If you hope to make the most of your second act you need to know what you are in for. Even with enough saved and invested to subsidize the lifestyle you envision there is no guarantee things will turn out as expected. And how can you really know what to expect when you have never been retired? Stories from those who have gone before you may have no relevance to the retirement that awaits you. Unfortunately if you are unable to predict to at least some degree what the coming decades hold you could be in for uneasy times. You need to know what you are going to do to find entertainment, satisfaction, meaning and excitement or what’s the point?
For me a fulfilling retirement is pretty straightforward. I don’t feel the need to necessarily find deep meaning in every moment spent during each day. I don’t want to look back and feel like I wasted my time but there is a lot of leeway when it comes to what I actually do. Each day, I keep busy spreading my efforts across multiple activities and interests until at least until five o’clock, otherwise known as happy hour. As shared in previous blogs I have concocted a mix of exercise, hiking, playing the piano, gardening, travel, reading, and on line courses that keep me feeling engaged and content. My blogging keeps me involved just enough with the business world so those skills do not entirely waste away. The truth is I can’t sit still for long – I get restless. So it is also important to stay open to new avenues to explore. And if that is not enough we just added a Boston terrier to our family so who has time to be bored!
But what if you are not happy just keeping busy? What if retirement takes you away from a working world that you do not hate, maybe even enjoy? Not everyone is okay with doing a little this a little that until the day is done. I may be happy with my retirement agenda but someone else may find such a life incredibly boring and unfulfilling.
A reader of LoveBeingRetired.com recently shared a challenging situation. After a successful and meaningful career in a high level position he gave retirement a try. Within a year he was back at another job, not nearly so satisfying or engaging. During that brief interlude he discovered work was his passion, what defined him and made him feel good. Retirement was not what he hoped for – “I am not a hobby or volunteer guy”.
When your work defines who you are – when what you value most about who you are is intimately tied to what you do for a living – the transition into retirement can be that much more difficult. Not only are you challenged at cocktail parties with providing a pithy answer to “what do you do?” but you must also find an answer to your own dilemma: since I am no longer working how am I contributing? What is it I do that matters?
If I was not happy or satisfied in my retirement just keeping busy, what could I do?
First I would try to identify what is it that gives me the most satisfaction in life, a true feeling of fulfillment. Is it doing good for others? Might it be achieving a challenging goal? Do I feel best when I attempt to improve the person I am? Can I be fulfilled simply spending time appreciating all the little things that feel good to do? Each of us is driven by a different spark, something that more than any other makes us feel good, happy, and complete. If that spark can be identified maybe we can better focus our efforts in a direction that offers the most bang for the buck. Pursuing what you are passionate about is a lot more fun than just killing time. But it is not always easy to identify such a source of bliss in retired life.
I would ask myself if I can do whatever I want how would that look? The freedom to choose how you spend days is a wonderful part of retirement – if you can fill in the blanks. What do I like to do? What would I prefer to avoid? What gives me pride in accomplishment? What is it that lights the fire to get me out of bed each morning raring to go? It is likely a variety of activities and experiences combine to make your ideal day. And that is perfect – variety keeps things fresh. A balance between activity and leisure works best for many. Another plus for retirement is you can always change your mind. If something does not work out as you hoped, move on. Maybe you spend half the day “being productive” and the other is free time. I always like to do something productive first so I feel I have “earned” the right to relax.
If it is not about the money is there a post-career-career that may be interesting? Many enjoy the comradery and challenge and meaning being part of a business concern. I believe if you enjoy working there is no reason not to include it as part of your retirement. The retirement just right for you comes down to doing what you want – you make the rules. Perhaps part-time at a local start up where you can utilize all your skills wearing many different hats. Maybe the thought of building your own business sound intriguing. Without the stress of having to make a lot of money you can experiment a bit. There is a lot to be said about being your own boss.
My wife retired just over a year ago. She was initially somewhat afraid, unsure if she could find enough to keep her engaged for the next twenty plus years. Having worked in numerous start-up environments she loved the regular interaction with bright minds, the excitement of growing a company and the satisfaction of actively being a part of its success. Over recent months she has begun to fill her dance card with a combination of jigsaw puzzles (nothing less than 2000 pieces), artistic quilting (not like what your grandma used to make), and experimenting with a variety of recipes (win-win with that one). But something is still missing. So she keeps her eyes on employment boards for just the right job that might fill in the blanks to create the perfect retirement for her. The combination of a part-time job with her other hobbies should be just the right mix.
How much of your time do you need to spend in meaningful pursuits versus relaxing or just going with the flow? I am relatively happy with the retirement I have. But there are times when I get a bit restless, feeling I could or should be doing more. Occasionally I feel guilty when someone asks what I have been up to the past weeks and I cannot quickly come up with a list of significant achievements. If you need to feel you are spending your time in worthwhile pursuits maybe you make a list of goals. Having something to focus on each day adds a bit of purpose to your endeavors. And achievement of goals that are important to you personally may give you that feeling of satisfaction you desire.
Do you prefer doing your own thing or interacting with others? My wife and I differ in the amount of socialization we desire. She loves people time and I am very comfortable with me time. Knowing where you stand in this regard can help you channel efforts toward the best end.
Who ever said retirement is easy? You would think with the freedom to do whatever you want it would be no problem to enjoy every day. But there is something to be said about living meaningful moments. What makes us happy, satisfied and glad to be alive differs for each of us. The trick is to figure out what it is that makes the retired you tick. And then by all means do it.