilgrims' time, they nevertheless may be obstacles to really enjoying leisure time.

Some people are better than others at overcoming the urge to work too much, whether it's in paid or unpaid employment. But you shouldn't feel guilty about leisure. The "all work and no play" approach to life is not healthy physically, mentally or emotionally. Everybody needs time to "re-create" themselves, to refresh the body, invigorate the mind and stimulate emotions. Leisure time and enjoyable activities help people function at their best and get the most out of life. 

Focus on What You Enjoy Most

Sometimes, people develop a pattern of activities that keeps them busy but provides relatively little enjoyment. To help you avoid this syndrome, here's an exercise designed to focus your attention on the activities you enjoy most. Ideally, it will help you plan the amount of time you'll want to devote to these activities in retirement. The exercise has three steps.

STEP 1 — List the ten activities you enjoy most.

STEP 2 — Your spouse (or another person you may be retiring with) should list the ten activities he or she likes most. Next, number the activities in their order of importance to you.

STEP 3 — Consider the amount of time you are now devoting to the activities you value most. Married couples and others who will retire together should compare lists and priorities. 

Evaluate Your Approach to Leisure

When you are finished with Steps 1, 2, and 3, consider the following:

What amount of time are you now devoting to the activities you particularly enjoy? Should you be devoting more time to these activities?

Compare your activities list with that of your spouse. Are there some activities that both of you have listed? In general, do you enjoy the same type of activities?

If you were to retire tomorrow, which of these activities would you spend more time on?
You may see certain similarities among groups of activities that can give you a clue to the kinds of activities you value most, such as visiting with loved ones, spending time in wildlife areas, continuing education, reading, traveling and so on. Clarifying your likes and dislikes in this way can provide valuable information for leisure planning for the retirement years. If you are planning to retire with a spouse or another loved one, you'll need to know about each other's likes and dislikes so your joint planning can have the best results. 

 Worksheet 3: Leisure Activity Evaluation


The benefits of leisure activites

As stated earlier, leisure activities can renew and refresh — physically, psychologically and emotionally. But let's get more specific about the potential benefits of well-planned leisure activities in the retirement years. Leisure activities can meet basic needs that are important to everyone.

These include the need for recreation, for recognition and self-esteem, for being loved and being needed and for expressing creativity. 


Everyone has a need for self-esteem. Self-esteem is how people regard themselves, how important and valuable they think they are as individuals. Often, self-esteem is tied closely to a job. Retirement from a job makes some people feel that part of their identity has been left behind. They lose their sense of achievement, of being appreciated and respected for their accomplishments. Don't let this happen to you.

Fortunately, there are numerous opportunities for achievement, recognition and respect through leisure pursuits. These can prevent or cure the "nobody" feeling. In fact, there are many cases in which major accomplishment and recognition were first achieved after retirement.

The value of knowing yourself — what you like and don't like — is that it provides the basis for planning leisure pursuits that can maintain your self-esteem. These pursuits also can be richly enjoyable in other ways. For example: 

  • A retired highway employee with tired feet developed an arch supporter that, to his surprise, has evolved into a rapidly growing business.
  • A retired hospital worker and his wife grow prize-winning roses.
  • A retired school bus driver is now in charge of transportation for his church's field trips.

As with these retirees, you may need to plan specific retirement pursuits that will likely produce the feeling of achievement and recognition that is so important to every human being. 

Fulfilling Social Needs

Each person has a need for love and affection, too, and a need to belong. These needs can only be met through others. In this regard, spouses, children, friends and relatives are vital. But just as a balanced diet is necessary to meet nutritional needs, a diversity of activities with others is essential to meet social needs. No one should rely exclusively on a few friends and relatives who, with time, may move away or die.

Although it's only natural to feel the loss when a close relative or dear friend is no longer there, your personal happiness is apt to be threatened less if you develop additional rewarding relationships. Joining and actively participating in community organizations, AFSCME retiree chapters, religious groups or other activities can be an important means of accomplishing this. You will not be confronted with a constantly shrinking number of friends and relatives as time passes if you make a point of continuously building new social relationships. 

Other Benefits

Self-esteem and fulfilling social needs are important, but they are not the only benefits of leisure activities. Here are some others: 

  • Fun. The more fun you can get out of an activity, the better. Since you select the activities, you can include those that you find most entertaining.
  • Creativity. You may have creative talent that you have not had the opportunity to adequately express. Such talents range from baking and interior decorating to furniture refinishing and short story writing.
  • Adventure. Travelling abroad, finally getting that college degree, taking up ballroom dancing — these are the kinds of activities that can add spice to your life.
  • Physical fitness. You could sign up at a health club, take classes in yoga, or join a bowling league or swim team. What could be a better use of time than getting yourself in shape so you really enjoy life?
  • Emotional satisfaction. Most people get emotional satisfaction from close relationships. Spending time with family and friends can give you a sense of belonging and being appreciated. Solitary activities, such as reading books or writing poetry, can also satisfy emotional needs.
  • Mental stimulation. The mind is a remarkable mechanism. The more you stimulate it, the longer you'll maintain mental sharpness — even into advanced age. So keep reading and learning about the world. Do crossword puzzles. Take a computer class. Try new things.
  • Income. Sometimes leisure activities can provide a necessary income supplement. A surprising number of retirees have launched new, well-paying careers based on former leisure pursuits.

In planning for retirement, you will need to identify leisure activities, that (a) provide benefits for you now, and (b) will or could provide them to you when you retire. 

Keep Your Options Open

One way to better enjoy retirement is to include new activities, perhaps experimenting with some things you are not sure you'll like. A comprehensive list of potential activities would resemble a large city telephone directory in size, so the following list includes only a sample of the possibilities. Look over these activities and think about which ones might meet your needs. Try to be open to some experimentation. You'll never know which activities you'll enjoy until you try them.


Adult Education

In recent years, there's been an explosion of educational services for older people. Adult education courses are offered in every community and more than one institution or organization may offer them. Community college rograms are among the most popular.

Also, some universities have extension programs that may blanket an entire state, with courses available in communities that are hundreds of miles away. County governments often have adult education departments that sponsor courses at various county locations. Senior centers, community centers and religious organizations may offer classes as well.


Volunteer and community services

Retirement is also a good time to become involved in volunteer or community service activities. Nationwide, millions of older persons are active in some type of volunteer work. If you would like to share your knowledge and experience as a volunteer, you probably can find opportunities right in your own neighborhood.

Community activities can meet some of your own needs as well as the needs of others. For example, if you help a school child learn to read, you'll get a lot of satisfaction from hearing the words read back to you. And if you help a person get a job or obtain needed medical care, you'll feel pride in your accomplishment.

Everyone has some knowledge or skill that would be valuable to a volunteer or community service organization. Here are a few examples: 

 If you...  You Could...
  Understand legal issues   Join a consumer group
  Are religious   Help out with church programs that aid low-income people 
  Like older persons    Assist at a senior center
  Enjoy photography   Sign up with a wildlife protection group
  Love children  Volunteer with the Foster Grandparents' Program
  Like parties    Organize parties in nursing homes and daycare centers
  Sew well   Repair clothes for needy kids
  Know sign language    Interpret for the deaf at hospitals or social service agencies. 
  Have a good voice    Read to nursing home patients 
  Are good with tools    Repair toys at a daycare center
  Like to write    Write letters for people who are sick or handicapped
  Enjoy meeting people    Work in a political campaign

Many communities have a central clearinghouse for nonprofit groups in need of your help. Look in your telephone directory or check with your local government or library. 

AFSCME Retiree Program

The AFSCME Retiree Program, launched by the International Union in 1980, is a nationwide network of retired public-sector workers. AFSCME now has over 200,000 retiree-members, organized in Chapters and Subchapters across the country. And we're growing every day.

AFSCME retiree-members are dedicated and fun-loving older people who have united out of friendship and common concerns. Members get together at regular meetings of Chapters and Subchapters and socialize at a variety of events throughout the year. Retirees also participate in Chapter-sponsored educational programs and community services.

Most important, however, is the ongoing fight for dignity and security for retired public employees. To achieve this goal, AFSCME retirees are working together to increase public-sector pensions and improve health care coverage, and are continually doing battle with Federal budget-cutters in order to protect vital programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

AFSCME retirees lobby Congress, appeal to State Legislatures, even fight City Hall — all with the full support and ready assistance of AFSCME Councils, Locals and the International Union. AFSCME has made a firm commitment to the Retiree Program because the union values the experience and wisdom that AFSCME retirees have acquired over their lifetimes. Retired members still have a place in the AFSCME family, and can still make important contributions to our union, our communities and our nation.

If you think you might like to join a Retiree Chapter, get in touch with your AFSCME District Council or Local Union to see if there is a group in your area. If no Chapter or Sub-chapter now exists and you would like to help start one, contact the AFSCME Retiree Program at 1625 L Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036, or call (202) 429-1274.


Creating retirement work options

It's not always possible to get paid for doing the things you enjoy most. Sometimes, though, if you look hard enough, you find an enjoyable leisure activity that also increases income.

Here's an example of a couple who are a few years away from retirement. Pete works at a public hospital; Meg has a job as a school secretary. Pete also works Saturdays at a bicycle shop, where he is learning to repair and maintain 10-speed bikes. Meg spends Saturdays in class at the nearby community college. She's learning sign language for the deaf.

In this example, Pete and Meg are exploring retirement work options on an after-hours basis. If Pete decides he doesn't really want to work on 10-speed bikes when he retires, that's fine. It's better to find out in advance, so he can continue to explore other possibilities. Right now, he can take his time. There's no pressure. He's not in a money bind, since he has a fulltime job.

Similarly, Meg is hoping to work with deaf children when she retires. She loves children and thinks she will be able to get a part-time job at a local rehabilitation center. What if she finds out she doesn't enjoy signing after she learns it? It's still been an interesting experience. She can easily move on, with no regrets, to a new opportunity. As with Pete, Meg is using the pre-retirement period to find out what she likes and does well. That's a great way to create retirement work options. 

Getting Started

Are you interested in creating your own job possibilities? If so, there are a number of steps you can take: 

  • Make a list of the things you like to do. Start with activities that you like the most — that are most important to your enjoyment of life. Include your most satisfying accomplishments (they do not have to be job-related). Try listing at least twenty activities. You might want to list a few of the things you don't like to do — to make sure you avoid them in your new job.
  • List the job titles you have had. Under each title, list the most important skills you acquired in that job. You'll assess these skills in terms of future jobs in a later step.
  • Write the titles of three jobs that you would particularly enjoy having in retirement. Disregard any thoughts such as "I couldn't do that" or "they wouldn't hire me." After you have put down the titles, list the basic skills each job requires. Then judge whether you already have these skills in some form or could reasonably acquire them before retirement.

Pursuing the Job You Want

If you have followed the preceding steps, you should have a better idea of the types of jobs you like and perform well. But how do you get such a job?

The reality is that good jobs — the kind most people want — become tougher to get with age. To get the job you want, with an employer you like, in a location that fits your needs, paying what you desire — this requires a few more job-seeking skills than many people have used in the past.

So, let's say you've zeroed in on one of several types of jobs you might want to try. What do you do next? At a minimum, you will need to: 

  • Find out which employers in your area or city have the type of job that interests you.
  • Determine how your background and skills, your interests and motivation, your creativity and ability — any asset you can claim — can help an employer solve a problem or do a better job.
  • Prepare either a letter that describes your qualifications or a job resume. Go to your local library and look through some of the job letter-writing and resume-writing books and manuals. Find some samples that suit you (for either a letter or a resume), and then model yours after them.
  • Before an interview, make a list of the questions you are likely to be asked, then go over each question and determine how you would answer it in a positive way. Make a list of points you want to stress in the interview.
  • Be personal and persistent. In any interview or other communication with an employer representative, always keep in mind that you are not talking with a company but with a person. Remember, too, that persistence pays off. Checking back with an employer after an interview is how many people get jobs.


Setting short-term goals

Since it is so easy to put things off when it comes to planning free time, it is usually worthwhile to establish some means of monitoring your actions. An excellent device for doing this is setting short-term goals. This can help you stay on target and keep track of your progress. Experience shows that as you begin to achieve your objectives, your early success will motivate you to set even more challenging goals for yourself.

What is a short-term goal? Here are some examples: 

  • Call the AFSCME retiree chapter today for information on meetings and activities.
  • Buy or borrow some books this week on woodworking.
  • Telephone the pastor tomorrow to get more information about a specific church activity.
  • Inquire next week about investment clubs in your community designed for small investors.
  • Check the newspaper's want ads this weekend and call about at least one of the jobs.

As you can see, these are very concrete actions with a definite time for their accomplishment. Moreover, the actions are "bite-size," that is, you can accomplish them successfully without a superhuman effort. Success tends to breed success. The key is to establish a pattern of success now and have it carry over into your retirement.


  • What Color is Your Parachute? 2000: A Practical Manual for Job Hunters and Career Changers,by Richard N. Bolles, California: Ten Speed Press, 1999. A complete guide for use in the job-hunting process.
  • Elderhostel catalogues. Elderhostel, Inc., 75 Federal Street, Boston, MA 02110-1941. Call toll free 1-877-426-8056 or visit the website Provides a network of educational opportunities for older adults in the United States, Canada and more than 80 other countries.
  • The website has sections on Education and Training and Employment and Volunteering, as well as other useful information for persons nearing retirement. 

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