Empty Nesters Find Purpose and Motivation

What will you do with your time once your children leave the nest? You may not have thought about it, but a new career path could be your best option. The years of parenting are spent focusing on other people’s needs, often with little time for self-reflection. Career exploration is a wonderful opportunity for self-discovery and personal growth. It is a time to reinvest in you and learn about the resources available to you.

Here are a few exercises to get you thinking about what you have to offer and ways you can expand your options.

Career Interests
Over time you have developed opinions as to what you are "good at." These personal opinions are relevant but rarely do we give ourselves enough credit. It is time you think outside the box. Think about the activities and job categories that interest you, regardless of whether or not you currently have the skills, or even have experience in those areas. Write down your responses to the following questions:

Action Steps:
  1. If you could do ANYTHING, what would you do?
  2. What are the characteristics of your ideal job? Examples - working with children, being outdoors, independence, etc.
Skills Inventory
It is helpful to take inventory of the skills you have that will be useful across a variety of work settings. Think about all the invaluable experience you have accumulated – parenting is itself a highly-skilled "career."
Personal traits – attitudes and characteristics such as empathy, diplomacy and ability to delegate.
Knowledge-based – technical knowledge or job-specific information that you have acquired through paid and non-paid experiences, such as bookkeeping, child development and scheduling.
Transferable skills – skills that you’ve acquired through experience, such as planning, organizing and writing.

Action Steps:
  1. List 7 achievements you have experienced in the past few years in the context of parenting, work, volunteering, hobbies, coursework, travel, or special projects. For each achievement, list the skills, abilities and personal traits that were most important in making each of the experiences meaningful for you.
  2. Once you have completed this list, look for patterns in terms of skills, settings, or types of people involved.
Networking It is always important to build and maintain your social networks, especially when you are contemplating a career change. Your existing social networks can be invaluable in helping you during this process. Do you have friends, family or acquaintances who have been through similar transitions, or who might know about the fields you are considering? Perhaps they know someone who does. 

Action Steps:
  1. Nurture your existing network. Schedule a get-together with one friend or acquaintance per week. It’s a great way to keep in touch and it will give you a chance to talk about what you are working on and learn about other people’s experiences.
  2. Expand your social networks. Look into local networking and volunteer opportunities, as well as membership in professional organizations related to your fields of interest. Join online networking communities, such as Ryze.com and Company of Friends, which offer free membership, special interest groups and real-life monthly meetings.
By taking inventory of your many existing resources and building new ones, you will be better prepared for any career path you choose. Now that you have time to focus on yourself, you have a great opportunity for self-discovery. Enjoy the journey!
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Member Comments

Great ideas. One place wanted to volunteer at wanted me to just the picture in the city manager’s office I wanted to work out front where I can help people not to your cleaning isn’t that custodial work? Report
Thank you for these tips Report
Thank you. Retirement finally affords the time to do things. Report
thank you Report
Great article. We ended up adopting a dog who has brought joy and purpose in our lives. It was a great decision for us. He gets us moving and gives us something to laugh about. Report
good advise Report
Retired and spent the first two years doing just a couple of things I wanted to do and also got back into knitting. After two years I joined a small choir that presents a program of music at several long term care homes each month and I love it! I'm not the director - or was until we got shut down by the pandemic - but I look forward to being able to return to that some time in the future. I fill my time with the things I enjoy and want to do and have never missed not working every day! Report
Couldn't wait until I retired, counted the days and minutes. But guess what...I ended up volunteering back at the same place but with much less responsibility and accountability I am actually enjoying it. I can come and go as I please and everyone just loves it when I can come and help them. Go figure! Report
I think settling into retirement when you are glad to shed that stressful high energy job. I walked away and never looked back, in 3 years I have never even visited and have no desire to see those people again. Finding things to do is not hard, I am way more busy then when I was working 12 hour shifts and running the farm. I think it is because I am trying to reclaim places here that were given up because of lack of time. I spent the last week concentrating on a fireplace and patio area that was once a favorite spot but was buried under falling apart piles of wood and crowded with small cherry trees, now it looks like it used to and makes me smile every time I look at it, I think there are enough projects out there to keep me busy and fulfilled until I am at least 100. Report
Volunteer! Report
Thank you for all these comments. They are such encouraging words. I’m turning 65 next month and am looking at the world in a whole new way. I just want to be me and not care what anyone thinks. I believe this will help my longevity. Freedom to be who I am. Report
62 I will retire at 63 money or no money it is time.I have taken care of everyone since 19 would like an outdoor summer job Report
Great article, gives some insight into what I am experiencing. Report
Thanks. Report


About The Author

Mary Guarino, Ph.D.
Mary Guarino, Ph.D.
Mary Guarino is a life coach who helps people evaluate and improve their lives and relationships. She holds a doctorate in lifespan developmental psychology and a coaching certificate from the Institute for Life Coaching.