The Second Half: Who’s getting engaged?

By Kathleen D. Tresemer


Since 2010 has been proclaimed “The Year of the Engaged Older Adult,” I have wondered how to address this call to action. The governor’s plan is described thusly: …to boost learning, strengthen the workforce, and enrich community life by encouraging adults, age 50 and older, to lend expertise to these areas.

Reviewing my weekly schedule, Hubby asks me: “I thought you wanted to cut back on the demands in your life. Wouldn’t this just add more?”

My 70-something friend Pat complained of that same problem: “Lately, I feel like I’m being pulled in a million directions. Everybody needs something; everybody wants something. I live alone, retired with no job demands—I don’t know how this happened!”

Since I entered the “Older Adult” (OA) category, I have heard this cry from friends and colleagues. The standard belief prior to becoming an OA: When I get rid of the kids, pay off the house, earn enough money, retire from my job (or any of a variety of milestones), then I will have more time to do the things I want to do!

Retiring from a job doesn’t change our preferred lifestyle or nature. I have always worked an excessive amount of hours, finding my “Younger Adult” (YA) work in social service, both demanding and rewarding. My OA work in writing and volunteering is equally demanding and rewarding, and I treat it just like I did when I had a regular job, one with more structure.

“I want to have a purpose in life,” I tell Pat. “I want to feel good about what I do, and, when I look in the mirror, see a person of value—of genuine worth.”

“Yeah, I guess,” says Pat. “But it would be nice if I could finish a few of those projects around the house, or maybe read a book for a whole day without interruption.”

My OA lifestyle differs from YA in that I have more flexibility. If I want to schedule my writing work at 7 p.m. so I can attend a daytime board meeting for a local organization, I can. If I want to go for coffee with Pat, I can. My time is less bound by the constraints of children, household and job than it was in the early years—and I clean less.

Sixty-something Gary says, “Remember when ‘retirement’ made you think of fishing all day, drinking beer, eating chips, and watching TV?” Gary is so active, he makes the most vigorous YA feel tired.

I never believed that getting older meant doing less, but I know lots of guys who do.

Hubby—a bit of a workaholic—has retired from two separate organizations, and is now working part-time at a “fun” job. He reflects: “When I worked downtown, a lot of the guys had no real plan for post-retirement. They just figured on ‘not working’!”

Kathy Freeburg, licensed therapist and educator with U of I College of Medicine, can relate—she, too, is in her Second Half. Kathy tells me: “Depression often occurs when we have a loss of purpose or sense of value in our life. Changes like empty nest or retirement can trigger this depression.”

So, how do we fix, or better yet prevent, this problem?

Our culture says WORK is a large part of our identity. Have you seen George Clooney’s movie Up in the Air? It addresses this very topic, demonstrating what can happen when we approach a crossroad in life but refuse to adapt to change.

Freeburg suggests we make a plan: identify things we like or want to do, find ways to enjoy those things, and develop new ways to connect with people around us.

“This is great,” I enthuse. “There is a perfect opportunity for Second-Half folks to find things they enjoy, get involved in those activities while helping others, and build new social networks.” CLR (Center for Learning in Retirement) has announced their 2010 Volunteer Fair: organizations needing volunteers display their opportunities to those in their Second Half looking for a sense of purpose, a way to contribute to society, and a chance to have some FUN. The Volunteer Fair is scheduled for April 28 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at CLR’s Bell School Road Center.

CLR Executive Director Tammy Lewis says: “Spring is a great time to offer an event like this, when people are feeling energized and uplifted, ready to get out there! The fair will pair a person’s skills and interest areas with organizations that need their experience, wisdom and enthusiasm.”

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) talks about The Year of the Engaged Older Adult: “The initiative will help increase the number of seniors who participate in volunteer activities in Illinois, allowing them to contribute their talents and expertise to benefit their communities.”

Let’s recap: we have a chance to try new things without investing in a new career, we get to pick and choose our hours and work activities, we meet new people who are interested in the same things we are, everybody says “Thanks!”, and the governor likes us. There’s no downside.

Payment for a job well done comes in many forms—try dedicating a few hours a week to volunteering (we all have a few hours we waste, right?) and get paid in improved vitality, a new sense of purpose, reduced depression, and lots of new friends who think you’re cool. This paycheck is recession-proof, too—take that to the bank!

For information about the 2010 Volunteer Fair, contact the CLR Office at (815)  921-3931.

Visit the CLR Web site at for information about programs and to download a current course catalog.

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at

From the Feb. 3-9, 2010 issue.

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