Retirees need to plan meaningful use of time

by Allison T. Williams

Baby boomers always hear that savvy financial planning throughout their careers is key to a comfortable retirement. "It's equally important for people whose "golden years' are looming large to plan a meaningful way to spend their sudden abundance of time," says Dr. Bill Austin, a licensed professional counselor with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling in Norfolk and a longtime relationship columnist for The Shopper.

"Time is a gift and you want to make the most of it," Dr. Austin says. "Oftentimes, people don't know what to do with themselves once they have all this free time on their hands. You can't just sit back and do nothing but watch television for the rest of your life. Even after you retire, you have to have some direction. You always need to be learning and growing."

Retirement can be particularly difficult for people who have focused their adult lives on work, with little time for participation in community, civic or social activities.

"Frequently, their identity and sense of self are tied up with their jobs," the counselor explains. "When they leave their jobs, they also lose part of their social lives."

Retirement is about choices. Before retiring, people should take time to assess their current interests and passions. For many, it's a chance to give back to the community and share their talents. For example, a retired nurse might volunteer once a week at a free clinic, or an accountant might volunteer to do taxes through AARP.

"When you retire, you have to reinvent yourself and get involved in your community," Dr. Austin says. "It's a great way to find new people or a new direction and it helps you feel like you are making a difference. You get to the point in life where you want to share what you have experienced and learned about the journey."

Before retiring, people should take time
to assess their current interests and passions.
For many, it's a chance to give back to the community
and share their talents.

At age 76, Bill knows this from both professional expertise and personal experience. Counseling is a second career for Bill, who retired as pastor of Virginia Beach Christian Church in 2006 after 36 ½ years. He and his wife, Karen, moved to Virginia from Kentucky in August 1969, when the fledgling church was two years old and just 30 members strong.

Dr. Bill Austin has been dispensing his wise, anecdote-filled advice to The Shopper’s readers for 17 years.

"There were no buildings, just a piece of land off Great Neck Road," he says, a broad grin stretching his bearded face. When he retired, the church had grown to about 350 members with a large campus at 2225 Rose Hall Drive.

Bill earned both his master's of Ministry and doctorate of Divinity from Lexington Theological Seminary. While teaching adjunct counseling classes at Old Dominion University in the 1980s, he realized he only needed a handful of additional courses to become a licensed counselor.

After he retired from Virginia Beach Christian, Bill initially worked three days a week at Tidewater Pastoral Counseling. He has since cut his schedule back to one day a week.

While most clients come to Tidewater Pastoral because of their faith-based backgrounds, Bill wants to dispel the idea that it's required.

"If they want to talk about spirituality, I do it," he says. "If they don't want to, we don't go there."

Although Bill doesn't have plans to reduce his time at Tidewater Pastoral, he knows his free time will become more valuable since Karen, a teacher, retired in June. The two enjoy hobbies together, such as kayaking, bicycling and traveling with a close-knit group of friends.

Every summer, the couple spends two weeks at the Outer Banks with their sons, Brian and Todd, and Todd's wife, Stacy, and the couple's five children – two boys and three girls, ranging in age from 2 to 15.

Both of Bill's sons followed career paths that didn't veer too far off the course their father took. Brian is a designated mental health professional in the state of Washington and an adjunct professor at Eastern Washington University, while Todd is an elementary school guidance counselor in Fairfax County.

Bill's schedule is busy during the rest of the year. Besides working at the office once a week, Bill leads four eight-week grief support groups a year on behalf of Lutheran Family Service. The support groups are free and open to anyone who has lost someone close, particularly a child or spouse. The next group begins in September. The opportunity to talk about loss with a group of people who have experienced and understand those feelings can feel freeing for participants.

"Our society tends to put a time frame on grief, but one rarely completely gets over it," he says. "A group provides a place to talk about grief and it often builds friendships. The hardest part of grief is the loneliness."

In his spare time, Bill is the Chairman of the Norfolk branch of the Human Rights Commission, which represents injured patients at mental health providers. He also serves as Chairman of the Hilltop Family YMCA.

Bill provides professional training seminars for social workers and counselors and leads one-day "marriage tune-up" workshops for couples at local churches. The workshops primarily focus on the need for clear communication between the couple and the importance of the partners making time for each other, especially during the busy years when the children are going in multiple directions.

"One reason the divorce rate is so high after the empty nest stage is that the couple didn't make time for each other while the kids were growing up," he says. "Then, when the kids are gone, all the conversations and unresolved issues that were swept under the rug for years come to the surface."

Bill has been dispensing his wise, anecdote-filled advice to The Shopper's readers for 17 years.

The best of his columns have been compiled into two books, "Creating Our Safe Place: Articles on Healthy Relationships" (2004) and "Keeping It Safe: Articles on Healthy Relationships" (2009). Although both books are currently out of print, Amazon has a handful of new and used copies of the books available. "This is a God thing for me," Bill says. "I love telling stories to illustrate my points."

Dr. Austin poses with his first book, Creating Our Safe Place

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling

7305 Hampton Blvd.
Norfolk, VA 23505


Offices in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Suffolk