Retirement Checklist Revisited

Back in 2010 when I wrote my first post for Retirement – Only the Beginning I did not realistically have much of an understanding of what it meant to be retired. I knew or at least hoped I would retire sometime down the road. As for what that retired life would look like I was pretty clueless. That ultimately became the motivation for my blog – figuring out what I could do to best prepare myself to live a fulfilling meaningful retirement. And as I have reiterated in past blogs the focus of my efforts was on those many important considerations other than financial. Although money is a key piece of the puzzle I was convinced there was much more to living happily retired than just a fat wallet. The trick was to figure exactly what those pieces were before rather than after retirement commenced.

As the years progressed I began to better comprehend the challenges as well as opportunities that awaited me. I started digging into what I thought would matter most in my second act. What would I do, what was important to me, what would challenge me and keep me engaged, and ultimately what would make me happy? I began to create a mental checklist – a work perpetually in progress. Over the years I have modified my checklist making an addition here and a deletion there.

Here are a few of what I have identified as most important considerations to foster a happy retirement. Let’s see how things are progressing as I enter year number three of retired bliss.

Take time to smell the roses

In other words learn to enjoy life. After 30 years living at a pace slightly slower than the speed of light it is not easy to take it down a notch. In the startup world the focus has always been on getting more and more done in less and less time. Rolling into retirement in this state of mind was not a good idea – at all. In the early days of retirement I felt guilty if I was not doing something “meaningful” with every free moment. I was unable to enjoy Welcome Flowerthe freedom I have since learned can be a most satisfying part of each day. But I am getting better. For example, in our new home we have a lot of roses – I’m talking about more than 80 bushes sprinkled around the property. My first instinct was to tear out the thirty-or-so in the front and replace them with saw grass, ornate lava rocks and a splash of low-maintenance color. I had a picture clearly in my mind and was planning the changes from the first day we moved in. Then I began to look more closely at the roses, to see them for the beauties they really were. Colors ran the gamut from yellow to blood red to peppermint. Wonderful aromas wafted up from each as I sniffed them in turn. Maybe it made sense to enjoy them a bit before taking any drastic action. Why not keep an eye and a nostril on them for a year or two and see if we like them as they are. What was the hurry? It sounds simple but coming from my do it now background this was monumental. This morning I cut a sample from four bushes to create a bouquet for the kitchen that reinforces my decision to take it easy, don’t be in a hurry, just smell the roses (literally). I have to say I am enjoying this healthier happier pace.

Be sure to sync up retirement plans with your spouse

As I have shared earlier my wife recently joined me in retirement. Until then she was hard at work while I endeavored to perfect the retired life we would live by getting started early. As she inched closer to her final months we began to discuss in more detail just what was ahead. There are views we hold in common and some where we differ. Nothing surprising here as that could describe any time in our relationship. But in retirement we are learning to pay closer attention. Since we are together 24/7 little annoyances might grow in significance if ignored. On the other hand by sharing openly we may discover shared interests we have ignored and now have time to explore. I think the retirement sync will be ongoing. What has helped us is a willingness to discuss and compromise. Another work in progress but we are making progress.

Try to be healthy in body and mind

It is not always easy to squeeze in time for exercise when you are working 60 hour weeks. And when you finally have a spare moment you are more likely to collapse than drop and give 50 pushups. Retirement is a whole different ball game. You are now in control of your time. What I love about this freedom is I don’t have to force a workout into a designated time slot. I can get my exercise when I feel most inspired to do so. Of course sometimes I have to push myself a little should the inspiration fail to materialize. Eating right is also less challenging once retired. Instead of scarfing a sandwich during a fleeting five minute window you can prepare a more balanced tasty repast. We have located the best French bakery in the area (think fresh baguette) along with the closest weekly farmers market (think fresh fruit and veggies and local fish) and a cheese shop to end all (fromage!). I look forward to meals as we creatively combine local goodies never sure exactly what we will end up with but always pleased. We all know how important it is for our health and wellbeing to get regular exercise and eat well. Retirement can provide the time and flexibility to take care of yourself like you should.

Unleash the creative you

Retirees have free time on their hands. How they choose to spend it is entirely up to them. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to keep busy. If what you do is what you enjoy, keep doing it. I have found retirement a good time to revisit old passions as well as investigate new things. I like to write (blogging), I love music (back at the piano keys), I love nature (hiking nearby park or walking coastal paths), I have discovered a previously unknown love for Paris (taking history classes, learning the language, and visiting when I can), and I am trying my hand at cooking. Who knows what might be next. Doing what I want when I want makes retirement pretty special. I can’t wait for tomorrow!

Make Your Retirement Count

After all the effort it takes to make it to retirement, it sure would be nice if once we arrived we could leave our troubles behind and look forward to smooth sailing and happy moments. We are done with the heavy lifting – now it’s time for us. And there is no reason not to hope for many good times as we start to navigate our second act. We have time and freedom to pursue what we really love. Ideally our health is relatively good allowing us to actively engage with the world around us. Our minds are still sharp, honed over years on the job and now free to explore new horizons. It is our time to get to it.

As the years shape us into the people we are, many learn that life is not quite that easy. Things do not always work out the way we plan – sometimes not even close. Why should retirement be any different? Along the retirement road we will likely confront unexpected bumps in the road, unplanned for challenges, and stretches of just plain bad luck. Being the resilient bunch we are we try to focus on the positive and endure any negative.

A number of people from family and friends to blog readers have showed me a few ways to help make the best of retirement. Their examples and chin up attitude helps to inspire and guide me should I get a little down in the dumps (not often but it does happen).

In past blogs I have shared snippets about my aunt. Currently age 73 and the recipient of two knee replacements (one per leg) she raises the bar when it comes to getting out there and living. Chances are when you reach out to catch up she is either on the road or planning for her next excursion. Recently back from two weeks in Croatia where she walked miles each day while sharing magnificent travel shots with those of us at home she is recharging for a few weeks and then back on the road again. On numerous occasions when we walk together I have to kick my pace up a notch to keep up with her – especially when heading up hill. She never complains. And she never runs out of ideas of where to go next. As she has told me on numerous occasions, she is going to keep up this pace as long as she can. She knows at some point – hopefully far down the road – she will no longer be able to maintain her love of travel and walking among the cobbled streets and fragrant hillsides that inspire her so. But until then she remains unstoppable. The moral to the story – keep on wanting and keep on walking.

A reader of my blog describes how he recently retired as his role was gradually phased out (I know how that goes). He has researched and read widely to prepare himself to best take advantage of the free time he is now responsible for. He is actively engaging with the community in search of like-minded people in similar situations. But he finds himself at a loss unsure what to do. He does not just want to keep busy but rather do something worthwhile. “I am still struggling to find that new center or core of daily life that is dynamic and vibrant.” Rather than feel sorry for himself he is taking action, trying new things, refusing to surrender. Most recently he is looking into starting a blog as he was a writer in his earlier life. Very eloquent with great ideas to share and a love of the written word, I think he has found a new direction that should serve him well in retirement. The moral of the story – keep moving and trying new things. Don’t wait for happiness to find you.

Another reader describes her recent entry into the ranks of the retired – ten days now and counting. She and her husband are enjoying exploring their neighborhood from a new perspective, able to pause to sit on a bench if they want to appreciate the birds in the trees and children playing in the park, partaking in the peacefulness that is so easily overlooked when we live our turbo working lives. Although a bit sad to leave behind the careers they have been a part of for 30 years, she is looking at retirement as a time to begin again. She calls herself and her husband “oldyweds” – with a lot of similarities to our former selves of almost 30+ years ago when we were newlyweds embarking on a new journey that we didn’t know where it would take us.  But hand in hand we ventured forward, as we will do again.” I like that. I don’t think it could be said better. The moral of the story – you are never too old to begin a new journey.

There are other stories of people successfully making the best of retirement life. As a new entrant I am enjoying myself and my freedoms. Knowing I am not alone, that others have gone before and still others are in the same boat allows me to feel safer, optimistic about what is ahead. You never know and it may not always be pretty but if you don’t go for it with all you have there is no one to blame but you. For better or worse, retirement here we come!