Since I am a man, I often write from a man’s perspective. Duh. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean I can’t have a point of view about both men and women. That is one of the reasons I write the “Men vs. Women” (blog) series. So, I will assert a potentially perceived (by overly sensitive PC peeps) sexist statement, which I believe applies more to men than women but ALSO applies to (some) women: Men NEED a purpose in their lives. And, yes, many women do as well.
Statistics and actuary tables tell a story of many more widows doing well than widowers. Casual observations of elderly men and women – divorced or single by loss – often show the good ties women have with other women. Many older women (of previous generations) have found many activities to keep their minds, bodies, and emotional needs fulfilled. Many older men struggle with these things (after retirement).
So often the recently retired man will become a pest in the eyes of his already well-adjusted spouse. He will want to join her on shopping trips, all of a sudden be a wealth of ideas of things to do, and otherwise annoy his spouse endlessly. Many recently retired men quickly realize that the leisure life they so desperately looked forward to and strived for is “less than.”
A purpose in life may or may not have a gender bias but there’s no doubt it offers much internal satisfaction. Many elderly people choose to do a variety of volunteer work. Nothing is really more fulfilling.
It’s my belief that people of all ages get so much more from volunteering than they give. Mentoring is truly a wonderful endeavor that I’ve done and will continue to do.
Speaking (I suppose writing is more accurate) from personal experience, when I retired in my mid-forties I was quite busy with family responsibilities but my mind turned to mush. I knew taking care of my young boys and my elderly parents was meaningful and important but I sincerely felt alone (I was divorcing then), lacking (in purpose), and intellectually starving.
Of course I could have chosen to enrich my life and mind by taking classes, reading, and working on my own projects whether geared to income or enrichment. But, the habit – quickly developed – of NOT having a regular routine (re: work) is hard to counter. There’s a reason the 9 to 5 schedule has endured (okay, some people work more and others less than that standard).
It became apparent to me that my lack of purpose, beyond my family’s immediate needs, was depressing and debilitating me. I was cursed and blessed without immediate financial needs. The blessing is obvious in that I wasn’t overwhelmed with financial pressures. But, the curse was that I could be and became overly picky in looking for new work. One idea (of work) after another was dismissed as “not right.”
When I finally began my foray into writing, radio, and Social Media, I felt alive again. Simultaneously, I began mentoring a young man with a fatal genetic disease that left him with the mind of a 12-year-old and other symptoms similar to the autistic.
All these activities grew, flourished (for a time), and enriched my life, my confidence, and indeed my sense of purpose. I felt so much better for it all.
There’s a cliché about what happens to “the idle” and it applies so perfectly to this theory of man’s need for purpose. What sets us apart from the animal kingdom is our ability, need, and calling to help others; to make the world a better place.
A sense of purpose can include a variety of things that don’t have to include magnanimous gestures of good will. Yes, some people will seek to cure cancer; others create a charity, while others will man the frontlines in foreign countries when a natural disaster occurs. But, helping a single individual – whether a loved one or a stranger – has equal value to the soul.
A sense of purpose can be caring for young children, much as I did. But, for me, when their lives seemed back on track, it was clear I needed a bigger canvas to focus my energies on. Helping other parents to be the best dad or mom they could be became that focus, along with other activities that grew from that initial venture into writing and Social Media.
I felt so much better about myself. I felt that I was contributing to the world and that I had a place in it that mattered. While I was not making much money in these new endeavors, my sense of self was greatly enhanced.
This is my bottom-line point. We (men and women) need this sense of purpose. The satisfaction from doing something meaningful is so much greater than the fun of playing.