Retirement is something to look forward to. Most of us envision a well-deserved escape from the stress and strain of working life, a new chapter where we will have the free time to pursue all those interests we were forced to shelf while laser focused on making a living. If we can somehow survive today’s struggles we just might get there.
Unfortunately once one arrives at retirement’s doorstep things don’t always go as planned. Making the switch from full time employment to full time retirement can be challenging. And since we have no experience to draw upon launching our second act is an unfamiliar adventure where to excel we must learn as we go.
I retired five years ago. After an initial adjustment period I am pretty satisfied with the life I now live. However there were times I struggled, stumbled and made mistakes. As long as you learn from your mistakes it’s okay, right? Here are a few important lessons I have learned along the way.
Realize an identity beyond your job
At a cocktail party when asked “what do you do?” a typical response tends to describe your role on the job. Often what you do is a major influence on your perception of who you are. Many are so absorbed with their job they have no real life outside the career. Now you are retired – who are you?
If you find yourself with no identity outside your job retirement can leave you feeling lost and without purpose, disconnected from a reality where until now you played a significant role. Once retired it is important to establish new roots to grow and nurture the post-job you. You were and are someone beyond your employment. Retirement allows that person to surface and take control, to make the best of what can be an exciting inspiring stage of life.
Don’t just keep busy, find meaning
Boredom is a real threat to the unprepared retiree. If you retire at age 65 you can hope to live 20 or 30 years in retirement. That is a whole lot of days and months and years. Playing golf or volunteering a few hours a week is not going to be enough. At the end of the day wouldn’t it be nice to look back on your activities and feel some degree of satisfaction, some small bit of accomplishment?
When I first retired I was fine with doing nothing. After 30 years of the old grind I deserved it. No one was telling me what to do. I was finally my own boss. I slept in, attacked a mountainous stack of books I had accumulated, took a few trips, revisited some long forgotten hobbies, and was happy basically watching the grass grow.
That lasted about six months. Now what? What was I supposed to do with the rest of my second act?
How we choose to spend time as retirees is a personal decision. Activities that excite me might bore the pants off you. What helped me was trying to stay open to the many possibilities that came along while building up the nerve to step outside of my comfort zone. After five decades of life I was pretty set in my ways. Then here comes retirement, a blank page waiting for me to paint my own unique picture.
So I tried some new things, things I always wanted to do or had recently become interested in:
– I always wanted to be a writer so I started a blog “Retirement – Only the Beginning” where weekly I share my journey in search of a meaningful fun retirement. Taking things one step further I wrote and self-published two books handling everything from the content to the cover.
– After a few trips to Paris I thought it would be cool to learn a little of the language (at least enough to read the menu) so with the help of an app I downloaded to my iPhone I am learning to parle francais.
– My dad always loved gardening so I am giving that a try nurturing our plentiful roses and growing some veggies. There is something special about saving the seed from a favorite tomato then sprouting it, growing it and eating the fruit all over again!
You don’t have to be productive all the time
You cannot be good at your job if you waste time. Many become so accustomed to giving 110 percent they find it hard to gear down for even a weekend. Don’t be surprise to find you feel guilty “wasting time” in retirement. But it is okay to do so. With the job behind you are allowed to slow down. Every moment need not be productive. A good healthy mix of activity and downtime rids your day of stress and anxiety, neither welcome in any retirement plan. I learned an important ingredient to a happy retirement is finding a pace you are comfortable with and going with the flow.
Dedicate part of the day to fitness – mental as well as physical
It’s wonderful to no longer deal with the hectic stressed-out pace of full time employment. On the other hand your mind will probably never as sharp as when you were making snap decisions or dealing with unexpected events that populate the typical work day. The job keeps you on your toes. When you remove that from the equation you might lose a step or two, perhaps slow down a bit from that top-of-the-food chain whirlwind you had become. In retirement it is important to find new challenges, try new things, and keep the old mind engaged. Like any muscle if you don’t work it out your brain will atrophy. My wife and I partake in a myriad of brain games including cards, backgammon, jigsaw puzzles, remembering names, discussions with smart friends, and revisiting specific details of past trips and experiences.
As for the physical side I recently discovered a guideline that helps me stay on track. The goal is to take a minimum of 10,000 steps each day. Mileage may vary according to the length of your stride but for me that works out to close to five miles a day. At first the distance sounded unrealistic – how can I possibly walk five miles every day? So I picked up a “fit bit” and began tracking my steps. Soon I found myself “taking the long way” whenever possible – walking instead of driving to the nearby store (2 miles round trip), using the stairs rather than elevator, happily strolling to the far side of the house to retrieve some forgotten item. At the end of the day it all added up and I was pleasantly surprised how often I hit that 10,000 step target.
There is no universal blueprint for how to transition into a fulfilling retirement. Each of us needs to find our own path. But we might learn from the experiences of others. And if we are fortunate we may avoid repeating mistakes endured by those who have gone before us.