A Recipe for Success in Retirement

My folks married in 1956 at a little church in San Mateo California. As they said their vows and committed themselves to each other on that cool November afternoon, I am sure they were excited to launch their future together. Looking back over what is currently year 58, they are still going strong living comfortably in the same place for the past 50 years. From their perspective I am sure the last half century has been a truly interesting, unpredictable, never boring, not always easy but well worth it journey. And for those of us lucky enough to witness their relationship they have showed us how to do it right.

My family and friends all say I look like and have many of the same mannerisms as my dad which makes sense – like father like son (my son is a chip off the old block as well). I hope I also take after my dad when it comes to the little things he does to make their relationship not only work, but rock:

No detail is too minor – dad is very in tune with mom’s likes and dislikes. Before she says a word he instinctively knows what she is thinking or in need of. And when he steps up, he always goes the extra mile. Every morning when he brings mom a cup of coffee in bed it comes on a nice tray with a freshly cut flower from the garden and the newspaper neatly folded beside. Each time the calendar rolls around to the birthdays of us kids, dad takes mom out for a dinner celebration. After all, she did the real hard work and deserves to be spoiled a bit. Dad never forgets an anniversary or special date knowing if it is important to mom it is important to him. Even when there is no special occasion, he knows each day is a one-time only occurrence and does what he can to make the most of it.

Once a romantic always a romantic – a few years back my dad gave me a book of poetry. When I browsed through it I noticed various markings and highlights. He explained to me these were some of the favorites he and mom read to each other while dating and in the years after. I can envision them picnicking in a park taking turns sharing verses from their collection of favorite poems. Dad also passed to me a love of music. It is not uncommon to see a tear in his eye while a particularly memorable song plays in the background eliciting memories held special. When out for their evening walks, the two still hold hands as they make their way around the neighborhood. I have learned from their many examples it is always the right time for a little expression of love and romance never grows old

Make time to do what you love – although tied to a demanding schedule working at the hospital, dad was sure to make time to pursue his passions. Weekends were filled with things like fishing first thing Saturday morning, a dose of determined gardening to keep those world class roses blooming, tennis with the family in the afternoon, the weekend family drive, and a hearty BBQ to end it all. Dad has lots of passions and he learned early on the importance of setting aside time to pursue them.

Mom has also shown me what is important to keep a relationship going strong well beyond the first half century:

Family first – no matter how inconvenient or difficult a situation, family comes first. Although we all have our quirks – some more generously gifted than others – when it comes down to it the bond of blood is what matters. I know having the support of my parents while going through various challenges in my personal life got me through what could otherwise have been overwhelming moments. Having been raised like this, I hope I also instill in my own family this most important priority.

Let a smile be your umbrella on a rainy day - mom has always been an optimist perpetually ready with a smile whatever the situation. She sees the glass as half full even when there is no water in it! Mom has always showed the rest of us that things are as good as we make them. This positive attitude has saved the day more than once when dad or one of us kids found ourselves momentarily down in the dumps. There is no doubt that her optimistic outlook is deeply seated in my own personality and for that I am forever grateful.

Play to win but play fair – mom is a competitive person – she likes to win. But she always plays by the rules. She never cheats at bridge, would not dream of calling a ball out on the tennis court unless it clearly was, and basically calls it like it is regardless of the consequences. Winning may be important, but how you win is equally so.

Mom and dad have one other noteworthy tidbit that helps sustain their happy life. They have fun together no matter what they do. In the car they used to sing duets as the family tooled down back roads on another road trip, alternating between songs in German and popular American tunes. They never missed a chance to hit the dance floor where they would twirl and spin enthusiastically to the music. They traveled far and wide on planes, trains and automobiles exploring new destinations for the first time or revisiting old favorites. Their calendar remains packed with dinner parties and bridge games and concerts and tennis and golf. And they have learned to enjoy doing things together as well as apart. Mom and dad live their lives adhering to some right-on advice from Michael Jordan, “Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.”

Tomorrow morning when dad brings mom her coffee and newspaper with a red rose from the garden putting an exclamation point on how to do it right, they will continue living that recipe for success that has made the last 58 years something special for them and all of us fortunate enough to share in their journey together.

Still Navigating the Retirement Jungle after 4 Years

Time sure does fly. The other day I took a look at the first blog I posted for “Retirement – Only the Beginning” way back on July 4, 2010. I had been contently working away at various start ups across Silicon Valley for over 30 years raising a family and setting aside a little something for the future. At age 52 I figured I had another ten to twelve years to build that nest egg and get ready to depart the working world. Then suddenly I found myself out of a job.

After a reasonable amount of panic and some fruitless searching for an immediate replacement job, I stepped back to catch my breath and put some thought into the future. It was a bit scary but I had faith I would re-enter the business world within a reasonable period of time. In the meantime I thought about what I would like to be doing and what I definitely wanted to avoid. Of course it was a real possibility I might not have the luxury of making a choice if I needed to return short order to the competitive job market

With my job search under way I began to think beyond my career and look to what might lie ahead. I had never given any real thought to retirement but with time on my hands and the years ticking by, what better time than now?

I had come to the realization that although only 52, each passing year brought me closer to retirement age. I had no idea what retired life would look like but I knew I wanted to retire at some to-be-determined age. I just did not have much insight into what exactly I would do with those months and years in my control.

So I asked myself, “What can I do now to prepare for my future retirement?”

And so I began a journey that continues today and remains a work in progress. Here is how I described my motivation for starting “Retirement – Only the Beginning” in my first blog:

I started LoveBeingRetired.com for two reasons: (1) to attempt to navigate the huge amount of retirement information currently available and distill into accurate, succinct information. In effect, create a checklist to identify now those things that we can do so our retirement is the best possible. (2) Equally important to discuss and share what we can do to help assure a quality retirement, filled with fun and adventure and excitement that makes each day worth getting out of bed.

Today I consider myself “unofficially retired.” I still keep my eyes open for that perfect situation where I would want to hop back into the working world. But over the past two years, my criterion has become progressively stricter. I am not finding much in that fast-paced high stress technology world where I grew up that interests me enough to commit 60-70 hours a week.

And so the journey continues.  I want to share a few tidbits I have learned while blogging these past years. Having them in my back pocket helps me feel a bit more prepared for what the future may hold.

Have a plan

I often hear from readers that are nervous about retirement when it comes to knowing what they will do to occupy their days. Most planning prior to retirement tends to be financial in nature. Not too many spend commensurate time preparing for what to do to stay actively engaged and excited about living once they retire. Some first begin thinking about their retired days when they are on the doorstep of making the move. I have learned that waiting too long increases the risk you may not be able to make changes and adjustments that could improve the quality of your retirement. You might run out of runway before you get off the ground. However, if you take the time to look down the road and visualize the life you want to live before you retire, you might add to your overall enjoyment and avoid at least some nasty surprises. Since you will likely be retired for 20 years or more, having a plan for your future should be a priority.

A regular routine is a good thing

I am a very organized person who does not do well sitting still for extended periods of time. Having something to do keeps me engaged and active. During my pre-retirement warm up, I have established a nice daily routine to keep me busy mentally and physically and I enjoy it. I make it a point to get out of bed by 7:00 each morning. Since I am a morning person, this regular starting point helps me kick into gear rather than find myself reluctant to exit a warm bed. With my routine of blogging, exercise, reading, gardening, walking, and watching the flowers grow, I never find myself remotely bored until maybe 3:00-4:00 in the afternoon, just in time to think about dinner and a nice glass of vino.

Frugal is fine

My wife and I love to travel but we have learned we do not need to stay in five star hotels to have a good time. We enjoy good meals out without feeling the need to go to the hottest new spot in town charging exorbitant prices and burdened with long lines. We are happiest being together in a lovely location enjoying each other and the moment. It is amazing how affordable life can be if you do not require all those bells and whistles to have a good time. Outside of entertainment, we do not really need anything for the house, the cars should run for a long time, we have all the clothes we need (still fun to shop for those special additions of course), and we really enjoy cooking our meals together and eating at home. It turns out it’s really not that difficult to live well without spending extravagantly.

It’s okay to do nothing

As I have shared more than once over the years my biggest fear of retirement has been running out of things to do and potentially finding myself bored. But it is important to balance meaningful activities with time off. I have come to realize that a happy retirement for me will be a combination of doing things and doing nothing. I am learning to be okay with cutting myself some slack and enjoying downtime, no longer feeling guilty if I am not accomplishing something every moment. It has been a process to free myself from this self inflicted guilt. After so many years hurrying through incredibly busy work days where there was never a moment to spare, I have come to accept that I have earned the right to do nothing. And I like it!

Good health should not be taken for granted

As we get older we are constantly reminded of what challenges the future may hold from slower reflexes to reduced strength to precarious balance negotiating the roads we walk. We witness it every day in friends and family or read about it in AARP and see it on the news. It won’t be easy but we have committed ourselves to do our best to stay healthy along the way. Working out regularly, walking together, watching what we eat, and generally being aware of our physical and mental state is our conscious contribution to staying healthy. Every healthy day is a blessing and we appreciate it.

Don’t take yourself too seriously

An uncle of mine living in a retirement community tells the story of a retired bigwig CEO who feels he is better than the rest of us mere mortals despite having departed the working world many years earlier. My uncle gently informed him that he used to be a CEO. Now he is just another retiree like everyone else in residence. I think as we age it is important to maintain a sense of humor. Those readers who despite challenges they encounter as they age are able to maintain an optimistic outlook have the best chance of living a happy retirement. A smile, a little laughter, and a relaxed optimistic view of the world can go a long way.

I want to thank you readers who over the years have shared candidly details of your personal journeys into retirement. I have learned a lot from your honest feedback, real world experiences and sense of humor in the face of challenges. And I look forward to sharing more as together we continue navigating the retirement jungle that makes up the landscape for our second act.

Good luck to us all and let’s enjoy.