Outside the Box: How do you retire when your job is volunteering?

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What is retirement anyway?

Popular images of retirement revolve around the end of compensated work. Until the 18th century, average life expectancy was so short, that the concept of retirement was almost unnecessary.

Retirement as we know it, with private retirement funds and government benefits, is relatively new, dating from the 19th and early 20th century. Dictionary definitions of retirement refer to seclusion, pull back and retreat. For many, this is the case. They look forward to quiet time.

While much of retirement is considered with reference to the world of work, a number of people have to address another very complicated issue; how to “retire” from the community without retreating altogether. There is no blueprint for this. Some see retirement as the opportunity for a new beginning; involving travel, taking courses attending to their “bucket list” and other similar activities.

Others have health or other reasons for wanting a period of quiet reflection. A lot of retirement planning revolves around making sure that you have the resources to do what you want to do. If you don’t, then maybe you take on part-time work of some sort. Whatever you do, it is a time of change.

Retirement also involves planning; what will you do with your time? How much activity is “enough” and what does that look like? Many people live active adult lives participating on charitable boards, as members of religious organizations, as loyal alumni of educational institutions and in numerous other activities. Some are essential helpers for family or friends, devoting time to children, parents and others.

While it is true that some community and volunteer organizations have term limits, the most are desperate for volunteers and reluctant to let go of those who have been so hardworking and important to them over the years. This is particularly true when a loyal volunteer is also a loyal and generous donor. If you are helping family and friends, it is hard to have conversations about your desire to do a bit less and their need to find alternative arrangements.

In fact, retiring from non-compensated work is harder than “traditional” retirement in many ways and is something we do not think about enough. Many people split time among numerous activities and feel stretched and stressed as they approach the traditional “retirement years.” At the same time, these are often the same people who have the resources to travel. Or, like others, they may just want to try something new. There is no blueprint or company policy for retirement by such individuals.

1. Give yourself a term limit: As noted above, some nonprofit organizations require directors or other volunteers to take a break or stop active involvement at some point, but others do not. If you feel that you have given what you can to an organization, it is OK to give yourself a term limit. It is important that you tell yourself and the organization’s leaders that you need to move on. It will be better for you and, in the long run, better for the organization.

If you need help implementing the term limit, here are some strategies that might help:

• Create a timeline for cycling off

• Identify a younger person who can take your place

• Host a gathering to introduce others to the organization.

2. Create a schedule that you can live with: Every schoolchild receives their schedule at the beginning of the year telling them where to go and when they have there. Just because you retire doesn’t mean that you can’t think about a schedule, however flexible or loosely defined. This will allow you to prioritize and determine whether or not you have time to do everything you want to do. It will also allow you to build in more free time or extra time. There’s no question that as we get older, things take longer. Make sure you reserve time for the things you want to do before adding in other activities.

3. Do what you want to do, and reduce the ‘oughts’: We often start volunteering, because we are drawn to a cause or an issue. As we age, our interests change or we become attracted to a different issue or subject. You are the only person who will do what is best for you. It may be helpful to keep a list and make sure that you actually “cross off” before you add. Tell yourself that you can’t say “yes” until you have thought about it and confirmed that it fits with your life and time available.

4. Share your feelings with family and friends: Hard as it is to simplify your life within the community, it is harder still to do so with family and friends. Don’t be afraid to talk to your children and others about your desire to simplify.

Here are some strategies that may help:

• If you want to spend time with family, do not feel that you have to be the host.

• Offer to participate in activities that are comfortable for you: organized trips or activities, afternoon as opposed to evening activities.

• Visit by phone or FaceTime.

• Create a timeline for implementing a change.

5. Feel free to ask yourself questions: Is this what I want to be doing with this time? If you want to change an activity that you have started only recently, don’t be afraid to do so. Downsizing your activities will be new to you, and you may not get it right the first time. Changing your mind after asking yourself a few questions is OK. If you cannot answer the question, perhaps set a timeline for when you will address it.

6. Get the help you need: When the time comes, do not hesitate to ask others for help. There are many services available to help with the details of daily living and over time you may find yourself availing yourself of these more.

Remember, it is a process. Building your career was a process, whether done company or through the volunteer ranks of a community. In all likelihood, it didn’t just happen, but evolved. Reset your priorities. Make sure the list of what you want to do is manageable and is something you look forward to. It is not a retreat but rather an opportunity to retool and advance.

Nancy B. Gardiner is a partner at Hemenway & Barnes and director of the family office and philanthropy services group. She advises multigenerational families on wealth management, tax and legacy planning strategies that support their goals and value.

www.hembar.com Copyright © 2019 Hemenway & Barnes LLP

This advisory is provided solely for information purposes and should not be construed as legal advice with respect to any particular situation. This advisory is not intended to create a lawyer client relationship. You should consult your legal counsel regarding your situation and any specific legal questions you may have.

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