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                            Retirement Talk for Boomers, Seniors, and Retirees

Episode 157 From Career to Vocation

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery

Many people turn something they do for fun into a career. Retirement may be the time to go the other way and turn a career into a vocation. Dick Smith is my guest.                                         

           Young people often don’t know very much about the world of work and may not see any connection between life experience and education and their career. In a sense our career begins in childhood and continues into our retirement years. Concerned parents, teachers and friends can help us find our life work, our vocation, even late in life.

 In some cultures, people are born into a class that does certain work. That work ranges from medicine, religion, art, and administration to homelessness. Everyone knows his or her position in the community and everyone knows what to do. It is security without much choice.

           Ours is a highly mobile, democratic society where it is hard to predict where a small child will live and work when he or she is grown. Our local paper mill closed and moved away and 500 people were suddenly out of work. Michigan has entire cities that have been destroyed by the collapse of the auto industry there. Workers must cope with the changes that occur in the economy and find or make a place for them to earn a living. It’s choice without security.

           I have worked as a teacher and counselor in schools, a hospital, a correctional facility, a sheltered workshop and a rehab center where we have tried to help children and adults make good choices for their lives. The key question is not “What is available?” or “What pays the most?” or “What do other people think?” but “What do you want and need? What is your calling, your vocation?” For some it is not a paying job at all. For Martin Luther King it led to martyrdom. For Michael Moore it led to making a movie about his home town of Flint, Michigan.

           Religious people sometimes feel a special calling or vocation but anyone can seek to identify and follow such an impulse. Wealth and prestige are not the only reasons for choosing an occupation. Teachers, social workers and nurses are often strongly motivated to serve others. 

A career can begin at any age. Bill Gates knew what he wanted when he was a child and he has apparently achieved it. Retirement is a good time to start for some. Jimmy Carter began building houses for the homeless after his presidency.

In an earlier recession someone posted a sign on the bridge from Washington to Portland, Oregon, “Will the last person to leave, please turn out the lights.” Boeing lost thousands of jobs but soon stories started to appear about aircraft engineers who had been trapped in jobs that paid well but did not satisfy them. They put their skills to work in other areas of interest and often were glad that they had lost a job that no longer made them happy.

           We live in a period of big changes. What is it that you think needs to be done and how can you get started in a new direction? Is there something out there calling to you? What can you do?

           I enjoyed leading support groups as part of my rehab work and after retiring I continued to use that experience in more informal settings. I don’t always succeed but I think of myself as a listener, asking questions to help others express their ideas. It’s my vocation. I encourage people to talk in small groups of six or eight people who then report back to the larger group. It helps to free us from the experts and to take charge of their own lives. People remember what was said in small groups. The support of friends is essential as we continue our careers in retirement.

Dick Smith has been my guest. This is Retirement Talk.