Q: All my working life I have defaulted to office work, which I am good at. Unfortunately, I do not like it. But in any case, I will be retiring in a couple of years and would like to do what I would enjoy. I know what I do not want or like, but haven't quite caught on to what my strengths are. I catch glimpses of what I think I would like and then dismiss them. I can't quite get the whole picture in my mind to work toward.
— Laurelee, age 58
A: Laurelee, my advice for you as you look forward to your retirement is to look backward. Reflect again on those "glimpses" you refer to and don't dismiss them this time. Instead, reflect as deeply as you possibly can on whatever those subjects or activities were, and try to remember any relevant details about what really sparked your passion for them. It’s true that you won't be able to get the whole picture of what you're working toward in your mind right away, but that picture will never present itself to you fully formed. You have to paint it yourself, brushstroke by brushstroke.
Retirement will obviously give you more time to paint that picture for yourself, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait until you retire. Every area of your past and present is fair game for exploring what makes you feel strong. You may remember a childhood interest that has remained dormant but still excites you, or you may find that paying close attention to what you’re doing every day—even when you don't love your job as a whole—provides key clues about what your strengths are. If you find even one aspect of your current job that fulfills or invigorates you, consider whether there are endeavors that call upon that strength more significantly. Wherever you find the clues to what your strengths are, the important thing is not to stop at recognizing potential. Once you've identified a promising area for exploration, you actually have to explore. Research the field or subject that sparks your interest; find out if there are ways you can volunteer in that field; write down and organize your thoughts about the subject. Passion isn't something that lives way up in the sky, in abstract dreams and hopes. It lives at ground level, in the specific details of what you're actually doing every day.