When I took the leap to join the ranks of the retired I thought life was going to be a breeze. All of the tough stuff was behind – right? The kids were in general independent and having families of their own. The house was pretty much paid off. I felt confident stress from the job would soon fade to a distant memory. And I had a ton of hobbies and projects I was just itching to get to. How difficult would it be to spend my days doing what I wanted rather than what someone told me to do?
It did not take long to discover the switch from full-time-employee to full-time-retiree is not without its own challenges. I was a novice at the retirement thing, a first timer with no history to look to for guidance. The retirement my parents live is from a different time and although they are very happy the vision I had for my own second act was not the same as theirs. Right off the bat I felt guilty if I did not keep myself occupied every moment. I had learned in the working world never to waste one precious minute lest an important deadline fall into jeopardy. Old habits can be difficult to overcome and I struggled to evolve. Then I faced the dilemma all retirees will one day confront when asked at a party “What do you do?” Without my career to fall back on I was caught off guard. What exactly does the retired Dave do? How should I spend my free time in some worthwhile way?
That was four years ago. Since then I believe I have gotten better at this retirement thing. It takes work but I figure there is no better way to spend my time now if I hope to make the best of the coming decades of retired living. Here are a few thoughts that helped me more smoothly transition into retirement.
Adjust your intensity to fit your new lifestyle. Now that you are retiring, you are free from any stressful job requiring 100 percent of your focus 100 percent of the time. The only deadlines you face are those you set. Your transition can be easier if you calm yourself and learn to find a pace that you are comfortable with. Concentrate on the journey rather than the individual steps. In the initial days of my retirement I often found myself kicking into a higher gear when doing simple things like gardening or cleaning the house. Rather than relax in the moment and enjoy the activity I pushed myself to get it done quickly and efficiently – just like the boss always wanted. But there was no more boss. It took serious effort to recondition myself. I had to realize there is no hurry. Not everything must get done on a schedule. Now I sweep the deck slowly, patiently, enjoying the nearby oak trees and savoring my freedom. It still gets done only at a pace that suits me.
Give yourself time and space to get there. Don’t be in a hurry to get somewhere you have never been before. There are no more deadlines. Realize you answer to no one other than yourself. Don’t pile on unnecessary pressure to immediately achieve. If what you do is pleasing to you it is worthwhile. Cut yourself some slack – you have earned it. You are not the first person to retire and I would venture that few newbies get everything right from day one.
Channel efforts toward what you can control. No one can entirely control what life might throw our way. That does not mean we cannot influence our future. Retirement is the right time to focus on what is good for you. You finally have time for you. You finally have time to figure out an exercise regimen that you can stick with for your good health. You have time to work on that diet to make you fit not fat. You have time to explore the multitude of activities to engage your mind and heart and passion. Rather than focus on what you cannot do try to imagine what you can – and go for it.
Don’t hide what you are feeling. This is a new chapter in your life. You should not expect it to proceed flawlessly. There will be frustrating moments to cope with. But you are not alone. It is not healthy to hide or try to ignore feelings that cause you concern. Remember giving advice to a child or friend encouraging them to share what distressed them? Talking about it can help. That was good advice – good enough to follow yourself. Facing difficulties alone can feel overwhelming especially for those retired. We no longer have co-workers to lean on, children are out in the world living their own lives, everyone always seems to be so busy. It is often up to each of us to take the initiative to open up and begin the healing process.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to keeping busy. With decades of retirement life ahead, one hobby or golfing every day is not going to make it. Variety is the spice of life even more so in retirement. The more options you have to entertain and engage you the less likely you are to become bored. Rather than bored we hope to find ourselves excited about what the new day has to offer. Don’t be afraid to try something – anything – to stir things up. What do you have to lose?
Being retired should be fun so don’t wait too long to dig in. Take advantage of the fact you will never be younger than you are today. Do those things now that down the road may become too demanding. Cut yourself some slack but don’t allow yourself to watch life from the sidelines. As long as you are healthy enough to get out there and play, join the game and enjoy. That’s what retirement is all about.