When I first retired I was not sure exactly what I should be doing. For 30 years my life was pretty much dictated by my career. I went to work Monday through Friday, and then tried to catch up with the rest of my life during fast-paced weekends. Raising a family, paying the bills and trying to put aside a little for the future was a full-time undertaking.
Then I retired. Over the past few years, I have learned some valuable lessons and survived a handful of surprises I had not foreseen prior to the transition. I am very happy with the experience and where I am today, but there are some things I might have done differently. If I were to start my retirement over again, I would focus on these key areas.
Control the pace of your day. Along with your new found freedom to do whatever you want comes the responsibility to fill your day with activities and meaning. Initially, I was happy doing nothing. After three decades of working a little downtime was well deserved. I became pretty good at going with the flow and sustaining a leisurely pace through the days. But after a while I began to tire of having nothing to show for those hours. I was used to achieving goals and getting things done and found the abrupt end to my productivity somewhat disturbing.
Eventually I learned the importance of creating balance and found a happy midpoint between relaxation and making things happen. With a routine that typically gets me out of bed by seven, I keep occupied until early evening. Part of that time is dedicated to my hobbies and personal goals. But I also set aside time to relax, contemplate and maybe take a nap. I do things when I want to, whether working out, reading, writing or snoozing. When I have had enough, I move on to the next option. I decide what and when to take my next steps. All of this is done at a pace that suits me for that particular day. It feels nice to be in control.
Break your retirement future into shorter time periods. Attempting to plan what you will do for the next 20 years in retirement can be an intimidating chore. That is a long time. I sometimes find it challenging to see ahead to next month. What can help is to focus on smaller chunks of time. Instead of deciding what you will do for the next two decades, try focusing on the next two years. A bite size plan is easier to wrap your mind around. Should you find yourself part way there and decide you would rather do something else, you have only expended a small portion of your overall retirement. You may even find your interests will change ten years from now. There is plenty of time to take a different direction. You don’t have to figure it all out right now.
Be proactive. I have a favorite aunt who is 73 and maintains a level of activity that puts most of us to shame. She hikes, travels and socializes with a wide group of friends and family. Joining her in a recent hike through a local vineyard, my wife and I were hard pressed to keep up with her energetic pace. And the winery hike was her idea. She does not sit back and wait for life to come to her. My aunt is forever in search of the next new thing, adventure or cool event she might undertake.
Inspired by her enthusiasm, I am learning to look beyond my familiar and well worn lifestyle. I am beginning to step outside of my comfort zone. It is certainly comfortable to hang out at home. There are no traffic jams or crowds and whatever you need is right there. But there is so much more if you are willing to look for it. And the Internet and social media makes it easier than ever to find something that fits your individual tastes. Whether you want to flaunt your cooking skills with an eggplant parmigiana recipe, find a group of local spelunkers or throw in with a square dancing troupe, access is only a few keystrokes away. Staying active and engaged has kept my aunt younger than her years. By following a similar game plan my wife and I hope for the same success.
Written for US News & World