Feeling Useless After Retirement: How to Regain Purpose & Joy

senior woman looking worried

Retirement can be a difficult transition. 


After spending your life defining yourself through your career, it’s natural to feel lost and even useless when you finally reach retirement age. 


Despite being financially prepared, many retirees struggle to find a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives after they no longer have job responsibilities.


After all, there’s more to life than money, right?


But don’t despair. Despite the challenges that can come with life post-retirement, there are plenty of ways to remain productive and stay connected to your community.


We’ll delve into why some retirees may feel useless after leaving the workforce and provide practical tips on regaining a sense of usefulness and purpose in retirement.


Why Do Retirees Feel Useless After Retirement?

Retirement is supposed to be the ultimate reward for a lifetime of hard work. But for some retirees, it’s the exact opposite. Instead of feeling fulfilled, they feel useless, overcome with fatigue, and even hate retirement.


Why is that? Well, there could be many reasons, but here are three big ones to consider…


why do retirees feel useless after retirement: abrupt change in daily routine, loss of work-related identity, disruption of social ties


#1 Abrupt Change in Daily Routine

Retirement can be a major adjustment, especially when you’ve been used to a certain (fast-paced) routine for decades.


Those early mornings, commutes, and long workdays might not have been your favorite thing, but they provided structure to your life. When that disappears, it can feel like you’re floating without direction.


Sure, it’s nice to have the freedom to do what you want, when you want, but what do you even want to do? Without proper planning (beyond finances) suddenly, every day is a blank canvas waiting to be filled with activities, hobbies, and adventures.


As many as 36% of new retirees find it challenging to organize their time, and it’s not hard to see why — it’s like starting a new chapter of your life without any knowns, and you’re not quite sure how to write it yet.


#2 Loss of Work-Related Identity

For many, leaving the workforce means leaving behind more than just a paycheck. Your career can become a part of your identity, giving you a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and even self-worth.


A recent study found that retirement can be a challenging transition for many because they are leaving behind a significant part of their identity. Which makes sense because work is more than just a means to an end — it can become a part of who you are and impact your sense of self. 


And without it, you can certainly feel lost and uncertain about your future, especially when you consider the stereotypical fears of aging.


In sum, it’s not just about adjusting to the loss of the work role but also finding a way to develop a fulfilling and meaningful post-retirement life so you don’t fall into the ‘retirement syndrome‘ trap.


#3 Disruption of Social Ties

As you age, your relationships change — partially so due to retirement.


While studies have shown that retirement doesn’t impact the total size of your social network, you do lose some of the connections along the way, such as your coworkers, simply because the social convenience disappears.


Regardless of how close you are your coworkers, work colleagues provide a sense of community and purpose — when you’re no longer part of that group with shared goals, it can feel like something is missing in your life.


Retirement can also disrupt existing relationships. When one spouse retires before the other, they may find themselves struggling to adjust while their spouse is still busy with work.


These are just a few of the reasons why retirees may find themselves feeling useless after retirement. But don’t worry — there are steps you can take to help regain a sense of purpose and usefulness in your retirement.


More specifically, we’ll explore nine solid ways next…


How to Combat Feeling Useless After Retirement

how to combat feeling useless after retirement: reflect on your inner self, be intentional with your time, cultivate a growth mindset, move your body, declutter your space, share your unique gifts, engage with others, redefine success, and establish a flexible routine

#1 Reflect on Your Inner Self

Have you ever heard of an experiment where people would rather give themselves electric shocks than be alone with their thoughts? It’s a sobering realization, but it speaks to how uncomfortable we can be spending time alone with our thoughts.


But here’s the thing: without taking the time to reflect on your deepest desires, wishes, and purpose, your “temporary rut” where you feel stuck and unfulfilled can last a bit longer than you want. 


It’s so easy to stay stagnant and procrastinate when you don’t have clarity.


And with retirement, it’s a great time to take the opportunity to revisit who you are and what you want out of life. Reflecting on your values, goals, and hopes allows you to create a plan for how you want to spend your time.


After all, you’re designed to grow, evolve, change, and develop at every life stage – retirement is no different. As we see it, it’s the beginning of a big growth journey. 

rewire your retirement for growth


If ever there was a time to get in touch with your inner self, it’s now. And we have the perfect thing for it – our Finding Clarity workbook (+ this handy video) will help you explore your inner self and get clarity on what matters most to you.


Take this opportunity to rediscover yourself and reclaim your purpose during retirement.


#2 Be Intentional with Your Time

Now that you have a better idea of what your retirement should look like, it’s time to take action.


It can be easy to succumb to the temptations of binge-watching TV or scrolling social media, but those activities won’t bring the fulfillment that comes with something more purposeful.


(Not to mention that while older adults watch more TV than their younger counterparts, they enjoy it far less.)


the impact of watching too much
How much TV are you watching? Being aware is the first step to cutting down on your tube time.


Instead, use this newfound time to pursue activities that truly align with your values and aspirations. Whether it’s starting a new hobby, volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about, or traveling the world, the possibilities are endless.


The main takeaway is your ideal retirement will be unique to you, and only you (so don’t look to others for the answers).


By being intentional about how you spend your time, you can find deeper meaning and purpose in this stage of life.


#3 Cultivate a Growth Mindset

Growth is key to feeling useful and fulfilled in retirement.


As you embark on your post-retirement journey, it’s important to keep learning and growing by taking up new interests, trying out different activities and discovering what brings joy to your life.


Having a growth mindset allows you to stay curious about the world, no matter your age or stage in life. It’s about embracing the opportunity to learn and experience new things, instead of getting stuck in old patterns and habits.


To adopt a growth mindset:


  • Embrace challenges and setbacks
  • Seek feedback and helpful critique
  • Be a learn-it-all (not a know-it-all)
  • Focus on the present stage and not the outcome


Like our 92-year-old Rewire My Retirement student, AnnaBelle Marshall, said:


When you stop learning, your world becomes smaller and smaller. And the larger your world, the more positive and pleasant you are to be around.” 


By adopting a growth mindset, you can stay open to new ideas and experiences — which can help you feel young.


And, according to research, just feeling young could slow down brain aging. So the old saying that you’re as young as you feel apparently is true after all.


On the topic of brain health


#4 Move Your Body

There’s no denying that physical health and mental clarity are intricately linked. When you take care of your body, your mind follows suit. That’s why it’s so important to be proactive about moving your body, even if it’s just a little bit each day.

healthy minds live in healthy bodies


Whether it’s a morning walk, a quick yoga flow, or even a dance party in your living room, getting your blood pumping is one of the simplest and most effective ways to stimulate your body and mind. 


And the best part? It doesn’t have to be anything drastic. In fact, it’s often the small, consistent changes that have the biggest impact.


By taking that first micro-step to get moving, you’ll create a ripple effect of energy and motivation that will make tackling your desires feel like a piece of cake.


Take, Rewire My Retirement success story, Claudia, for instance, who used the power of consistent micro-stepping to reestablish her relationship with exercise to stay active, fit, and vibrant. 

claudia rewire my retirement review


So why not give it a try? Your body (and your mind) will thank you for it.

#5 Declutter Your Physical (& Mental) Space

Have you ever noticed how cluttered surroundings can lead to a cluttered mind? It’s hard to focus and stay motivated with piles of stuff surrounding you. That’s why physical decluttering can have such a powerful impact on mental clarity.


When you clear out the things that no longer serve you, you create space for something new and aligned to come in. It’s not just about getting rid of physical items, though. It’s about letting go of the emotional and mental baggage that can come with them. 


A study out of Cornell University reveals that clutter-induced stress can contribute to a range of other problems, including unhealthy eating habits and excessive sleep.


the impact of cluttered and chaotic conditions on snack intake is moderated
A chaotic environment leads to bad habits like eating junk food. Source: SSRN


Our favorite decluttering tip is to go all-in with consistent micro-steps, whether you start with your wardrobe, home, or office space – keep going in bits and pieces until the job’s done. You’ll be surprised by the mental clarity you’ll gain from it.


#6 Share Your Unique Gifts

You know that feeling when you help someone, and their smile instantly lights up the room? It’s a joy that’s hard to describe — one that fills your heart with warmth and fulfillment.


And here’s the good news: you don’t have to be a millionaire or a philanthropist to experience it. 


Each of us has something unique to offer, whether it’s a comforting hug, an open ear, or a special skill. Maybe you’re a great cook, or you know how to sew a button or two. Sharing these abilities with those in need can bring a sense of purpose and happiness into your life and theirs, too.


Take Steve Gardner, for example. 


Since retiring, he has become the guy that walks his dog all over his neighborhood and up on the big hiking hills. But it’s not just a leisurely stroll or exercise that he’s after. 


He makes an effort embrace everyone he meets with a non-judgmental open heart, and over time he’s developed the ability to connect with people (of all walks) on a deeper level.


“When I started going through the Community section in Rewire My Retirement I started changing and finding where my happiness was.” – Steve Gardner


steve gardner rewire my retirement


And the result has been a real sense of connection among not only his community and family, but Steve has created supportive space for people that inspires so many others to just plain be kind – what a role model for his 23+ grandkids and great-grands.


So why not take a leaf out of Steve’s book? You never know who you can help or what impact your actions can have – whether it’s one life or milliions.


Or you can always take the more traditional route and go for volunteering (virtual or in-person) or any kind of charity work.


How to Give to a Charity


Either way, helping others will springboard into engaging connections – which brings us to our next topic.


#7 Engage with Others

Sometimes all it takes is a friendly conversation to make you feel truly alive and connected. That’s why staying socially engaged is so important, especially during retirement when it’s easier to slip into a feeling of isolation.


Social interaction is so vital for your health


But here’s the catch — you’ve got to surround yourself with the right people. As in, those who inspire, challenge, and lift you up. And when you do find those people, the benefits are amazing. 


You can brainstorm new ideas, get the support you need, and find a sense of purpose in life together.


It’s also worth spending more time with people in your Circle of Influence and less with those in your Circle of Concern (we all have them both, it’s about being a little more selective).


be choosy with who you let in your circle of influence
Keep in mind that you need to be picky when it comes to expanding your social circle.


So why not join a club, take a class, or start your own group? Whatever you do, make sure it’s something that brings out the best in you.


#8 Redefine Success in Retirement

In retirement, success doesn’t have to look the same as it did in your pre-retirement years. 


In fact, we’re firm believers that it shouldn’t.


Why? Because you’re built for growth. Retirement is a time for exploration and discovery — an opportunity for growth and self-expression that can be tailored to you in this new life phase.


Instead of defining success by numbers or achievements, redefine it by the quality of your life. Plus, research shows that your perceived well-being and quality of life are directly correlated with your happiness.


So ask yourself, “What makes me feel most alive, and how can I make that happen more often?” Or dig even deeper with these finding clarity questions…


questions to help you find clarity
Which questions resonate the most with you?


Maybe it’s taking a road trip with your spouse, spending quality time with your grandkids or volunteering at the local animal shelter. Whatever it is, find the courage to pursue it. That is true success in retirement.


And it doesn’t have to big, either – success is subjective and can be found in the smallest of victories. Start by setting goals, taking micro-steps, and celebrating your progress — no matter the size. This will help keep you motivated, energized and engaged in life after retirement.


At the end of the day, it’s not about how much money you have or what titles you can put on your resume. It’s about finding joy in the little things and being totally mindful and present — in a life that’s authentically satisfying to you.


#9 Establish a Flexible Routine

A huge myth that we hear all the time is that retirees have too much time on their hands. That’s only partially true (and only for some). In reality, it’s less about having too much or too little time and more about building a retirement structure that supports everything you want.


We get it, though – obsession with time comes from a common conditioning. And who can blame you? 


After decades of working nine-to-five jobs, you finally have the freedom to do what you want, when you want. But with that newfound freedom can also come procrastination and a lack of motivation.


Enter Parkinson’s law, the idea that work expands to fill the time we give it. The solution? 


Establish a flexible routine. This doesn’t mean that you have to constantly be on the go or be tied to a varied schedule every single day. It’s all about creating some general structure that includes top priorities and also room for spontaneity and creativity.


why you need a retirement routine: for more meaning and purpose, for better sleep quality, for improved mental health and less stress, and more self-discipline


Your retirement routine might include chair yoga in the morning, some creative work, lunch with friends, an afternoon walk in nature, and an evening spent reading your favorite book


When you have a clear purposeful plan, staying focused and motivated is easier — key ingredients that will take your retirement experience to the next level.


Making The Most of Your Retirement Life

Overcoming feeling useless after retirement and finding a new direction can be overwhelming – but it doesn’t have to be.


With the right system in place, retirement presents a world of opportunities just waiting to be discovered. 


Here are nine ways to combat feeling useless after retirement:


  • #1 Reflect on your inner self — delve deep into your thoughts and emotions to discover your true desires in this new life phase
  • #2 Be intentional with your time — allocate time wisely to ensure it aligns with your new role, goals, and values
  • #3 Cultivate a growth mindset — embrace challenges and opportunities for self-improvement and learning
  • #4 Move your body — prioritize physical activity to boost overall health and well-being
  • #5 Declutter your physical (& mental) space — remove excess items and distractions to create a harmonious environment and new way of being
  • #6 Share your unique gifts — use your talents and skills to benefit others and find fulfillment
  • #7 Engage with others — connect and collaborate with people to foster meaningful relationships
  • #8 Redefine success in retirement — reassess your definition of success, focusing on personal growth and happiness
  • #9 Establish a flexible routine — develop a balanced schedule that allows for all of it: purpose, responsibilities, freedom, spontaneity and adaptability


And if you need extra help, retirement coaching is a great way to get you started. It’ll provide the guidance and support to help you navigate this exciting chapter with renewed enthusiasm and clarity.


You can also check out our popular masterclass on the Rewire Method: How to turn your successful career into a successful retirement


With a little bit of effort and creativity, you can make the most out of this new phase and create an exciting journey that’s unique to you.


Life after retirement can be full of joy and purpose — here’s to believing in yourself.

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portrait of Cyn Meyer, founder of Second Wind Movement and a certified retirement life coach
Cyn Meyer 

Retirement Life Coach

As a certified retirement life coach since 2018, Cyn has helped thousands of older adults turn their retirement years into remarkable years full of growth, purpose, and passion. Through her signature program Rewire My Retirement, she helps people achieve their best life across the 5 Rings of Retirement, which covers topics Growth, Community, Health, Giving Back, and Finance.

Cyn combines specific life coaching tools, neuroscience, and her extensive background in marketing (spanning 17 years) to make a powerful impact with Second Wind Movement – an organization dedicated to providing educational resources and coaching for seniors.

With meticulous research, insight, and passion, Cyn’s mission is to usher in a new wave of positive experiences for generations of retirees.

portrait of Cyn Meyer, founder of Second Wind Movement and a certified retirement life coach

Cyn Meyer 

Retirement Life Coach

As a certified retirement life coach since 2018, Cyn has helped thousands of older adults turn their retirement years into remarkable years full of growth, purpose, and passion (beyond the stereotypical financial planning side of retirement). 

She combines specific life coaching tools, neuroscience, and her extensive background in marketing (spanning 17 years) to make a powerful impact with Second Wind Movement – an organization dedicated to providing educational resources and coaching for seniors.

With meticulous research, insight, and passion, Cyn’s mission is to usher in a new wave of positive experiences for generations of retirees.