Retirement is About Learning as You Go

Chances are you will not be fortunate enough to predict with great accuracy where life will take you once you retire. More likely you will live through twists and turns, adventures and mishaps, ups and downs as you navigate the retirement jungle. You may think you have it all figured out, that you are more than ready to jump into your second act. After all how difficult can it be? Just leave the stresses of the job behind and focus on doing what you really want. Step up to submerge yourself in some serious rest and relaxation. Now that you have arrived, just let the fun begin.

For the first year or so as you begin to chart your retirement course, it can seem pretty easy to engage and enjoy yourself just as you hoped. Who doesn’t enter retired life without a list of important to-dos, a conglomeration of everything you have never had time for until now. Long neglected hobbies crying out for attention can now be rejuvenated. You are finally able to explore those trips to places that until now you have only read of. And simple relaxation that a busy career stubbornly refused to allow can be enjoyed. What a life!

Then as your second act progresses and you start living your day to day retired lifestyle, you may discover you overlooked a little something here or did not count on a bit of that there. Perhaps you realize those numerous hobbies you planned to revisit are not quite as interesting as you remember. Maybe all that freedom to do whatever you want leaves you a bit at odds. After all, 20 years is a long time to entertain yourself. And since we are such a diverse bunch of retirement travelers, there is no one roadmap to direct us exactly where to go.

I have found over my brief retirement that not everything I expected turns out as I thought. But I have also discovered that I can adapt. I am beginning to understand retirement is an ongoing education and I am learning something new all the time.

Rediscover what you really enjoy

A demanding career can easily take control of our lives. The intense focus and constant demands can have the unfortunate effect of numbing us to having a good time. With nothing but work on our minds, we forget what it is that we really enjoy doing. Who has time for fun when there are only so many hours in the day? Retirement can be our chance to take another look at what really lights our individual fires. We no longer have to only img_2151.jpgdream of the ever illusive free time – it is now ours for the taking.

As a retiree I uncovered a previously unknown interest in history. Now if you knew me as a student you would understand what a major shift this is. I wanted nothing to do with things of yore. History and geography had no place in my busy life. But this is different. Perhaps it is the fact that this time around I can study what I want rather than being force fed an inflexible diet of core requirements. I discovered a passion for French Impressionist Art as well as all things Parisian. I love the variety of the unique neighborhoods inhabited by novel worthy characters scattered throughout the snail shell configuration of her 20 arrondissements. While visiting, I became the flaneur I had read of, wandering the streets with no particular destination in mind, enjoying what I found around each new corner. Back home I attend on online courses introducing the cast of characters and social environment that made up the ever so interesting eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in France. A key attraction for me is the freedom to pursue whatever avenue I find most interesting for as long as I want. If I get bored or distracted at any point, I simply exit with no exam required to justify my existence.

Accept it is okay to slow down a bit

I have always been active working out, hiking, trying new things, pursuing various hobbies and just generally not sitting still for long. Even as a youngster as soon as my homework was done I was out the door to play whatever chosen sport du jour with the neighborhood kids. Now in retirement I am learning it is okay to remain stationary for more than ten minutes. I appreciate my newfound freedom to read a book during the middle of the day. Should I feel a bit sleepy after lunch I feel no guilt reclining on the couch next to the cats happily emulating their napping prowess. I am learning – reluctantly – to hand over the heavy grocery bag to younger family members (even though I could still carry it just fine…really…). When we travel, rather than tear up the town scurrying to see every site imaginable we appreciate a quite break at a café or park bench. And you know what? By slowing down I am actually able to better appreciate all that is going on around me.

Learn you do not have to stay perpetually busy

When I first retired I felt guilty if I was not doing something “worthwhile” every spare moment. Totally accustomed to performing at 110 percent all the time, the thought of doing nothing took some getting used to. I am learning that doing nothing hold its own wonder. Without every moment laid out ahead of time I can follow my own natural rhythms. I am a morning person and so look forward to getting out of bed and on with the day. But should I feel the urge to spend an additional hour in bed that is exactly what I do. And I do it without feeling guilty. It may sound easy but until you accept that you have real control of how you choose to spend your time, that gnawing guilt can hang out on the periphery.

The journey continues as does my ongoing education. I am realizing that I did not learn it all in school and there is really no age at which learning is over. With so many interesting avenues to explore and the freedom to engage, it appears that much of my education is just beginning.

Would you be Happy Retiring Abroad?

I often find myself imagining the tempting possibilities of retiring outside of the US. The promise of incredibly affordable accommodations tucked away in friendly neighborhoods near natural wonders galore can cause even the most reticent to think twice. Contemplating a lifestyle change of such magnitude is no trifling matter. After all, leaving behind what you have known all your life and venturing out into the virtual unknown at a time when you are expected to be chilling on the couch takes guts. Retiring abroad is definitely not for everyone. But could it be right for you?

We recently spent a week in San Miguel Allende (SMA) Mexico, one of those magical places frequently touted as the perfect Shangri La for retirees to be. Obviously a week is not enough time to get a true feeling for an area where you may spend the rest of your life. But combined with the research we did and people we talked with, it was a good starting point.

Located in south-central Mexico about four hours north of Mexico City, the town is a combination of artists, ex-pats who have migrated there since the 1950’s, restaurateurs with diverse backgrounds and tasty specialties, and a population of family oriented locals. The vibe is wonderful. On a daily basis most residents gravitate toward the town center, the definitive place to be and be seen. Families come together to go to church and play in the plaza, spending many weekend hours enjoying being together. The whole area is SMALL Picture through windowincredibly neat and clean with shop owners taking pride in maintaining their individual storefronts and sidewalks. Combining so many of the right ingredients San Miguel is understandably an attractive retirement destination.

My wife and I began our search for retirement spots quite a few years ago. We both feel the attraction of the Bay Area had run its course and the traffic and congestion are just going to get worse. As we began looking at possibilities, we created a set of criteria to better rank the various options. There were certain requirements we did not want to do without including walking distance to a downtown and a friendly climate. This list was our guiding light whether considering a move within or outside of the US.

Using our list to rate potential candidates and compare the alternatives, here is how San Miguel stacked up

(1) Weather

Since San Miguel is at 6200 feet altitude, the mornings and nights can be rather brisk. But most days are sunny – a must have for my wife. Temperature ranges are relatively mild with winter lows of 45 degrees and summer highs in the low eighties and any snow will have to be seen in postcards of faraway places. The weather here is a definite keeper.

(2) Walking distance to a local downtown

This requirement is high on our list of must-haves. We hope to stay healthy enough to walk every day and heading to the neighborhood grocery store for supplies is a routine we look forward to. SMA definitely meets this requirement. Our B&B was located on a hill that required about a 10 minute walk to get to the central plaza. Not a problem walking down hill but getting up was a different story. Although we have no problem navigating this today, adding another 10 years could make this less than desirable. Still, we could live closer to the ground level. Once you are in the town you can basically walk in any direction to find stores, restaurants and local attractions. Taxis are floating around but we never took one except to get back to the airport

(3) Cost of living

Prices were reasonable as far as food and meals, a big change from what we are used to at touristy spots like Baja. We did not look too closely at real estate prices but the fact that SMA is generating so much interest in American and Canadian ex pats suggests you will pay a bit more now than in the old days. Still compared to the Bay Area, the prices are quite attractive.

(4) Safety

Of course a few weeks before we took our trip we read about a major drug cartel boss being arrested while dining in downtown SMA. Already slightly paranoid when departing the security of the homeland I was a bit uneasy. However once there we found no reason to fear our surroundings. People were friendly and there were plenty of police watching the streets. Locals stressed the fact that the area was safe and we ended up agreeing. Still it is difficult and perhaps foolish to ignore stories about the corrupt government and the wide spread influence of various cartels – definitely something to consider in a retirement move.

(5) Proximity to friends and family

This is one area where SMA failed us. Our children are scattered around the Bay Area with three of four living within 15 minutes and the fourth a three hour drive down south. Moving to Mexico would prevent quick visits and impromptu get togethers. And if one of us needed help, the best we could do would be talk on the phone. It is reasonable to assume we would make new friends in SMA but the separation from family is a big negative.

(6) Hospitals and healthcare

Fortunately we did not have the need for these services while on our trip. However before making any major decisions we would have to dig into the realities of healthcare in the area. As we get older we want to be near quality medical services and feel confident in the level of treatment we may receive.

(7) Local attractions

SMA has a unique history going back to 1542 when it was an important hub in the silver trade. Local architecture includes Colonial and Spanish influences and impressive SMALL woman by churchstructures are scattered throughout the area. And if you like exploring churches there are about 50 in the vicinity. The combination of local culture along with artists, writers and foreign retirees makes for plenty fun discoveries as you wander the streets.

(8) Public Transportation

Since SMA is relatively compact, we did not need public transportation on our trip. You can always find a taxi and local buses make regular trips to more distant neighborhoods. As long as our knees hold up we should be able to get where we need on foot.

(9) Community

We hope to retire where we know our neighbors and feel a part of the local community. SMA met this requirement. Despite the fact I do not speak the language people we met got their message across typically with a smile on their face. Ex pats make up approximately 15% of the town so you can usually run into someone who understands your wishes. Floating among the many families that filled the town plaza sharing in their happiness just by being there was a wonderful feeling.

After careful consideration we decided San Miguel Allende will remain on our list of favorite places to visit but will not become our new home. There are a lot of pluses but for us some of the negatives were most significant. It is a bit too far away from friends and family but we are already planning our return.