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25. February 2016

How Will You Spend Your Time?

by Deborah Dellinger, Director, Not-for-Profit Operations, My Next Season

How will you decide who receives the benefit of your hard-earned skills and experience in your first season after retirement? Everyone has an opinion, offering you strong, valid reasons to turn your focus toward their agenda as you transition from productivity to purpose. Using your executive skills for a larger purpose, however offers not only unique opportunities to give back but also significant physical and mental health benefits.

Volunteering can provide a sense of identity and purpose as part of this significant transition—and it can lead to a longer, healthier life. Two studies using data from the Americans’ Changing Lives Survey (Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan) found that volunteering increases life satisfaction, feelings of good health, happiness, and positive self-esteem, and reduces depression (Van Willigen, 2000; Thoits and Hewitt, 2000). In two other studies, using an additional year of the same survey data, participants reported that volunteering improved their mental health (Morrow-Howell et al., 2003; Musick and Wilson, 2003).

The key is to discern what roles or activities are meaningful to you. “Role Theory suggests that engagement in a productive role, like volunteering, results in role enhancement” (Lum and Lightfoot, 2005). Each role “amplifies opportunities to increase social networks, power, prestige, resources and emotional gratification,” which reduces depression symptoms. Volunteers often find purpose and fulfillment in their work with charitable organizations and discover that the work really matters (Piliavin and Siegel, 2007). Further, a Japanese study found decreased depression in volunteers when compared to non-volunteers (Sato and Demura, 2003, cited in Haski-Leventhal, 2009).

By focusing on purpose, community, relationships, and developing a plan, you enjoy the benefits of continued positive social networks and roles. Among people who are diagnosed with a medical condition, those who volunteer cope better, which positively affects the severity of their condition and their prognosis (Lum and Lightfoot, 2005). Volunteering strengthens social networks and reinforces roles, positively impacting health outcomes.

Researchers studying this dynamic found that cancer and heart disease victims who also have strong social networks achieved better outcomes than those who do not (Eng et al., 2002; Kawachi et al., 1996; Lutgendorf et al., 2002). People who volunteer have less depression, slower decline in functioning, and lower mortality compared with those who do not volunteer.

Likewise, volunteering to use your leadership and domain-specific skills (such as coordinating, envisioning, and managing people and processes) staves off cognitive decline (Carlson et al., 2009). Physical exertion associated with volunteering also enhances cognitive functioning.

My Next Season offers a holistic approach to our transitioning executives. We match your executive talent to specific needs and issues that are important to our not-for-profit partners. We engage transitioning executives as coaches, mentors, and advisors to not-of-profit leaders as part of our not-for-profit Executive Advising. Exploration and participation in Executive Advising eases your transition from the corporate role.

We seek to help you connect to the level of volunteering you want and with causes that are meaningful to you. Our not-for-profit strategy benefits you, your community, and not-for-profit organizations. It is part of our program to ensure that your transition plan leads you to a purposeful and fulfilling next season.

So, what roles will you play in your next season? How will you spend your time?

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