Afraid to Retire

It should not be surprising that some of us can find the decision to retire a bit scary. After decades spent on the job doing something we are comfortable with or at least knowledgeable about the thought of big change is not always welcome. How are you supposed to prepare adequately for something you have never done before? For yours truly the decision was not mine to make. After the company I worked for was acquired (happens every day in Silicon Valley) I was forced to retire before I planned. I worried about how I was going to survive financially without a steady job contributing to the bottom line. I worried about what I was going to do to find meaning in my days for the next two to three decades. And I worried how retired Dave would define himself and fit into a world outside of work and the social interaction it provided.

I consider myself fortunate due to an unexpected and at that time unwelcomed twist of fate. It turns out the company I was working at before the acquisition mentioned above was also acquired. As a result, for eight months I found myself unemployed. In addition to pounding the pavement in search for my next gig, I took the time to imagine what my life would look like if I never worked again. If this was my last job whether my choice or not, what would I do? I never put any serious thought to retirement. Now seemed like a good time to do so.

I began reading all I could about retirement from books and articles and surveys and retirement bloggers. I talked with others who had retired to glean any bits of wisdom. I uncovered many happy stories of retirees enjoying their second act. But I also learned of some who found themselves struggling as they tried to cope with day to day challenges.

For some life in its current state was just fine. The mix of work and play along with solid personal relationships makes for an ideal situation. Who needs change? Why do something different when you are quite happy with things as they are? But retirement looms for most whether due to age restrictions or company reorganizations or health issues or any of many reasons. You may not want to retire but you may have to.

Who will you be when you are no longer working at a job? How will you answer the “what do you do?” inquiry at the next cocktail party? It is not always easy to introduce the real you when your job is no longer part of the equation. Retirement gives you the chance to redefine who you are, who you want to be for the rest of your life. But finding the way can be an iterative long term endeavor. And not everyone successfully arrives.

What the heck will you do when confronted with a blank calendar and no one telling you what to do? One of my biggest fears entering retirement was becoming bored. I have various interests and hobbies but would they be enough? When you retire you assume responsibility for populating your hours with activities that are meaningful and satisfying. What if you are no good at doing so?

What if those things I found so interesting in earlier years no longer light my fire? It makes sense that after a few decades one may become slightly bored with old hobbies. How many times can you do the same thing and still hope to find that level of excitement you knew in earlier days?

Although still relatively new at being retired I have learned one thing that helps me navigate my retirement journey – don’t over think everything. I have never been retired but there are a lot of happy inspired retirees out there so I know it can be done. I no longer define myself based on the job I do or in this case don’t do. Instead I am evolving into the retired me, someone who appreciates each day for what it has to offer, maintains a perpetual curiosity and doesn’t sweat the little things. My interests are varied including passions from earlier years as well as new avenues I happily explore. I no longer worry about being bored. And having the freedom to schedule what I want to do when I want to is deliciously empowering. There is so much out there to try and taste and feel and find – I can’t wait. Finally I do my best to maintain an underlying optimism. I expect bumps in the road but I will not let them become my focus. My advice is don’t be afraid – get ready to enjoy. I love being retired! :)

Handling the Ups and Downs of Retirement Living

The day is under way as I gaze through the kitchen window at a darkening sky while enjoying my freshly brewed Cappuccino. Rumor has it we may actually be in for some rain – woo hoo! In our drought stricken California any and all precipitation is welcome. We are in year five and more than ready for a change. As we await the promise of El Nino (or threat depending on where you live), chances are in the next few weeks we will go from no rain at all to pounding downpours. In preparation locals anxiously fill sand bags from huge piles of sand located in front of fire stations and empty lots. We will see how it all shakes out as we deal with the on again off again whims of Mother Nature.

Logging to Yahoo Finance I discover the stock market is down 450 points at this early point in the day, the biggest drop for the first day of a new year since the exchange began back in 1932. Things have been a bit unstable over the past year but I doubt anyone expected such a dramatic welcome to 2016. Still I would not be surprised to find things balancing out a bit by the end of the day. The financial market is schizophrenic to say the least. What goes down must eventually come up we hope.

Like so many facets of life, living in retirement can have its ups and downs. One day finds you excited to jump out of bed and tackle the world head on. You feel energized and optimistic and plain lucky to be alive. The next day may find you in a totally different state of mind. Perhaps cold weather makes it undesirable to exit warm covers. Maybe there is nothing you have to do and so you just stay in bed. And sometimes you just feel you cannot deal with what the day portends and choose to remain where it is safe.

Retirement can be a wonderful time to explore new interests, a time to figure out what really matters to you deep down and pursue it. You are no longer restricted by the demands of the working world. You alone manage your calendar and what it contains. You choose the people you hang out with. What a perfect time to get to know your creative side. What an opportunity to step outside the comfort zone you have lived within all your life, a chance to try new things and face new challenges.

On flip side in retirement you assume responsibility for entertaining yourself and finding personal fulfillment. It is all up to you. When I first retired I missed having goals to strive for. I was used to spending my day focused on doing whatever it took to get me to my end of the month targets. Now retired, no one was telling me what I needed to achieve. It was a bit disconcerting and for a time I felt lost.

Before long I realized if I valued having goals to pursue it was up to me to set them. I started by setting a series of weekly fitness goals, nothing too extreme but something to work toward. Ride the stationary bike two times a week, life weights two times a week, and do yoga two times a week. My wife and I do not typically make resolutions for the New Year – we try to keep it together throughout the year. But this year we added a goal to walk 20 miles per week. It is a great way to explore the neighborhood, enjoy the Pacific Coast hikes and spend time together doing something we both love. I have other goals in the areas of learning new piano pieces, practicing French, and figuring out what vegetables will grow best in our soon-to-be new garden.

As long as you are physically and financially able, the early years of retirement can be enjoyed to the maximum. You are healthy, you have time, and you are excited to explore the new freedom from work. It is time to travel, play, explore and enjoy. As you venture further in to your retirement aging becomes your constant companion. It can be a bit more challenging to do those little things you previously took for granted. Your tolerance can begin to diminish impacting plans to travel or venture outside of what you are comfortable with. Some things you used to love just require too much effort. If you let it overwhelm, you might find yourself withdrawing from life.

Fortunately we do not have to look too hard to find inspirational examples of older folks still living a full and meaningful life. My folks have slowed down but are still social animals getting out regularly throughout the week to play bridge and dine with friends. My aunt still travels the world walking miles of local streets to become immersed in local sites and tastes. Our Swiss family has a commitment to outdoor life that keeps them hiking mountains into their eighties. It can be done. I think the trick is to realize nothing is perfect and try to accept limitations rather than be controlled by them.

Retirement will have its ups and downs, that is a given. How we choose to cope is up to us. None of us had an easy time getting all the way to retirement. We learned to fight and scrape and not take no for an answer. A little of that spunk – or vim and vigor as my mom says – can help us over the rough spots as we navigate our retirement. It’s that old positive attitude coming to our rescue if we encourage it, if we let it, and if we incorporate it in each day.

Happy New Year!