(Photo details: Stella back for a visit last week)
I hear from retirees who feel guilty because they aren’t doing any volunteer work in their retirement. I was retired for five years before I started volunteering, so I understand that whole guilt thing.
But it takes some time to adjust to retirement, and then to adjust to the idea that you might be willing to let go of some of that newfound time you worked so hard for. When you are ready to volunteer, how do you find the right fit?
Know your limits
I was certain that I would work with dogs when I retired. I was also certain that I did not want to get another dog for many more years. What I wasn’t certain about was how to reconcile these two certainties. If I spent time working at an animal shelter, how would I resist the temptation to bring one of these homeless doggies home with me? Well of course I couldn’t, so if I wanted to work with dogs, it would have to be with dogs that already had homes.
Which is why my only “volunteer” job in this field is taking care of my friends’ dogs when they are on vacation. Sure, they can afford to board their dogs when they are out of town, but it’s not about the money. Everyone is happier when the dogs stay with me. My friends know their dogs are being well cared for. I’m sure the dogs prefer my house to a cage at a kennel. And I love having a furry companion around when I know that at the end of their stay, they have a loving home to go home to.
So if it wouldn't be something with dogs, what would it be?
Just try something
Last year, my former boss asked me to join the finance committee of an education non-profit where he serves as a board member. I get a lot out of this experience, in fact I often feel like I’m getting more than I’m giving. Even though I was a finance professional for 25 years, I don’t know a lot about the business of running a non-profit. So, I’m learning a lot, I’m meeting people that I admire, and I feel like I’m part of something important. But at this point, I’m not really sure I’m helping all that much. I do feel like the the more I learn, the more I’ll be able to contribute in the future though.
Even so, I’m helping in a back-office kind of way. The organization helps educators and students, but I don’t work directly with the people that are being served. I help in an indirect way; I don’t have any interaction with the folks they are assisting. So I feel a little disconnected from the mission.
Maybe you liked something about your old job
Which is how I knew what I wanted to add next--a volunteer job where I’m working directly with the “customer.” After I wrote a couple of posts about how the Affordable Care Act works, a few of you told me that you thought I was good at explaining this kind of thing. So I’m taking that out on the road. Over the last several weeks, I’ve been part of a volunteer group that helps people navigate the new health insurance landscape.
This work is a lot like my old job actually. For the first four years of my career, I was a tax professional at a national accounting firm. Of course, my clients back then were millionaires. It was my job to sort through the tax laws and figure out how to help millionaires save money on their taxes. It wasn’t my job to weigh in on whether the tax laws were “good” or “bad,” just to use them to my clients’ advantage.
Unlike my old job, my new “clients” aren’t millionaires. But once again I’m sorting through the law to help people save money. Whether the health insurance premium subsidy tax credit is “good” or “bad” is not my concern. Just like my old days in public accounting, my concern is helping my clients save money.
I realize this is a controversial topic because there is so much political disagreement surrounding the new health law. I’ve been watching the debates on TV; I’ve even been involved in some of them on this blog and in my own living room. But I don’t really feel like debating makes a difference. I don’t want to be part of the fighting; I want to be part of the solution.
The rollout of the federal health insurance exchange disappointed me. But I can’t do anything about that. The president promised people they could keep health insurance plans that are now being cancelled. I can’t do anything about that. Tempers are flaring on both side of the issue. I can’t do anything about that.
So I’m focusing on where I can help. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that about 29 million people are eligible to purchase individual insurance on the exchange, and that 60% of them will be eligible for premium tax subsidies. I can help people with that. The CBO estimates that seven million people will be eligible for Medicaid under the expanded coverage. I can help people with that too. But on all that fighting, well I’m not going to help with that.
Can’t keep track of my non-existent posting schedule? Subscribe—it’s free!