Success in the “The Third Age”(formerly known as retirement), a New Career and Volunteerism

A few years ago, I had a career coaching client whose story is illustrative of the changes and choices that can keep one’s life vibrant during the later years, also known as “the third age”.  Neil had worked as the chief auditor of a Fortune 100 company for twenty-eight years. During his early twenties, he had been a Medic in the Air Force for four years and had never lost interest in the health field. In his early fifties, Neil was introduced to Eastern religions and as a result, decided to study Chinese medicine. Having had a fairly lucrative career, he retired early and enrolled in The New England School of Acupuncture. He received his license three years later in 1996. Neil had a small private practice and volunteered in an AIDS clinic in the South End. He had never intended to work full time as he had in his earlier career. He practiced on friends and relatives and was able to charge reasonable fees to people who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford these services.

After seven years as an acupuncturist, Neil came to me seeking coaching. He knew he didn’t want to develop a serious medical practice because he travelled too much visiting family and friends across the country, but he would continue to offer his services from time to time. He wanted to know what he could do that would be fulfilling and still offer him the chance to create his own schedule. Because I learned through our work together that earning money wasn’t a necessity at this time of his life, I suggested we look at volunteer opportunities in the Boston/Cambridge area. I had some listings and we did research on the Internet.  After exploring tutoring English as a Second Language and working for the Service Corp of Retired Executives (SCORE), we started looking at hospice work. At this point in time, Neil was seventy-four years old and had been studying Buddhism for many years. He felt he could bring his positive attitude towards death to this type of work without proselytizing. Neil’s presence, sensitivity, and outstanding listening skills were all qualities he brought to the people he worked with. He spent three years at three different nursing homes. After undergoing a second knee surgery, Neil decided to temporarily suspend his volunteer work with hospice although during this time he was doing tax returns for ten to fifteen friends and family members. That was a few years ago, and now he is exploring some different volunteer opportunities as he continues his volunteer tax season work.

Neil said, What amazed me was how people who were dying in a hospice situation could add value to my life. They were all happy to see me and willing to share stories and smiles. When asked what advice he would give someone contemplating “the third age”, Neil said, If you have the financial wherewithal, volunteering gives you a sense of purpose. I felt better when I was doing it—more productive and a part of the working world—that’s one reason I want to get back into it. Neil will be eighty-one years old this October, 2012.