Lessons I Learned as I Prepare for Retirement

I have looked forward to retiring for years. The idea of having control of my time to do what I want sounds about as good at it gets. As an obsessively organized person who likes to have a bit of control over things, I am not comfortable adopting a wait and see attitude, especially when it comes to something as important as planning for my retired life. I don’t want to let retirement just happen. I want to do what I can to provide for the best second act possible.

About four years ago I began seriously researching retirement. I visited popular websites, read books, subscribed to newsletters and joined AARP in an effort to get a better handle on what was ahead. During the process I created a blog to share my discoveries and get feedback from those navigating their own personal retirement journey. What I have learned has caused me to adjust some of my initial perceptions and raised my optimism for the future.

I no longer fear being bored. When I first began planning for retirement, I was convinced that the biggest threat to my future happiness was becoming bored. I have always been an active person on the job and off. Without work to take up the majority of my time, I could not fathom how I would stay engaged and active for the next 20 years. A few fellow bloggers sought to enlighten me and described how their retired lives kept them at least as busy as when they worked – only now they were having fun. But I was convinced it was not going to be easy.

On my “trial retirement” for the past two years, I have developed a routine that starts at 7 a.m. each morning and keeps me engaged until late afternoon. I have revisited hobbies that I never had time for and discovered some new passions to pursue. And I keep looking for new things to do. Having a basic routine that I am free to modify combined with a renewed ability to explore new activities has me optimistic about my retirement and much less concerned about becoming bored.

My wife has not yet ventured into retired living and might find it initially challenging. She is an energetic, organized and involved person who prefers to be busy rather than stagnant. Work has always been an important part of her life, and taking that out of the equation makes her a tad bit nervous. The good news is her husband has been in a similar situation and has almost made the transition. We should be able to figure it out together.

I realize I don’t have to be perpetually busy. After over 30 years in the corporate grind I initially felt a little guilty if I was not doing something every minute. Working in stressful environments left me conditioned to be doing something worthwhile all the time. Transitioning into a retirement lifestyle where I am no longer on the clock took some getting used to. But I eventually came to accept and appreciate down times when I do nothing. I have come to realize it is truly wonderful to relax in the backyard, partake in an afternoon nap or just plain daydream. I don’t have to be doing something all the time, and I am getting used to the idea.

I accept that I cannot be prepared for everything. I did not foresee the bubble of 2000 or the recession of 2008, and I probably won’t see the next bear market coming either. Although we have saved what we can, there is no guarantee it will be enough. There is a lot of uncertainty in the future, and no one can be prepared for every possible contingency. By accepting that everything is not within my control I feel I am better equipped to prepare as best I can and cope with whatever comes my way.

Retirement is a transition. Getting used to being retired and making the most of it will be a gradual process. I may not get it right on my first try, but I have time to make it better, improve and learn. Although I am getting older, I am optimistic about retirement and ready to give it a try.

From my blog on US News & World

How do you stay positive when life keeps getting harder?

It is not easy to come to grips with growing older. The world around us fixates on all things youthful while advertisers bombard us with happy, wrinkle-free picture-perfect models cavorting happily with nary a care in the world. The message seems to be if you are young you have it made. But what about those whose teens and twenties are a distant memory? Is there a place for those of us whose youthful spirit finds itself betrayed by a progressively more wrinkled visage?

I am doing my best to come to grips with the wear and tear of my 55 years of living. I do my part as far as getting my exercise and following a healthy diet. Overall things are going fine but not all the time. The spirit may be willing but if the body doesn’t pitch in it sometimes feels like an uphill battle.

As the years progress we learn it is not always easy doing those simple things we took for granted not so long ago. Little aches and pains insidiously work their way into daily life. Bending down to pick up a dropped set of keys requires more dedication than it should. I cannot make up my mind if I should bring my book closer or hold it at arm length to read type which seems to be tinier every day. It wasn’t that many years ago when my day began with a single multi-vitamin. These days my prescription regimen is far more involved and my vitamin is now specifically for those over 50. Just minor annoyances in the overall scheme of things but still…

I remember as a teenager my father expressing his chagrin that all the actors he grew up with were getting old. At the time his comment did not make much of an impression – they were all old to me! Now I get it. Not only are my favorite actors and actresses IMG_0290showing a little more gray even those high energy rockers that populate my musical memory cannot escape the effects of time. I remember seeing The Eagles in concert when I was 17 and they were jamin’. Although I enjoyed a recent revisit as the band tours once again, it was impossible to ignore the fact that these guys are now in their late sixties and early seventies. I don’t even want to talk about The Stones.

When I get together with old friends I realize they are actually becoming “old” friends. We overlook the gray atop our heads and bravely try to see beyond lines that are slowly laying claim to our foreheads and the corners of our eyes. Our discussions have moved from the cutest girl in the office to the cutest daughter in college or recently graduated even. We easily share memories of past adventures that bring tears of mirth but now often find those mixed with real tears shed for losses and pains experienced along the way.

There is just nothing easy about getting old.

Thankfully there is a positive side. I believe with some effort it is within our power to learn to accept certain challenges brought on by advancing years. Each step we take is a part of our own unique journey. Some are easier than others but all move us steadily forward. Rather than mourn the losses, I think it makes sense to focus on the positives, the opportunities, and the new adventures that wait.

I am not yet a grandparent but look forward to the experience. What could be better than spending time with tiny inquisitive ever energetic mini-people as they experience for the first time what life has to offer? The first trip to the zoo, the first birthday cake, the first face-to-face with the family cat – everything eye opening and fresh. And at the end
fun in the sunof the day the little treasures go home with their parents who get to do the heavy lifting for the foreseeable future. I might almost feel guilty enjoying all the good and passing on the dirty diapers and childhood challenges to the persevering parents…almost.

I look forward to spending more time with my wife. She is still working these days so we are limited to sharing evenings and weekends. What I am talking about is when she is job free and we can take off during the middle of the week for an impromptu journey to wine country or the coast or just about any place where we can be together. I can’t wait for those extended trips back to Europe or Mexico as well as exploring places we have never been. So long as we are healthy, we hope to stay active and engaged always searching for that next new experience.

As a retired person, I no longer suffer the stresses of the job or demands of pursuing career advancement. The only ladder I plan to climb is the one to put up my Christmas lights. No more meaningless meetings. Goodbye annual performance reviews. See ya critical deadlines. I don’t think I will miss work much at all. And if I find I do, I can always look into contributing my time doing something I enjoy that matters to me.

Best of all, is there anything better than having the freedom to spend your time as you see fit? Imagine the glorious feeling of starting your day when you want, filling your hours doing what you enjoy, taking a nap when the mood strikes, trying something for the first time, and just generally occupying your time having fun.

Along with the challenges we will face comes the real chance to live and explore, to love and laugh, and to make the most of each incredible day.

Retirement – here I come!

Is Retirement More Difficult These Days?

Anyone who has spent serious time planning for retirement knows about the many challenges that might derail even the most meticulous financial plan. The unpredictable economy and possibility of health problems makes retirement extremely difficult to plan for. And strategies that worked for retirees a generation ago are nothing like what is needed these days.

Talking with my father I discover a different world not so very long ago. He was a physician in a small farm community in Stockton, Calif. His career spanned more than 35 years until he decided it was time to retire at age 67. When I ask him what he did to prepare he looks at me with a tolerant smile on his face as though humoring a confused child. Yes, he saved money along the way to build his nest egg and occasionally thought about what it would be like to be retired. But beyond that he did not waste his time worrying.

For him the biggest decision was when to retire. Because of the nature of his job, he was not forced to call it quits at age 65. In fact, other doctors work well into their 70’s. His decision to retire at 67 was due in large part to the incredible changes taking place in the medical world. He did not like the way things were going and felt it was time to move on. With many hobbies along with numerous interests shared with my mother, he did not Bronze of Old couple on benchworry about becoming bored. As it turns out, he had no reason to worry. My parents maintain a packed calendar of events.

Can retirement really be that easy? It probably depends on whether you have prepared financially. While 21 percent of Americans say they spent two hours or more selecting a flat screen TV, only 15 percent say they spent at least that much time selecting an IRA investment, according to a recent survey by TIAA-CREF.

After spending a significant part of the past four years fine tuning the most important pieces of the retirement puzzle, I am very much looking forward to retiring. But I also have a variety of concerns:

  • Do I have enough interests to keep reasonably busy for the next 20 years?
  • Without my job to define me, who will I be when I retire?
  • How will I stay healthy and active along the way?
  • Will my wife and I complement each other as we spend 24/7 together?
  • How will I deal with the realities of aging?
  • Will I want to work in some capacity after age 65?
  • What legacy do I hope to leave?

I do find a certain peace of mind in the knowledge that my parents did not do much planning for retirement beyond the financial side of things, and they are happy. Although they did not address all of the potential areas for concern before retiring, they have been able to deal with challenges that arose over the years. Their marriage has also lasted more than 57 years and survived many transitions, including the one into retirement.

The retirement fears we face are nothing new. The realities of aging and a diminished capacity or desire to work have always been faced by the oldest citizens. It helps to put some thought into what lies ahead, and make sure you have a little extra money and patience to help you weather the unexpected.

From my blog for US News & World.