Tips to Help Your Transition Into Retirement

When I took the leap to join the ranks of the retired I thought life was going to be a breeze. All of the tough stuff was behind – right? The kids were in general independent and having families of their own. The house was pretty much paid off. I felt confident stress from the job would soon fade to a distant memory. And I had a ton of hobbies and projects I was just itching to get to. How difficult would it be to spend my days doing what I wanted rather than what someone told me to do?

It did not take long to discover the switch from full-time-employee to full-time-retiree is not without its own challenges. I was a novice at the retirement thing, a first timer with no history to look to for guidance. The retirement my parents live is from a different time and although they are very happy the vision I had for my own second act was not the same as theirs. Right off the bat I felt guilty if I did not keep myself occupied every moment. I had learned in the working world never to waste one precious minute lest an important deadline fall into jeopardy. Old habits can be difficult to overcome and I struggled to evolve. Then I faced the dilemma all retirees will one day confront when asked at a party “What do you do?” Without my career to fall back on I was caught off guard. What exactly does the retired Dave do? How should I spend my free time in some worthwhile way?

That was four years ago. Since then I believe I have gotten better at this retirement thing. It takes work but I figure there is no better way to spend my time now if I hope to make the best of the coming decades of retired living. Here are a few thoughts that helped me more smoothly transition into retirement.

Adjust your intensity to fit your new lifestyle. Now that you are retiring, you are free from any stressful job requiring 100 percent of your focus 100 percent of the time. The only deadlines you face are those you set. Your transition can be easier if you calm yourself and learn to find a pace that you are comfortable with. Concentrate on the journey rather than the individual steps. In the initial days of my retirement I often found myself kicking into a higher gear when doing simple things like gardening or cleaning the house. Rather than relax in the moment and enjoy the activity I pushed myself to get it done quickly and efficiently – just like the boss always wanted. But there was no more boss. It took serious effort to recondition myself. I had to realize there is no hurry. Not everything must get done on a schedule. Now I sweep the deck slowly, patiently, enjoying the nearby oak trees and savoring my freedom. It still gets done only at a pace that suits me.

Couple on the beach

Give yourself time and space to get there. Don’t be in a hurry to get somewhere you have never been before.  There are no more deadlines. Realize you answer to no one other than yourself. Don’t pile on unnecessary pressure to immediately achieve. If what you do is pleasing to you it is worthwhile. Cut yourself some slack – you have earned it. You are not the first person to retire and I would venture that few newbies get everything right from day one.

Channel efforts toward what you can control. No one can entirely control what life might throw our way. That does not mean we cannot influence our future. Retirement is the right time to focus on what is good for you. You finally have time for you. You finally have time to figure out an exercise regimen that you can stick with for your good health. You have time to work on that diet to make you fit not fat. You have time to explore the multitude of activities to engage your mind and heart and passion. Rather than focus on what you cannot do try to imagine what you can – and go for it.

Don’t hide what you are feeling. This is a new chapter in your life. You should not expect it to proceed flawlessly. There will be frustrating moments to cope with. But you are not alone. It is not healthy to hide or try to ignore feelings that cause you concern. Remember giving advice to a child or friend encouraging them to share what distressed them? Talking about it can help. That was good advice – good enough to follow yourself. Facing difficulties alone can feel overwhelming especially for those retired. We no longer have co-workers to lean on, children are out in the world living their own lives, everyone always seems to be so busy. It is often up to each of us to take the initiative to open up and begin the healing process.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to keeping busy.  With decades of retirement life ahead, one hobby or golfing every day is not going to make it. Variety is the spice of life even more so in retirement. The more options you have to entertain and engage you the less likely you are to become bored. Rather than bored we hope to find ourselves excited about what the new day has to offer. Don’t be afraid to try something – anything – to stir things up. What do you have to lose?

Being retired should be fun so don’t wait too long to dig in. Take advantage of the fact you will never be younger than you are today. Do those things now that down the road may become too demanding. Cut yourself some slack but don’t allow yourself to watch life from the sidelines. As long as you are healthy enough to get out there and play, join the game and enjoy. That’s what retirement is all about.

Who will speak for the retired?

Before retiring I tried to make sure all my bases were covered. I had a good idea what it would take to finance the lifestyle my wife and I hoped to live. I did my due diligence to identify as many as possible of those interests, passions and hobbies that would keep me engaged and stimulated for the next few decades. My wife and I decided where we wanted to live while retired and made the move. And I did in-depth research to make the best choice to provide us with quality affordable healthcare (wishful thinking I know). This past month has been a rude awakening showing just how helpless we can be when it comes to basics such as medical coverage. Allow me to elaborate.

When my wife quit her job back in July she opted for COBRA coverage to extend for 15 months the medical, vision and dental plan we had been enrolled in while she worked. We figured we could research other options during that 15 month period but for now this made the most sense. She filled out all the required paperwork and began making monthly payments as directed. Easy peasie – everything should be fine for that time period, right? Not so fast.

About a month ago I noticed one of my prescriptions was not being refilled. I called the provider and was informed I was not covered. What? And so the saga began. My poor wife – bless her – began the long painful process of clearing up the mistake in “the system”. For weeks, multiple times a day, she talked with representatives from COBRA and the insurance company. Each time she made a call she had to start at the bottom of the call pyramid, explaining over and over who she was, her information and what the problem was. Often after explaining the situation she was put on hold and then suddenly rerouted back to the beginning or disconnected all together. Return calls never materialized – ever – whether promised by the initial contact or escalated to a supervisor. Sometimes the account showed we were covered, sometimes it said we were not. Our frustration was building. I could not have done it but my wife – bless her again – stuck with it.

Our salvation came from the fact this kind of thing was what she had done while employed. Luckily she had a contact for the broker who managed the health plan for her previous company. By getting her involved we were able to rise above the noise and get some attention. The broker made some calls and things started to happen. According to a call this morning everything should be fine now. We will see.

The sad thing is without an inside connection we might still be spinning our wheels while our blood pressures rise and resolution of the problem remains wishful thinking. What about all those who are on their own? You can be sure potential problems are not limited to healthcare. We have experienced challenges with regards to phone services, internet services, as well as electric and water services. It’s a jungle out there.

I believe companies and the people they employ generally want to do a good job. It may be naïve but that is the way I roll. However, it seems too often that service is subpar. The focus on profits has driven many companies to look for cheaper ways to do business. I get it but what is the real cost in terms of customer satisfaction? Automation reduces the need for people but also removes the personal touch. Those blasted call trees that you have to walk through – step by step – every time you make a call may save money but can try the patience of a saint. Outsourcing may be cheaper but when the person answering the phone cannot be understood what kind of service are we talking about? My biggest fear is things are only going to get worse.

And when things get bad and you feel you are getting nowhere, what can you do? How do you escalate a problem if you are just one of thousands of customers each relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things? It is scary what the future may hold. I only hope my wonderful wife will stick with me and continue to make the bad things go away. In the meantime I remain cautiously optimistic and continue to work on my patience for all things frustrating. I am sure to get a lot of practice…