How to Find Your Core Pursuits

Following the steps to build a solid financial foundation is critical to finding happiness in retirement. But once the economic infrastructure is in place, folks struggle with the next part — finding purpose.

Let’s use the analogy of a vacation. When you’re at work, you dream of taking time off. Once the scheduled date finally arrives, you skip merrily away from that office or cubicle without a care in the world. You overeat, over-imbibe, and burn the midnight oil. And that’s okay. That’s the definition of a great vacation!

From beneath the stacks of empty room service plates, you celebrate the deadly sin of sloth. But once the honeymoon phase wears off, the unsustainability of indolence creeps. And deep down inside, some subliminal part of your ego yearns for the daily routine — taking the kids to school, commuting to work, feeding the dog. This lust for the rigamarole isn’t some misguided passion for taking out the trash. Rather, it’s because human beings crave purpose.

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Whether meeting with clients in person or answering listener questions on the radio and podcast, I tell folks to find their purpose through core pursuits.  What exactly are core pursuits?  I like to refer to them as “hobbies on steroids.”

The research for my book, You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think: The 5 Money Secrets of the Happiest Retirees, uncovered that the happiest retirees on the block (HROBs) have an average of 3.6 core pursuits, while the unhappy lot has only 1.9. So core pursuits are that critical to living a happy life in retirement.

Most folks fall into one of two categories.

1. Core Pursuit Abundance

Full disclosure, I’m probably in this camp. Between golf, coaching my kids’ sports teams, family trips to Michigan, playing piano, watching Yellowstone, rebelling against the craft beer movement, and a million other things, my wife wishes I had a little less passion and purpose.

2. Core Pursuit Scarcity

If you can’t find that magical hobby, you aren’t alone. It’s very common. Perhaps you spent most of your time building a successful business or raising a family. Daily life was about “needs,” whereas “wants” were a luxury.

You’re ahead of the game if you’ve already got your core pursuits in place. The best time to make that list was yesterday, but the next best time is today. Take a deep breath. It’s okay to admit that significant life changes are complex. For those near retirement age, it’s daunting to suddenly ask, “What do I want to do?” But, to achieve happiness, you must find an answer. The question is how? The answer is curiosity.

Curiosity killed the cat, but a lack of curiosity killed the happy retiree.

Give your mind permission to roam freely. What activities or topics have you always wondered about but never explored? Where do your thoughts go when the day quiets down and the distractions fade? Figuring that out will help point you in the right direction.

As inspiration, allow me to share a story about my dad. In 2020, he retired after forty-three years of working as a veterinarian. He sent out a letter to his clients which is right on point with our topic. In it, he wrote:

“I must admit that I approach this change of life with mixed emotions. While stepping away from veterinary medicine is hard, as many of you know I have a few other interests that I look forward to pursuing geology, Civil War medicine, fencing, leatherwork, fox hunting, trail riding, woodworking, sewing, time-traveling through historical reenacting (Civil War, Revolutionary, Pirate), music (guitar, singer-songwriter), art, cooking, cowboy poetry, and more! I also look forward to spending more time with our family (four grown children and eight growing grandchildren) and supporting my wife Anne’s interest and career in pottery and equine pursuits.”

I love this letter, not just because the term “equine pursuits” is so specific and extraordinary, but because after a fulfilling career, my dad retired with much more to accomplish. When he was busy treating bovine ulcerative mammary dermatitis, he didn’t have time to be a revolutionary pirate or a cowboy poet. But he knew that he would seize the day when time and resources allowed. His purpose bucket was ready to be filled. It’s time to start filling yours.

Consider some tried and true activities if you’re having trouble pinpointing your curiosity categories. The top four core pursuits of HROBs are travel, family/grandkids, golf/tennis, and volunteering.

Some other options include: snowboarding, skiing, knitting, quilting, hunting, gardening, camping, fishing, church/choir/bible study, college football, crossword puzzles, reading, theater, biking, running, jogging, and walking.

New to the scene is a game called pickleball. With the news that LeBron James recently bought a major franchise, it’s no surprise that it’s one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S. It combines the excitement of tennis with the low impact of ping pong — burns calories without as much knee pain.

Suppose you don’t see something that sparks inquisitive joy within you. No problem. My team and I have created a core pursuit finder. You enter your personality preferences, and it spits out some suggestions.

If you want to read more about core pursuits and the other habits of HROBs, you can check out both of my books: You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think: The 5 Money Secrets of the Happiest Retirees and What the Happiest Retirees Know: 10 Habits for a Healthy, Secure, and Joyful Life. I also recommend a great book by Tom Vanderbilt called Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning.

The list of core pursuit options is endless for the happy retiree. Your only limitation is your creativity and openness to try new things. Incidentally, that limitation is also the key ingredient.

You can be a real go-getter and try everything under the sun, but the key is to nail down three or four at a minimum. Then, just think about how much fun you’ll have! As long as you’ve planned for these core pursuits and are financially ready to support them, you’ll be on your way toward a happy retirement.