Carol Hoyt: Working Towards Meaning

December 15, 2009

by Carol Hoyt

Carol HoytI am about to retire in exactly two weeks. For me, the “when” was a difficult decision, as I love my job of over twenty-five years. I’m a social worker in a geriatric psychiatry unit in a rehabilitation hospital and have been engaged in very meaningful work that has been fulfilling in both professional and personal ways. For example, I help patients consider their living arrangements and support systems and assess whether or not the situation needs to be enhanced or changed. I assist patients in reflecting upon their lives from a psychological perspective and help them to work on implementing changes they see necessary to their present lives. Essentially, I help people move toward their personal goals, to health, to new beginnings.

I, too, have found it useful to reflect upon my own life, particularly at times of major change. Milestones that we all experience, like graduation from college, our first job, marriage, children, significant loss, and retirement are poignant examples of such times.

For me, reflection entails both looking back and looking ahead. With retirement, this means looking back at my working life and looking ahead to life after formal work. A significant part of my process has been to name what I have valued at work, and then to consider how this might be replaced.

My work has given me tremendous meaning, a feeling of being useful and worthwhile. I experience this in a tangible way when I receive my paycheque every two weeks and perhaps more importantly, I feel it when I receive a thank you, a hug or a smile from a patient or family, or a “job well done!” from a colleague. Most importantly, though, I feel meaning in the positive relationships I’ve enjoyed with my patients, their families and my colleagues.

Our society places high value on work, whether paid or unpaid. This includes work in the home and volunteer work. It is usually work that we can see, measure or quantify. Those who do this work usually feel a sense of pride and high self-regard. But what happens if we are not able “to do” in the same way, perhaps through disability or frailty? It is my experience that people lose self-regard and confidence if they have believed only “doing” makes them worthwhile.

A belief I will take into my retirement years is that there is extreme value in what we give in our relationships, which is of equal or perhaps greater value than what we do. We have many relationships as parents, children, grandparents, neighbors and friends. Here we give care and concern, understanding, acceptance, love, knowledge, wisdom and time.

As I move into retirement and leave my professional identity behind, finding new meaning is very important to me. I will work toward a balance of “doing” and “being”. I will remain open to possibilities: for I know that as one door closes, another mysteriously opens. For example, I’ve recently visited Iran and subsequently wrote an article for The Edmonton Journal. It was seen by Shannon Melnyk, Senior Editor of Impowerage, and now I’m writing this column. I am essentially reaching out to a new audience, in the same way I have reached out to patients, in conversation.

I look forward to “being” and to living in the moment for many more moments than I have had time for in the past. I look forward to leaving behind a hectic schedule, and a too-organized existence. This will mean spending more time with grandchildren, being fully present with them, baking, shopping, reading, outings and sharing memories. It will mean leisurely lunches with friends, and getting to know my neighbors. It will mean more walks in the river valley, still power-walking, but taking time to appreciate my surroundings, birds, flowers, sun and wind. I will continue to travel, taking more time to research the culture before leaving. I look forward to savoring the moment, both while “doing” and while “being”.

My goal is to live fully, to listen to my inner-voice; for it will guide me in my quest for meaning. That is my desire, my new beginning.

About the Author: Carol Hoyt is a social worker with Alberta Health Services in Edmonton,Alberta.

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  • Monica

    such a beautiful article! Thank you for sharing

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