A Roadmap for Retirement

A Guest Post by Dr. Patrice Jenkins

While standing in the checkout line at Walgreens, the title of a magazine caught my attention: The Best of Europe: 100 Must-See Destinations. I reached for the magazine and thumbed through the pages that feature beautiful locations, delicious food, and tucked away places to stay. My first thought, “I should buy this magazine and make a plan to do everything that’s featured. This magazine can be my map for the next couple years of retirement.”

Fortunately, the price of the magazine was just high enough to give me reason to pause and think: What is it about this magazine that is so appealing?  Why am I drawn to the idea of having someone else provide an answer to: “What will I do all day?” I think I know why.

For the past 25 years, my life has been directed by work and family obligations. I haven’t had to decide what to do all day, its been decided for me. If you’re reading Dave Bernard’s blog, I can assume that you’re in a similar situation. Outside influences have provided structure and direction, as well as a sense of purpose.

Like it or not, this new stage of life called retirement doesn’t come with a map or a how-to guide. Our days have shifted from being directed by outside forces to inner-direction. While having so much freedom may sound great, the past 25 years have not prepared us for this task (which may explain why I was looking to a magazine for direction).

Fortunately, we don’t have to hand our futures over to a magazine editor. Instead, by creating a vision for the future, tapping into a sense of discovery, and breaking the timeframe into two-year increments, we can regain our sense of direction and look forward to a self-directed life. Here are three steps to get started:

  1. Create a vision for how you want to live in retirement.

A vision of how you want to live your life serves as a great roadmap in retirement. To get the creative juices flowing, look through magazines of all kinds (not just your favorite ones) and cut out pictures, images, and words that catch your attention. You don’t have to know why you’re drawn to something. If you pause, cut and paste.

Another approach is to reflect on the following questions, then write a rich description of the life you want to live.

What do I want more of in my life?  Family, friends, reflective time, …

Where I want to travel and what do I want to see?

What do I want my living environment to look like?

What skills do I want to learn or further develop?

  1. Tap into your sense of discovery.

The magazine’s pictures of Italy reminded me of the time when my husband and I were in Rome. One evening we selected a restaurant that was listed in a tourist guidebook and then spent a couple hours looking for it, walking past by several other eateries along the way. It wasn’t so much that we needed a place to eat. What we needed was an adventure—a sense of discovery. Be sure to tap into your sense of adventure when creating your retirement roadmap.

  1. Two-Year Increments.

You don’t have to figure out what to do with the rest of your life. Instead, what would you like to do for the next two years? Coming up with a plan for two years is less daunting than figuring out what you want to do for the next 10, 20 or 30 years.

“Your imagination is the preview to life’s coming attractions.” Albert Einstein

Dr. Patrice Jenkins is an expert on the social-psychological side of retirement. She applies her research on thriving at work, retirement research, and happiness studies to help individuals design rewarding retirement lifestyles.

How To Avoid Retirement Burnout

It sounds hard to believe, but after the initial honeymoon period you may start to feel dissatisfied with your life in retirement. Twenty years is a long time to spend catching up on sleep and watching TV. And many people are unprepared to take on the responsibility of filling their days with more meaningful activities. While a suddenly blank calendar and no place you have to be often sounds great to overscheduled working people, it can also get boring or lonely if the absence of activities continues for an extended period of time. Without a reasonable amount of variety, challenge and newness, retirement could turn out to be far less enjoyable than you hoped for.

After working so hard to get there, it is important to stay active and engaged in retirement. Here are a few ideas to help you avoid retirement burnout:

Keep challenging yourself. No one wants to find themselves mired in a boring routine with nothing to look forward to. Although it may feel safe to remain within the familiar walls of home, it may also lead to boredom and laziness. You can avoid such a debacle if you try to keep challenging yourself. Experimenting and doing things for the first time helps keep life interesting and fresh. New experiences often require new skills, and developing those skills is an important way to stay sharp and on top of your game. Just because you may be less physically nimble does not mean you have to spend your retirement doing nothing. Do what you can safely manage, but keep doing something.

Stay engaged and building new relationships. Once you retire you will find yourself with more free time than ever before. You may choose to spend some of that time with friends and family. Relationships can be strengthened and new memories will be created with the people you engage with in retirement. In addition to renewing existing relationships thisCouple Holding Hands on Swing Set can be a chance to branch out and meet new people. Since your interests will likely change once you depart the working world, getting to know new people who share your new interests can keep things interesting. Whether you prefer one on one face time or a group gathering, a little variety in the people you interact with can help you avoid burnout.

Broaden your horizons. After six or more decades of living, some retirees may feel they have done it all. With little they have not yet experienced, they settle into a life of repeating what they know and are most comfortable with. But experiences you may have viewed as boring in the past could deserve a revisit. In my earlier life, I had no interest in opera. Then my wife took me to an Andrea Bocelli concert that changed my mind. Today it’s not uncommon to hear the soft lilt of an exquisite Italian tenor playing in our home. It never sounded interesting back when I was working full time, but now I have discovered an unexpected new passion. Whether it is music, sports, the theater or even dining out someplace new, retirement can be an excellent time to broaden your interests.

Do some good. The idea of doing something for others has always been interesting to me, but I never made time to do it during my frantic working days. I see retirement as the perfect opportunity to give something back to the community. During my second act, I will have the free time to contribute, and there is always a need.

Stay young at heart. Have you ever met someone who spends their life acting the way they feel rather than the age they are? Although wrinkled on the outside, some retirees maintain an exuberant carefree attitude far younger than their years. Often their zest for living exists in spite of physical limitations, but they choose to stay positive and enjoy life. A positive attitude can help you to better cope with the challenges that come with aging.

From my blog for US News & World

Is it Better to be an Introvert or an Extrovert Retiree?

I recently read a book on introverts and their precarious place in a society that relentlessly encourages outgoing, always-on uber personality types among its members. Starting in school then continuing throughout life we are taught the importance of being extroverted and personable, outgoing and confident. Shyness is associated with weakness. Being thoughtful is perceived as slow to act. Don’t expect to get what you want if you are not able to dynamically sell yourself and your ideas.

In many ways, our world reveres the extrovert. Kids of all ages navigate toward peers who are the most self confident and outgoing. Gregarious in-your-face Uncle Bob is the favorite relative. In the work environment it’s the player with the best presentation skills and personality who tends to rapidly ascend the corporate ladder. The reality is those same perpetually confident individuals may not always have the best idea but still get their way because they do the best job selling that inferior concept. It’s not easy being an introvert in a world where the loud talkers grab all the attention.

While reading the book I thought of myself and where I might fit in the whole introvert/extrovert discussion. And how, I wondered, might my particular personality leanings play out in retirement.

At a high level I am an introvert. Kind of unexpected considering my career was in sales. I am comfortable being alone and rarely challenged when it comes to entertaining me. Whether engaged in my daily exercises or reading from one of what are typically 3-4 books under way or walking the neighborhood or just sitting in the backyard, I keep Thoughtful Gnomebusy on my own. I do not feel any particular emptiness due to a lack of personal contact during my typical retired day. I find plenty to do on my own and the list keeps growing

People talk about missing the social aspect of “the job” but I am not so sure. I admit interacting with co-workers keeps it interesting – you never know what hot gossip you are missing unless you are there in the middle of things. Sometimes an eventful weekend is more special when shared with those around the Monday morning coffee machine. But when I compare the benefits of that regular social interaction with the “costs” associated with work – stressful quotas, long boring meetings, office politics, and the endless competition to climb the corporate ladder – I am not surprised that the retirement option for me is preferred.

Although an introvert at heart, I also very much enjoy getting together with friends for an evening out or attending a San Jose Sharks game. I love to make people laugh (that old hint of Robin Williams I used to be known for during college days). I can even hold my own at cocktail parties although small talk pretty much loses its interest after an hour or so. It’s not that I don’t like people but rather that I am okay on my own.

Is it okay to be slightly introverted in retirement? I think the answer is yes (at least I hope so) as long as you have sufficient worthwhile activities to engage yourself mentally and physically. If you are self sufficient, you are less likely to become bored since you do not rely on others to fill your dance card. You are free to do what you want when you want for as long as you want. If you lose interest in an activity, you move on. I accept it can be dangerous if you let your natural introversion become an excuse for hiding from life. You don’t want to be so afraid of interaction and stepping out that you lock yourself away. I don’t fear for my particular situation. My slightly more extroverted wife will make sure I do not find myself in such a predicament, keeping the social calendar filled with a smattering of events, dinners, shows, and other things outside the home.

Does an extrovert have better odds of living a happy retirement? After all, they find it easy to interact and typically build expansive social networks throughout life. It would seem a natural extension to continue building those networks once retired. Being connected with a wide variety of people makes it easier to fill your day with lunches and outings and events. Free from the shyness that hounds some introverts the extrovert retiree is comfortable trying new things and meeting new people. If that retirement lifestyle sounds like your cup of tea it does not hurt to tip toward the extrovert side of the scale. But if you are an introvert, forcing yourself to live a role you are not comfortable with might not necessarily be the way to go.

I don’t think that there are too many 100 percent introverts in the world. More likely people tend to lean one way or the other but are a mix of extrovert and introvert. I don’t believe there is any significant advantage to be more one way or the other. But knowing which way you are inclined can be helpful. If you are introverted you realize trying new things and meeting new people may require a little extra effort. You can better understand where people may find you slightly put-offish or uninterested when you are far from it. But you are also more likely to be self-sufficient at a time in life when many struggle for a clear path to follow.

Whether you are introverted or extroverted or somewhere in between, knowing your true nature can help you leverage your strengths and confront areas of weakness. Better informed and self aware perhaps you can improve your odds of living a retirement that is the best it can be.