Service, Teenagers, Elders and Retirement

May 13, 2024

Betty during teaching career at Sacramento Waldorf High School.

Service comes in many forms. Raising money for an organization, showing up every week to help at a food bank, or working with underserved children are just a few examples. I recently attended the presentations of the Senior Projects at the Sacramento Waldorf School. “Each year, students in the Twelfth Grade can elect to undertake a year-long action research project known as the Senior Project. As an interdisciplinary capstone project that draws on all their capacities and from all corners of their education at SWS, the Senior Project is highly prized as a singular jewel in the crown of our Waldorf education and a way for students to demonstrate mastery, maturity, and readiness for school-leaving (as well as to graduate with Honors!).” 

SacWaldorf senior Amelia Brown, an avid athlete, became familiar with the Greenhouse Project, an organization that serves people in a nearby town. Many of those served are immigrants learning to adapt to American life. Amelia was interested in helping with this process, and she chose to teach soccer to six to eight-year-old girls from Afghanistan. She would have been happy for the group to be co-ed, but the religious background of these girls did not support girls and boys being together. These girls knew nothing about soccer, but they were interested in learning. 

  • Twice a week for the year, Amelia worked with the girls, doing exercises, teaching them how to move the ball, how to work together and helping them gain self-confidence. 
  • Each week the girls improved and enjoyed the experience. Meanwhile, Amelia was making contacts with sports shops and organized a GoFundMe to raise money. 
  • At the last session, she gave each child their own soccer equipment. 
  • Amelia has been active in service projects even when she was younger. That’s who she is.

So often today, young people will do service because it looks good on their resume for college admissions. This may be the reason they are attracted to do this. Even so, the actual act of serving others week in and week out has an effect on their lives. They learn the joy of giving. Older people engage in service projects because they feel the need to give to others. In retirement, they often have the time they hadn’t had when they were fully immersed in a full-time job and family. Now they are free to do what serves their values.

I experience a particular joy in meeting with younger people, from high school through the middle years of the 50s. I met with another SacWaldorf senior Anastasia Pagan, who interviewed me for her Senior Project and posted it as a podcast. During the presentation, she took us through the process of planning, interviewing, editing and posting. The interview with me was the first episode of WOW (Wonders of Waldorf).

You can find the interview by posting on one of these links. 

At this year’s May Day celebration at SacWaldorf, I also met with Skyler, a charming 11-year-old who is writing her own books. The next week, she brought her books over to my house, and we had a lively conversation. As two authors, we discussed the process of writing and publishing books. You can find her books at (see photo below of Betty and Skyler).


Recently, I had three occasions to speak with or hear from men about retirement. One guided me to a talk by Dr. Riley Moynes who spoke about the four stages of retirement – vacation, feeling of losses, trial and error, and then in the fourth stage, reinventing themselves, gaining meaning and purpose, especially in giving service to others. One man around age 80 said that having grown up in the 50s, his job was to get a good job and provide financially for his family. His wife would take care of all the relationships with family and friends. Now that he is retired, his identity has changed. He realized he did not cultivate friendships outside of work. The third man in his sixties still loves his work, but he is looking to the future and realizes he needs to cultivate relationships outside of work, but that hasn’t happened yet.

When I hear women speaking of retirement, it is quite different. They have been used to cultivating relationships along the way, and so when they retire, they often have long-shared friendships based on different interests.

Betty and Skylar at SacWaldorf May Day 2024

The younger generation today may approach this differently, but for now, the huge numbers of people facing retirement are going to affect our society as elders evaluate their relationships and make decisions about how to use their time and where to live.

Starting to cultivate service in childhood and adolescence creates a habit that carries on in later years. Service may look different. It may be that you have the time to respond to people who want to speak with you. You may take the time to make calls or write notes to those who are facing illness or loss. As we age, we become more conscious of our values and how to live by them. We realize how important our community is.

Other people use retirement to work on themselves, to develop a strong inner life, to meet the shadows in their souls, and to find a way to spirit that fits their beliefs. This is also service, service to your higher self.

My friend said the other day, “I don’t think you ever retired.” I beg to differ. Indeed, I haven’t taken up golf or repeatedly taken cruises, and there is nothing wrong with either of them. I do just enough travel that works for me. Remember, I’m still in rhythm with the academic school year and that means I usually plan to travel for the summer. Because I don’t have to show up in September, I can now let my travel continue into the Fall. And because of the possibility of Zoom meetings, I teach a class on child development as part of the International Handwork Program every other week. Occasionally, I do a course based on my books in South Korea, Taiwan, or China. However, in general, my activities are different from when I was working. 

What do I do? I have two weekly study groups and a monthly evening group based on Rudolf Steiner’s work. I attend a monthly Great Books group with almost all retired doctors. I have a monthly biography group with others who work as biographers. I have a monthly lunch and theater attendance with Suzi whom I met twenty years ago in a walking group. I value having different groups with people engaged in different areas and interests. On Sundays, I am regularly invited for dinner with my dear neighbors, which includes people from two to ninety-nine years of age.  These meetings create a rhythm in the week and month. I assess these activities regularly to feel if it is too much, too little, or just right, and I make adjustments if needed.

In between, I walk, write, visit friends, knit, watch the news, read, and enjoy my son’s visits and my daughter’s WhatsApp calls. At any point, I can change what I’m doing. If I decide to spend a few hours engrossed in a novel, I can do that. If an acquaintance or friend asks to have a conversation, I can do that. I do not have to prepare lessons (although my newsletter is a little like that). I do not have to write reports. I do not have to chaperone teenagers on field trips. I don’t have to evaluate teachers’ classes unless I am invited to do so. Then it is my choice. These were all aspects of my job. I always felt that teaching was my calling, and that included parts that were enjoyable and parts that needed to be done whether I liked it or not. In retirement, I have the luxury of choosing.

Returning to the four stages of retirement, I, too, have gone through them, but they weren’t clear steps. It was more a process of trying things out, figuring out what was meaningful, placing more value on quietness and reflection, and appreciating each day for what it brings. We all have our temperaments, and what fits for one person is different from another. I’ve always been a doer, so it doesn’t work for me to completely slow down, but I adjust what I’m doing. What someone else may feel is tiring, for me may feel natural. I can lose myself in writing or researching, and time flies by. I can struggle with a difficult knitting pattern or figure out a new way to prepare salmon.  I walk on the trail or around the neighborhood and meet people along the way, and I return excited by a brief conversation. As my friend Liz comments, “You didn’t just say hello, you learned their life story.” 

Closing Thoughts on Retirement

I am very aware that all of my plans can be affected by unexpected health changes. So, part of retirement is trying to anticipate what would be needed if something happened.

Shortly after retirement, I took a course at the Renaissance Society called “What shall I do with the rest of my life?” As part of the course, we evaluated our own strengths and challenges, our needs and our hopes. We also looked practically at our finances and our home. Such questions as, what changes would need to be made in my home if I had problems walking? What if someone had to live in my home to care for me? Is my home located where I can walk to a grocery? How would I get around without a car? These are sobering questions, but excellent for planning. The key question was, do you have a support group of friends and family?