It’s no surprise that active farmers say they don’t have time for hobbies or outside interests, especially if they’ve also got young families. But as the years go by, the price begins to show, both in quality of life and also — as more and more research shows — in the quality of your decision-making on the farm, in your optimism, and in your self-confidence.
All across Canada, the result is a generation of farmers nearing retirement who recognize that a hobby would expand their social circle, and that it would stop them from obsessing quite so much about some of the decisions that the kids are making.
But how do you get started?
That’s the hurdle. Or at least it can seem like one until you look around. It turns out that while some farmers sit on the sidelines, waiting for a hobby to pick them, others are as amazing at developing new interests as farmers are at everything else.
Sometimes, a hobby is just waiting at the back door or in the shop, where you’ve been tripping over it all along, like learning how to weld all those odd bits of metal laying about in your shop into farm sculptures, or making all those scraps of wood into bowls, pens, clocks or anything else you can imagine.
Just as often, your hobby might mean finding new ways to make a difference in other people’s lives, perhaps just down the road or maybe halfway round the world.
The point is, it’s waiting.
What to do with all that time?
The question gets more urgent for farmers as they age. It felt like the day would never come when they would actually retire from the farm, or want to look anywhere else for quality of life, but now they realize it’s here.
Finally, they can travel, maybe become a snowbird for a few months, play more golf, learn to paint, knit, kayak, take up photography, train for a half-marathon, play senior baseball, garden, become absorbed in DIY projects, make birdhouses, restore a tractor you drove in your youth, or help revive an endangered livestock breed.
They can finally say yes to some of those community volunteer requests, sit on a few more boards, help with the pancake breakfast at the summer fair, maybe even go overseas and do ministry work.
Unfortunately, the initial flush of excitement about all the possibilities often doesn’t last past the first trip to the travel agent for brochures, and for farmers in particular, it’s too easy to sink into their old ways, despite their shortcomings.
Although most will have plans that deal with the financial aspect of their senior years and retirement, they are all too often unprepared for the psychological void it can create in a life that so far has been defined by work.
Farm family coach Elaine Froese avoids the “R-word” in her conversations with farmers and their families, instead talking about how they will reinvent their roles as she introduces them to the concept of a role map.
Froese trained in the Hudson coaching program, which teaches there are six key roles in people’s lives: selfcare and personal development, marriage, family, work, friends and community.
“For farmers, the role they pay attention to most is the farm,” says Froese. “When that changes there are gaping holes in all the other roles that they’re supposed to be playing.”
So, it’s important that people who are approaching the next stage in their lives after full-time work think about “finding the flow,” a concept based on the work of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life.
It’s about asking yourself questions like what do you want to do as a lifelong learner, what are your passions, what gets you out of bed in the morning, and what is it you do that makes you lose all track of time. Froese finds that identifying these types of activities or interests is vital because they will likely be fulfilling and meaningful for the rest of a person’s life.
“Meaningful” is the key
There has been a lot of research about the implications of what people do or don’t do in retirement. One of the conclusions, strongly supported by evidence, is that people need to continue to be engaged in meaningful activity.
“For many people, our job, our paid work, is a really core component of our self-identity and self-worth,” says Dr. Janet Fast, professor and co-director of research on aging, policies and practice at the University of Alberta. “It becomes a challenge if you suddenly arrive at this day when you no longer have this really meaningful role that has been central to your identity and there is this vast amount of time that you just don’t have a plan for.”
In his 2012 paper, “Psychological Effects of the Transition to Retirement,” Dr. John W. Osborne, then of the University of Alberta, says, “finding truly meaningful engagement in retirement may take longer than expected. Making these adjustments prior to the transition can reduce stress and anxiety. Retirement preparation can be done gradually and thereby lessen the stress.”
What’s meaningful to one person may not be at all meaningful to another. “There’s been a lot of research, for example, on whether volunteering is the solution, and for some people it is, but not for everybody,” says Fast. “Grandparenting is becoming one of those post-retirement roles that really does give meaning to older adults’ lives. For some people it’s picking up new hobbies or doing something that they have always enjoyed doing but never had the time to do as much as they wanted.”
Does gender play a role in how we reinvent ourselves for retirement?
Most likely, says Froese. “It’s interesting to see the behaviour of men who have no great projects in place other than their work,” she says. “I don’t think you’ll find as many women in that scenario because they put a higher value on relationships. Because of that, they’re never at a loss for connection or emotional-support things to do.”
That’s because workaholism is still alive and well on the farm, especially among the retiring or soon-to-be-retiring generation. “If you look at the generation of farmers in their early 30s, their guidelines for what is acceptable and not acceptable is totally different than their boomer parents,” says Froese. “That’s why there’s a lot of conflict happening because these younger parents are not willing to sacrifice family relationship time for the business. They’re much clearer about the boundaries for that.”
Although women are more likely to also have paid work either on or off the farm than maybe their mothers or grandmothers did, their retirement decisions are commonly related to their partner’s.
“For men, the decision is often tied to health or simply being in a financial position of being able to retire, but for women, research shows the retirement decision is often tied to other family factors, and in particular, their partner’s decision to retire,” agrees Fast.
Froese says when she broaches the subject with men on the farm about other interests, inevitably they will tell her that they like to be on the combine or doing something on the farm. “When I ask the wife, she might want to travel, but her husband has zero interest in doing that. But where is it written that couples have to travel together?” says Froese.
Which raises the point that it’s important to have a strategy that allows each person to have their own interests, especially as relationship roles begin to change in retirement.
“There are some relationship aspects of this that need to be worked out too, because it may not be everyone’s preference to spend those extra 40-plus hours a week cheek to jowl in the house,” says Fast. “It’s important to plan some activities that are unique to you as an individual, as well as activities that will bring you together as a couple.”
COVID-19 to the fore
Interestingly, the current social distancing and self-isolation practices that have become a daily part of people’s lives because of the global COVID-19 pandemic are bringing to the forefront a lot of these issues about how to spend time during retirement, or in closer connection with family members.
For some people, who are used to working from home, or have spent a lot of time developing other interests, the transition to spending more time at home with family and friends isn’t such a big one, but for others it highlights the fact that work and a lot of the peripherals around it — like commuting or spending time doing things that are necessary to pay the bills rather than things that give enjoyment in our lives — the adjustment has been more difficult.
“People are lost because they haven’t been paying attention to their own lives,” says Froese. “I remember one farmer told me he was going to fix up three cars for each of his three children in retirement. It really struck me that he had a definite plan for how he was going to keep occupied and enjoy the next stage of his life.”
The important thing to remember is that retirement isn’t the end, but the beginning of the next stage of a person’s life, which could be a very long one. So, it’s important to start getting ready — practising, if you will — for change. That can include a number of things like networking with people, testing or experimenting with new activities or interests, or rediscovering favourite ones, even exploring training or lifelong learning opportunities.
Osborne says, “future retirees are well advised to diversify their pre-retirement lives in terms of recreational activities, hobbies and membership in clubs and organizations that provide opportunities for building activities and friendships beyond the work world. Talking several years prior to retirement to build what will become a retirement lifestyle can make the transition less problematic.”
“Farmers tend to have all-or-nothing thinking, which doesn’t serve them well for the times when they can actually just test things out,” says Froese. “For example, if you think you want to have a summer place, rent some Airbnbs first, and live there for a couple of weeks or a month and see if you like the area.”
“Hopefully, it doesn’t take an accident or a health threat for people to start living more intentionally about what they want their life to look like,” says Froese. “They need to understand that they are preparing to launch the next chapter and are reinventing themselves for a new role.”
According to Osborne: “The principle of continuity shows how those who have a positive worldview, good family relationships, a robust and diversified identity, and involvement in meaningful activities apart from their job are likely to have an easier transition to retirement. A life review prior to retirement can provide a retiree with information with which to understand how pre-existing aspects of pre-retirement life can play a significant role in adjusting to the new transition. Fine-tuning rather than dramatically changing their lifestyle is probable when employees begin the transition to retirement. The diversification of roles and interests prior to retirement may help retirees redefine their identity after losing their work/life structure and replace it with a retirement/life structure.”
Froese says there are different ages in role development. “In your 60s it’s about starting over. In your 70s, it’s about legacy building and in your 80s it’s being a wise mentor. By the time you are in your 90s you have built a legacy, enjoyed things, handed most material things over and are a respected, wise elder,” she says.
Froese has come across many farmers doing volunteer work and putting their vast skills and experience to good use. One has done Mennonite Disaster Service work, another has shared his mechanical and leadership skills in Hawaii, others have gone to Gleanings for the Hungry in California, which freeze dries vegetables and food for third world countries. She knows of women in their 70s who are involved in ministries helping women in Nepal, Chili, Ukraine and Kenya.
“If you are 70, you should plan on living another 25 years,” says Froese. “That’s a long time. You could do a lot of good in 25 years.”