No Time For Boredom in Retirement

One of my biggest fears prior to entering retirement was I would not find sufficient ‘things’ to do to keep me busy. I had a handful of hobbies and interests but nothing I could imagine holding my attention for the next 20-30 years. While I was spending the last three decades on the job this was never a problem. The challenge was rather could I get everything done in the allotted hours each day. But now that I am retired it is up to me how I choose to spend my time – I am the decider. I have to fill in the empty squares on my calendar. Don’t get me wrong – I love the freedom. But I admit I was somewhat afraid I might not be up to the task.

My wife and I spent last weekend in San Francisco walking the City from Fort Mason to Noe Valley to the Ferry Building, enjoying a crisp sunny day while burning some calories to pay in advance for the dinner we planned to consume. The day was spectacular, the views equally impressive and the diverse mix of humanity encountered along the way entertaining as always. It is amazing but although we have lived in the Bay Area for decades this is the first time the two of us really just wandered SF with no particular destination in mind, just going with the flow. My wife had suggested we do this many times and undertaken similar treks with her friends and family but never quite convinced me to give it a try. And now we are moving! I am sorry my dear for my reluctance but I promise we can do it again upon our return visits.

That evening as we enjoyed a glass of wine before heading out to dine we shared a warming fire with a young couple from Spain. Their enviable business was traveling the world taking pictures and videos for use in movies and blogs and advertising. They shared exciting stories of exotic places from Asia to Spain to Costa Rica and now to San Francisco. As someone who always held an interest in photography I was quickly drawn into their scenario and could readily imagine myself in their shoes. Well perhaps a slightly tuned down version with a little less high adventure but still a lot of beautiful venues. Being retired I am theoretically free to travel and film wherever and whatever may capture my fancy. I believe this a more than worthy cause upon which to focus some of my sparse retirement availability. :)

As a veteran retiree going on three years I am beginning to realize my initial apprehension may have been exaggerated. My daily routine helps assure I will not become bored as I progress through my exercises, blogging, hikes, reading, online courses, gardening, ‘me time’, and initial explorations into cooking. Having specific activities helps the organized me guide my way through the day as well as giving me a certain feeling of accomplishment come cocktail hour.

With our pending relocation I anticipate adding to my list of interests. I plan to get to know the neighbors to learn where to find the best restaurants, freshest baguettes, richest coffee, tastiest h’ordeuvres, most satisfying breakfast repast, and most special off the beaten path hidden beach spots. My wife and I want to explore the various volunteering options in our area. There is always the chance of writing another book somewhere down the road.

And there is a real possibility we will become grandparents within the next few years which should open up a whole new chapter. We already find ourselves increasingly noticing little ones in strollers or proud first-steppers precariously taking their determined stiff-legged toddles. It is easy to imagine bringing the grandkids to the zoo where they will be amazed by the assortment of strange critters. Hand in hand carefully walking toward whatever awaits these grandparents will be more than happy to share time with those grandkids.

So it appears for at least the foreseeable future I need not fear becoming bored in retirement. When will I have the time to be bored? I plan to focus on managing my days to get the most out of an increasingly limited resource – my free time. I have always preferred to be busy – not frantic can’t-catch-your-breath busy but more like living moments filled with interesting engaging enjoyable activities. Being retired allows me to pick and choose what I will do based upon what I want to do, a luxury I am learning to make the best of.

Retirement Happiness Depends on Your Perspective

Getting retirement right has a lot to do with setting reasonable expectations. It is not just about what you want – it’s also facing the reality of what you get. Some look forward to an idyllic escape from the stress and strain of working for a living, a time to slow down and smell the roses and enjoy the moment. Others may hold a more pessimistic view, imagining their second act as one of gradual decline and loss of independence. For the majority of us, retirement will be somewhere in between. But having the right outlook and a realistic perspective may help tilt the scale in our favor.

When we are young, we have great aspirations for the life we want to live. Ahead lies a promising career that hopefully inspires us. By working hard and saving, we might have those nice things that make life more enjoyable. And perhaps we envision a family to share our life and love with. We want it all, we feel there is no reason we should not have it all and we have plenty of time to give it our best shot.

As we approach retirement, many of these earlier dreams have either been realized or adjusted where appropriate. The idea of starting a new career can seem unrealistic, although there are those rare seniors who do just that. For most of us, if we have had a good career and achieved the goals we set, that particular hunger has been, for the most part, satiated. While at 25, achievement, recognition and accumulation were all important, at 65, having been there and done that, our goals are different.

I look back fondly on years spent working furiously for various startups. At the time it was a blast, and I energetically gave my all, happy to be working with a unique bunch of people equally as dedicated. Today, just thinking about running at that breakneck speed honestly tires me out. I believe my mind could still compete, but I really have no desire to do so. The fact is, my goals have changed. I no longer need to outperform my peers to be recognized. I don’t need to compete for a higher position or bigger office or more letters after my name. This is, to a large extent, because I am happy where I am at the moment. But another part might be due to the fact that as of now, I have statistically lived the majority of my life. It is no longer important to me to be the best in the eyes of others. What is important is spending my life with those who matter most, doing what I want with my time and having no regrets.

Many of us have known someone facing a debilitating or terminal disease that either impacts their quality of life or shortens it prematurely. When they are finally able to come to grips with what their fate, priorities tend to shift. What was so darn important to achieve during a future spanning 20 or 30 years can become less important in an abbreviated time frame. Each day is precious, and we learn to reprioritize what really matters.

I ask myself how I would spend my days if I learned I had five years to live. I sure would not worry about making a fortune or becoming a vice president or pursuing other lofty goals. I would want to spend time with my family and let them know how important they are. I would want to visit those places I have always wanted. I would sample every new restaurant in the area without concern over too much spice. I would try to find peace inside myself and enjoy every moment I was given. With a shortened future, I would not want to waste time.

Why would I live any other way in retirement? Now that I am in control of much of my life, I should do what matters to me. I set the standards and make the rules. I can make the choice to positively face each day no matter what may be in store. My retirement happiness is in my hands, and I sure do not want to fumble. No more waiting for the right time – that moment is now.

Written for US News & World