Every once in a while you meet a senior who seems to have retirement figured out. They appear to be genuinely happy with their state of affairs and making the most of each day. When you ask about their retirement experience they shine a genuine smile and are happy to regale you – often at length – about how wonderful it is to be in their shoes. Their happiness is infectious and you may find yourself caught up in their joy. Although it is safe to assume not everything is perfect in their world, their overall outlook is positive.
My wife and I recently spent a weekend in Carmel Valley trying to escape the latest Bay Area heat wave. While dining in a shaded patio beside a burbling fountain decorated with playful water nymphs we found ourselves seated next to a retired couple. This couple had retired to the Carmel area more than 15 years ago. Before we even got our menus they began sharing their years together as a retired couple along with just how happy they were to be retired.
The best part was how excited and animated they became reliving the moments and experiences they enjoyed along the way. Between extensive travels abroad and heavy involvement with the local community they painted a vivid picture of a fulfilling and exciting retired life. Each new arrival to the restaurant bid them hello and everyone in the room seemed to know them. This retired couple seemed to be equal parts proud and happy to be an integral part of their local community.
Finding the right retirement state of mind can help you realize a happy and fulfilling second act. Here are some helpful pointers I gleaned from our recent encounter at the restaurant:
Become involved in something that matters. Carmel Valley is compact, but like any small community you can find a lot going on if you know where to look. Our new friends recommend we identify what most interests us personally. For example, I love spending time at the ocean, so why not see if I might contribute a day or two each week working at Point Lobos National Park or the Aquarium on Cannery Row. It is not about the money but rather staying engaged doing something you like. My wife would like to help out the significant senior population in the area and so might offer to deliver food or drive those who would otherwise remain homebound. Local clubs, societies and organizations are always looking for volunteers to assist during special events. There are a wide variety of options when it comes to possible areas to contribute your time. In fact, we have heard from more than one couple that one of the biggest problems among the newly retired is suddenly finding yourself committed to doing too much.
Don’t limit your possibilities. Just because you have not done something in the past does not mean you cannot give it a whirl now. With time to do what you want, retirement offers a second chance to try new things. A little experimentation might uncover a hidden passion or lead to an exciting new undertaking. Consider your retirement a blank chalkboard you are free to fill with whatever strikes your fancy. Try not to be overly picky on the first pass. You can make adjustments later. And if after your initial investigation you find you don’t like a particular selection, just pull out your handy eraser to make room for something else.
Get to know your neighbors. Living in the frantic Bay Area with everyone enmeshed in all-consuming careers is not the most conducive environment when it comes to getting to know the people on your block. Sure, we recognize one another and say “hi” when we pass on the street. But at least for us it has been difficult to build close relationships. In retirement, you will no longer be time constrained and have the chance to get to know those people next door and across the street. Who knows what common interests you may share. Neighborhoods used to be much more closely knit and supportive. With a little time and effort maybe you can bring a little of that back into your life.
Stay active. There is a time and a place to rest and relax during retirement. But it is also important to have an active life that allows you to stay involved with living. You cannot experience new things tucked into the same day to day existence. Our restaurant friends seemed to be in perpetual motion. And when they did take a break they were planning their next adventure. Just how active you want to be is up to you and your personal tastes. But try not to deprive yourself of that satisfied feeling at the end of the day after you have accomplished something that matters or tried something new.
Written for my blog on US News & World.