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.

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.

Are You Living a Good Retirement?

After long years spent working for a living and carefully building a future, when retirement finally arrives you sure don’t want to waste it. Whether you are someone who plans to busily pursue each new adventure or find yourself happy to take retirement one day at a time enjoying what comes at a more relaxed pace, commencing your second act can be a time of great expectation and optimism. Imagine finally having time to pursue those interests you were forced to deny during your busy work career. It can be a struggle to keep a smile from your face when you think of all you can do with your new found freedom and spare time.

However it is not uncommon to feel somewhat guilty with your newfound luxury to live as you choose. Not so long ago you were working just like the rest of the world. Is it fair for you to relax while others are still at it? Are you wasting time if at the end of the day you have nothing “productive” to show?

How do you know you are living a good retirement? Here are a few helpful ingredients:

First, you have sufficient interests, hobbies and passions to engage you on a regular basis so you do not find yourself bored. The day begins and you want to get out of bed to get to it. Sure you may move a bit more slowly but as long as you feel that drive to partake in what the day has to offer, you are headed in the right direction. Some find it important to pursue worthwhile endeavors, spending their time in meaningful ways that benefit themselves and those around them. They are forever in search of that next cause or situation where they may lend their knowhow and experience. Others are happy to commence at a more leisurely pace doing what they enjoy and want to do. The key is to find what is right for you and do it. Time moves quickly for those who always have something on their calendar. A busy engaged person is less likely to become bored with life and better able to make the most of retired living.

Second, your worries are for the most part a thing of the past. You have survived those stressful days spent struggling to raise a family, meeting financial obligations, climbing the career ladder, and worrying about the future. The future is now as you enter your retirement years. Take a moment to congratulate yourself on a job well done. Then happy couple arms spreadprepare to get on with the next stage of your life. Of course the thought that your second act will be entirely worry free is a fantasy. There will always be something to worry about! But realizing you have endured so much to get to this point should provide some peace of mind.

Thirdly, you are being good to yourself. No one knows better the importance of living a healthy lifestyle than those who are getting along in years. Those bad habits and indulgences we easily tolerated while younger take a greater toll as we age. A happy retirement includes a lifestyle that supports healthy activities and practices. You need not be an obsessive gym rat but regular workouts that help maintain strength and balanced will pay off in the long run. We all love a good meal but can enjoy fantastic cuisine that will not clog our arteries or drive heart rates into the stratosphere. And a slower pace may be just the ticket as we travel those trips we have looked forward to. The better we are to ourselves the better equipped we will be to enjoy each undertaking.

The fourth sign you are living a good retirement is when you are engaging in life rather than watching from the sidelines. With increasing aches and pains and the challenges to do basic things, it may feel easy and safer to just stay home. After all, you know the environment, there are few unexpected surprises, and you probably have your favorite seat in front of the TV. But sitcoms and reality TV are poor substitutes for interaction with real people. Travel shows fall far short of the experience of wandering among real people and societies, smelling the food and feeling the atmosphere that makes each place unique in its own way. Becoming an active part of the world around can provide that satisfaction that few virtual experiences can come close to.

Finally, when you look at yourself in the mirror, are you the type of person that others like to be around? Are you the type of person that YOU would like to be around? We are for the most part social animals. We find satisfaction in spending time with others, family and friends, neighbors and co-workers. We want to share our life experience. Think about those you enjoy being around. What is it about them that draws you near? Why is it that when they crack a joke, even a feeble one, you cannot help yourself from joining in the laugh? If you are one of those people that others want to be around, it is likely your retirement will be filled with many moments that give you pleasure. Isn’t that what a good retirement is all about?