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Spirituality on the job: How does it shift upon retirement?

When many people think of the word “spirituality,” they assume that it must be something related to God or religion, perhaps a force that produced tension or disbelief for them as kids. Maybe that view persists even now as adults.


Today, people use that term in a myriad of ways that move far beyond a deist interpretation. I like the definition I heard this week while attending a monthly luncheon in downtown Vancouver at the Adler School of Professional Psychology.


“Spirituality is a state or experience that can provide individuals with direction or meaning, or provide feelings of understanding, support, inner wholeness, or connectedness,” said Andrew Mackey and Shae Hadden, during their presentation Aging, Retirement, and Spirituality at Work, offered by the Workplace Centre for Spiritual and Ethical Development. (Full disclosure: I’m on the board of the Workplace Centre.) Both are founders of the organization O2E Older to Elder.


They were citing the definition created by the International Faith and Spirit at Work Awards. This one identifies two components of spirituality: vertical and horizontal. The vertical represents a desire to transcend the individual ego or self while the horizontal is a desire to be of service to other humans and the planet.


How many of us truly embody both aspects in a balanced way? How does one influence the other? Our capitalist society encourages success within a competitive framework; we’re supposed to strive, as individuals or organizations, to outdo our self-defined opponents and carve our own way ahead, even if it’s at the expense of others. Sharing, cooperation, and honouring all of ourselves and others, or sacrificing for the sake of another, are not something most of us have traditionally learned or experienced on the job.


Thankfully, things are changing. More employers are adopting values-based thinking, identifying their core values and objectives and seeing their employees as more than just cogs in the productivity machine. Mackey said that we need to connect our own horizontal aspect of spirituality with the primary values and goals of the organization(s) we’re working for. Hadden pointed out that life calls us to ponder these key questions:


  • Who am I?
  • What am I meant to do?
  • What am I trying to do with my life?


These are no small issues. Many of us spend decades, if not a lifetime, trying to identify and live our own answers to one or all of these questions. Look at how many life and job coaches, counselors, and facilitators in the developed world offer sessions on how to deal with such topics. People are hungry to bring meaning and satisfaction to their lives, far beyond the money-equals-success equation.  


When many people retire, they discover that they can no longer identify themselves through their job, so what’s left? The two speakers suggested these inspirational prompts to our group of roughly 25:


  • Who do I want to be, now that I’m grown up?
  • What’s my purpose?
  • What am I living for?


They defined purpose as what guides our choices and actions, and meaning as what we care about most. Overall, we had a lively group discussion regarding how employers can honour people’s spirituality on the job, and how people can continue to feel spiritually nurtured during and after retirement. The overall sentiment was that one’s spirituality operates on a continuum; it doesn’t disappear whether we are employed or retired. It simply shifts into a new form of expression.


What has been your experience? How has your spirituality shifted? I’d like to hear your answers.

October 21, 2011 at 4:21 pm
  • October 25, 2011 at 10:13 amHeather Conn

    Thanks for this, Glo. I like your connection of the word “meaning” with perception. Spoken by a true therapist! 🙂 I think that the perception comes first; we recognize that something resonates with us and often, that’s because we care about the issue or feel strongly about it. The passion then reflects our level of caring or emotional response to an event or issue. I appreciate your input.

  • October 24, 2011 at 8:58 pmGloria McArter

    Heather, very well written summary of the presentation, which I enjoyed. I like the definition that Shea and Andrew use for spirituality as it encompasses both the state and experience of the spiritual as well as the emotional component inherent in the state and experience. What is shifting for me is my personal understanding and application of the word “meaning”. For me, meaning is connected with perception, how I interpret what I experience through my senses. This is a bit different than meaning as what we care about. Passion, for me, better describes what it is I care about most and my passion for the spiritual is exactly that. Considering the lively discussion and the respect for diverse views, I would say I am one of many who appreciate the importance of such a topic.

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