The Importance of Replacing Your Work Community

Last year a former co-worker called me because he was about to retire and wanted some advice on how to go about it.  We discussed a lot of things over lunch but my main piece of advice was to replace his work community with one or more other “families.”

Our Daily Work Community

work community, work family, ideasAs Susanne said in her post on employee wellbeing, we all participate in work families: our colleagues, co-workers, vendors, bosses—even the cafeteria workers who hand us food and the cleaners who empty our wastebasket when we’re working late.

We engage with some of these folks on a “hello-only” basis. Others are part of our daily lives: the people in our department or in a related department with whom we work together on projects, share ideas, participate in staff meetings, have lunch, go out for drinks after work, and even complain about workload.

In an even smaller group we find the people we really like, the ones we share parts of our lives with and celebrate with us  or console us when big life events happen. The ones we sit and chat with in a few moments of downtime. The ones who really feel like family.

Then we retire and it all goes away.

 Moving on to What?

Whether leaving work is joyful or sorrowful, we let go of it to embark on the next phase of our lives. (Note: That’s why this blog is called The Next Phase.) The future is a blank page, a tabula rasa, filled with possibility and opportunity. But it’s something we have to create ourselves.

The work community comes to us fully formed. We join, we fit in, we leave, without every having to create the structure of work. Retirement is a whole different kettle of fish.

tea. book, reading, relaxingSure, we dream about spending our new free time reading by the fire, meditating, traveling, exercising and participating in other activities that were too often relegated to the sidelines when work commanded the bulk of our week. These things are great, but they do not fill the need to be with other people.

Human beings evolved as social creatures, after all. You can get awfully lonely doing things all by yourself, no matter how rewarding they are. Even traveling with a group won’t fill the bill. You will enjoy the trip while it’s happening and you will meet new people but everyone will go their separate ways at journey’s end and you will be left to your own devices.

Finding New Communities

So, I offer this avice to new retirees—and even retirees in training: find new communities to fill that social need. You may have things you want to do: visiting every baseball park in the country, finally doing that genealogy research, RVing to National Parks or learning a new discipline, for example. Just don’t do all those things by yourself or with just your spouse/partner/significant other.

Reach out. Find people, Join. Become part of a new community.

My Six New Communities

I did six things.

  1. I got re-involved in my church, the First Parish Unitarian-Universalist. We had joined when the kids were little but then drifted away when they went off to college. Now, with more time, I looked to see what I could contribute. I went back to Sunday Services and, as I spent more time there, the parish community drew on my resources and drew me in. Now I’m on the Board of Trustees, I sing in the choir, I’m treasurer of the Landscape Committee and I bake periodically for coffee hour. I give to them and they give back to me. It’s a mutually beneficial community.
  2. Boston By Foot, @BostonByFoot, Back BayI joined Boston By Foot and became a tour guide. This had been on my retirement list for a few years. My friend Kathy was a BBF docent and kept telling me how much I would love it. But while I was working, I had no time for the training or even for giving tours. I took the first scheduled training class after retiring and now I am part of a community filled with professional, highly educated, friendly and helpful people. I learn from them and with them all the time.
  3. I continued as a member of Spacecrafts, the science fiction/fantasy writing group I have been a part of for more years than I want to think about. We read and critique one another’s work as well as providing advice and encouragement. We meet once a month at alternating homes and schmoozed while we eat a pot-luck lunch. In between critiques we talk about science fiction movies and TV shows, as well as books we have read. We share one another lives as well as our writing. Spacecrafts is always looking for new members. You can find out more about Spacecrafts here and read some of my published stories here.
  4. We moved to a 55+ retirement community. Instead of staying in our family-size house with a mortgage, big property tax bill, big utility bills and a lot of yard work, we downsized to a condominium. I thought we were just moving to a smaller, cheaper place to live, but discovered that it’s also a community. We have holiday parties and receptions to welcome new residents. I joined the book group. We just had a progressive dinner and the annual barbecue will take place in September. There’s a regular game night and a monthly newsletter. We share books, garden plants, recipes, gossip, and life stories.
  5. I go to a regular exercise class. In my case, it’s water aerobics at Longfellow Health Clubs and I’m typically in the pool five mornings a week, sometimes more, year-round. People come and go but the regulars get to know one another and form a community of our own within the larger gym community. The group has gone on several of my Boston By Foot tours and sometimes we have pot-luck breakfasts. We support one another in illness, bereavement, empty-nesting and other family milestones.
  6. Lastly, I started this blog. While The Next Phase doesn’t put me in touch with other people on a face-to-face basis, it has expanded my community of contacts through readers’ comments and suggestions. I have also added new friends who write guest posts. My friend, Susanne, is the regular Monday author. At a previous company, we shared back-to-back cubicles, so she was also a work friend.

Don’t Wait to Join

volunteer, work community, new community, show up, contributeYou may love your work community and find it fulfilling. I hope you do. But someday either you will leave it or it will leave you. Don’t wake up and find yourself isolated and lonely. That’s a fast lane to depression. You will always miss your work friends and colleagues but joining a new community will help to replace those people in your life.

Lots of organizations would love to have the advantage of your expertise, your energy and your time. Just look and you will find worthy causes, fun activities, physical challenges, and educational opportunities galore. Pick one — or two or three — that interest you and show up.

Think ahead. When you draw up that list of things you would like to do after retirement, make sure it includes ways to meet new people who will replace your old work community. They will keep you young, friendly and happy.

P.S. You won’t miss the work as much as the people.