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 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.

Would You Retire If You Could?

For some people, the reward at the end of a long career is the fulfilling retirement life they will finally be able to enjoy. After years of tiring work, ever-increasing responsibility and the endless struggle to save a little after all the bills are paid, savoring the freedom that comes with doing what you want sounds wonderful. And with 10,000 baby boomers reaching age 65 each day, many people will soon confront the reality of their second act.

But not everyone who has the financial ability to retire actually wants to. If the financial side of things were in order, would you retire as soon as possible?

We hear countless stories of happy people calling it quits long before 65 to begin a life focused on what matters to them. Everyone wants to work less and relax more – no surprise there. Some people brag of quitting the working world at almost unbelievably young ages. But I cannot fault anyone for trying to get to retirement sooner rather than later.

When you become a new member of the retirement club, you will experience what for many people is a welcome first: Time to do the things you want rather than have to do. If the morning arrives and your bed feels just too warm and comfortable to get out of, you can lay there until you are good and ready to get up. There’s no reason to rush through your cup of coffee to get to where you have to be. When a new novel by your favorite author is released you can dig right into it. This freedom is what many people find most rewarding about living in retirement. One reader of my blog said it perfectly: “I am hooked on leisure. I revel in the vast expanses of time that stretch out ahead of me,  and I can choose to do, or not do, at my leisure.”

Should you feel the urge to do something a bit more productive or inspired, you are free to do that. The hobbies and passions you have only been able to enjoy on a limited basis can now become the focus of your attention. Feel free to volunteer where you feel most inclined. Write the book, song, or movie you have always wanted to. And best of all, you get to choose just how much time you spend where.

For some people, work is not such a bad thing. Interacting with co-workers, sharing challenges and achievements and having some place where what you do is valued can enrich your retirement years. Why retire from something you enjoy to brave some new unknown? The definition of what constitutes a fulfilling retirement is different for each of us. If doing what you enjoy and want to do happens to be work in some fashion, who is to say you should do anything other than what makes you happy?

Some retirees-to-be feel pressured to keep working so they can continue adding to their nest egg to cover every possible contingency for their retired life. Fearful of an uncertain future, the thought of retirement seems risky. As long as they have a job, they plan to keep at it. Why pay for health care when your employer will pick up the tab? The risk is they may find themselves at an advanced age and no longer able to do everything they could have 10 years earlier. Sure they have lots of money to spend, but not as much energy to enjoy it. It would be a shame to miss the opportunity to really explore what you are most interested in and passionate about. In the end it is up to each of us to decide if a job and those incremental dollars earned are truly worth the sacrifice.

Do you have enough to do to keep yourself occupied for the next 20 years? There is only one way to find out. If the time is right, make the move, take the chance and give retirement a try. It just may end up being everything you ever hoped for. And if it isn’t, you can always go back to work.

From my blog for US News & World. Dave Bernard is the author of “I Want To Retire! Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be“. Although not yet retired, he focuses on identifying and understanding the essential components of a fulfilling and meaningful retirement. He shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only The Beginning.

Helpful Hints for Happy Travels in Retirement

If you are like many retirees to be, travel will be an important part of the retirement you imagine. The new found freedom to do what you want is nicely channeled into wandering the world where you experience new sites, sounds and cultures in places you have to this point only read about or seen on the Travel Channel.  You can strike out on your own to be as adventurous as you want or play it safe as part of an organized tour. It is all up to you and the options are limitless.

Whatever your choice, it is essential that your travels are a positive experience.  As we get a bit further along in years, certain comforts and considerations can make or break a trip. In new locales where you can find yourself dealing with different languages, unfamiliar customs and strange laws, there is always the possibility that something might go wrong.

We recently spent a week in Paris while attending a wedding. The trip was a big success and we are already trying to figure out how soon we can return. As I think back on what it was that made the trip so enjoyable, I am able to identify a handful of factors that combined in our favor, tips that I hope to replicate in future travels.

It’s all about location – my wife and I are big walkers and always look for a home base that is centrally located to provide easy access to local attractions and neighborhoods. The big hotels with their nice amenities come at a cost as they tend to be located in busy touristy areas – not our cup of tea. On this trip for the first time we tried the new AirBNB service we had been hearing so much about. We went to the website and entered parameters for the area we wanted to stay and the dates we would be in Paris. After some research we came upon a lovely flat in the middle of the Marais with a small kitchen, bedroom, and living room overlooking the street four floors below. The location could not have been better. During our week there, we walked far and wide visiting our Top 5 Important Site list without once having to use the Metro. We carried an umbrella as the weather was as usual unpredictable but were lucky to keep it closed most of the time. Best of all along the way we discovered those hidden farmers markets and little known restaurants and off-the-beaten-path boutiques that are the real charm and beauty of Paris. And after an average of five hours walking each day, we had no problem sleeping when night came.

Top 5 List with sufficient time to enjoy – when visiting a new place it is common practice to want to see the major attractions. We are no different and had our Top 5 List ready before the airplane wheels touched down. But we have learned over the years that to really enjoy the experience, it is important to balance adventure with down time. If the whole trip is spent in a constant state of go-go-go as you try to see everything there is to see, by the end of the day you may find yourself tired and cranky rather than reminiscing over fond memories of the day. We typically focus on one or two major attractions in a given day, leaving plenty of time to meander the neighborhoods and chill with a glass of espresso or wine along the way. We keep up a brisk pace while “on the hunt” but also pause to catch our breath and take in everything around us as well. Now that we have done Paris, we have begun looking into flights to Perth for our next possible adventure.

Technology is your friend – before our departure, we did our research. We Googled maps for the apartment location as well as attractions in the immediate vicinity. We uploaded the AirBnB app to our phone to maintain contact with the landlords should we need them for anything during our stay. We sent copies of our passports to our email account in case we might lose them along the way. We even picked up a Google Nexus tablet to provide maps of the area while we explored. The bottom line is there is technology of all kinds that can make your trip safer and smoother. Why not take advantage of it?

Know your neighbors – our first time in Paris we found ourselves challenged finding a good restaurant for dinner (hard to believe I know). It’s not that there were no good restaurants but we did not know which they were. We tried a few that looked good along our wanderings but were pretty much let down. This time we asked people familiar with the area for recommendations. We got the list of nearby top restaurants from the owners of the apartment. We picked the brain of wedding attendees as to what and where we should go during our visit. We even asked locals on the street for their insight. We learned a few of the sites we had planned to visit were basically a waste of time so we skipped them. And this time, the dining experience was excellent. The best way to find out where you should go is from the natives who live there every day.

Traveling in retirement can be a wonderful adventure if you take time to prepare a bit before departure. Then once you arrive, you can focus on exploring and experiencing the local sites and culture that drew you to this spot from the beginning. Happy trails!