Retirement Checklist Revisited

Back in 2010 when I wrote my first post for Retirement – Only the Beginning I did not realistically have much of an understanding of what it meant to be retired. I knew or at least hoped I would retire sometime down the road. As for what that retired life would look like I was pretty clueless. That ultimately became the motivation for my blog – figuring out what I could do to best prepare myself to live a fulfilling meaningful retirement. And as I have reiterated in past blogs the focus of my efforts was on those many important considerations other than financial. Although money is a key piece of the puzzle I was convinced there was much more to living happily retired than just a fat wallet. The trick was to figure exactly what those pieces were before rather than after retirement commenced.

As the years progressed I began to better comprehend the challenges as well as opportunities that awaited me. I started digging into what I thought would matter most in my second act. What would I do, what was important to me, what would challenge me and keep me engaged, and ultimately what would make me happy? I began to create a mental checklist – a work perpetually in progress. Over the years I have modified my checklist making an addition here and a deletion there.

Here are a few of what I have identified as most important considerations to foster a happy retirement. Let’s see how things are progressing as I enter year number three of retired bliss.

Take time to smell the roses

In other words learn to enjoy life. After 30 years living at a pace slightly slower than the speed of light it is not easy to take it down a notch. In the startup world the focus has always been on getting more and more done in less and less time. Rolling into retirement in this state of mind was not a good idea – at all. In the early days of retirement I felt guilty if I was not doing something “meaningful” with every free moment. I was unable to enjoy Welcome Flowerthe freedom I have since learned can be a most satisfying part of each day. But I am getting better. For example, in our new home we have a lot of roses – I’m talking about more than 80 bushes sprinkled around the property. My first instinct was to tear out the thirty-or-so in the front and replace them with saw grass, ornate lava rocks and a splash of low-maintenance color. I had a picture clearly in my mind and was planning the changes from the first day we moved in. Then I began to look more closely at the roses, to see them for the beauties they really were. Colors ran the gamut from yellow to blood red to peppermint. Wonderful aromas wafted up from each as I sniffed them in turn. Maybe it made sense to enjoy them a bit before taking any drastic action. Why not keep an eye and a nostril on them for a year or two and see if we like them as they are. What was the hurry? It sounds simple but coming from my do it now background this was monumental. This morning I cut a sample from four bushes to create a bouquet for the kitchen that reinforces my decision to take it easy, don’t be in a hurry, just smell the roses (literally). I have to say I am enjoying this healthier happier pace.

Be sure to sync up retirement plans with your spouse

As I have shared earlier my wife recently joined me in retirement. Until then she was hard at work while I endeavored to perfect the retired life we would live by getting started early. As she inched closer to her final months we began to discuss in more detail just what was ahead. There are views we hold in common and some where we differ. Nothing surprising here as that could describe any time in our relationship. But in retirement we are learning to pay closer attention. Since we are together 24/7 little annoyances might grow in significance if ignored. On the other hand by sharing openly we may discover shared interests we have ignored and now have time to explore. I think the retirement sync will be ongoing. What has helped us is a willingness to discuss and compromise. Another work in progress but we are making progress.

Try to be healthy in body and mind

It is not always easy to squeeze in time for exercise when you are working 60 hour weeks. And when you finally have a spare moment you are more likely to collapse than drop and give 50 pushups. Retirement is a whole different ball game. You are now in control of your time. What I love about this freedom is I don’t have to force a workout into a designated time slot. I can get my exercise when I feel most inspired to do so. Of course sometimes I have to push myself a little should the inspiration fail to materialize. Eating right is also less challenging once retired. Instead of scarfing a sandwich during a fleeting five minute window you can prepare a more balanced tasty repast. We have located the best French bakery in the area (think fresh baguette) along with the closest weekly farmers market (think fresh fruit and veggies and local fish) and a cheese shop to end all (fromage!). I look forward to meals as we creatively combine local goodies never sure exactly what we will end up with but always pleased. We all know how important it is for our health and wellbeing to get regular exercise and eat well. Retirement can provide the time and flexibility to take care of yourself like you should.

Unleash the creative you

Retirees have free time on their hands. How they choose to spend it is entirely up to them. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to keep busy. If what you do is what you enjoy, keep doing it. I have found retirement a good time to revisit old passions as well as investigate new things. I like to write (blogging), I love music (back at the piano keys), I love nature (hiking nearby park or walking coastal paths), I have discovered a previously unknown love for Paris (taking history classes, learning the language, and visiting when I can), and I am trying my hand at cooking. Who knows what might be next. Doing what I want when I want makes retirement pretty special. I can’t wait for tomorrow!

Good Retirement Advice from James Dean

I remember James Dean from his ”Rebel without a Cause” days. Talk about the epitome of cool. Garbed in his ubiquitous leather jacket wearing that famous confident yet boyish sneer, Dean looked at the world in his own unique way. He did not allow events around him to control his life but rather dictated just how he was going to live. He chose not to let life pass him by without reaching for the most he could. In the end he pushed the envelope a bit too far. But along the way what a story!

One particular quotation from him often echoes in my mind: “dream as if you will live forever, live as if you will die tomorrow.”

Now for a slightly crazed virtually fearless teen heart throb who knew no boundaries, such a mantra sounds about right. But what about the rest of us mere mortals and specifically those of us who are living our second act? I believe those words of wisdom spoken from the lips of a rebellious youth decades ago have something worthwhile to say to all of us living the retired life today.

I for one have always been a bit of a dreamer. I remember as a kid playing football catch with myself, lobbing the ball into the air and running madly to catch it. Although the actual swinging monkeysactivity may have taken place on the asphalt outside my house in my mind I was center stage on the football field streaking to catch the game winning pass as the final seconds ticked off the clock. Who has not upon occasion dreamed of what might be? In our imagination perhaps a particularly superb member of the opposite sex might take notice of you or maybe your boss will appreciate all you have done and give you the praise (maybe even promotion) you so deserve. Why buy a lotto ticket if you do not imagine for a moment what you might do should your numbers come up? Las Vegas would be nothing but desert were it not for the dreamers – sometimes borderline obsessive – who regularly contribute to their local economy. And closer to home it is not so difficult to dream a bit picturing you living the perfect retirement life.

There is nothing wrong with dreaming. Many a dream has proved the inspiration for great things. Dreaming removes perceived barriers that reality tends to throw in our path – nothing is impossible. But dreaming alone does not make those wishes come true. It is far more likely that the combination of a good dose of hard work and focused effort ultimately get it done. That is where the living now comes into play.

Dream as if you will live forever, live as if you will die tomorrow.

I ask myself if there is some way to put those words to good use in the context of my retirement. What can I do to make the most of today? To begin with I guess I can get up off my butt and engage a little more in living. Waiting for life’s memorable moments to catch up with me may feel safe and easy but if I do not do my part I may miss the boat entirely. It is up to me to take action. The ball is in my court.

If today was my last day how would I spend my hours? I don’t really have a bucket list – I have pretty much tried to do those things that mattered along the way rather than wait. Of course there are still many places I want to visit. The more I read about history and other cultures the more I want to explore them first hand. I imagine myself walking the streets that famous figures trod long ago or sitting along the bank of the famous river Rhine or Seine or Danube or Colorado. I want to try Peruvian food. I would love to learn the swing dance steps set to In the Mood by Glen Miller – man that rhythm just gets into my blood! There are a bunch of melodic complex songs I would like to memorize to play on the piano. I might like to try my hand one more time at the guitar. I want to cook one of those Emeril Lagasse masterpieces that wow those lucky guests chosen to sit around the table and partake.

My brief list may not impress everyone but it includes some of what I would personally like to do. So, now that I am retired and have the time, what am I waiting for? If I don’t take the first steps to do those things I dream of they will never become more than dreams. How much better to do them, to live them, to enjoy them first hand and if I find I like it, do it again? Why not – what do I have to lose? What am I waiting for? What would James Dean do?

There is always time for dreaming. But I am learning life is also what you make of it today, right here and now. Is there something you have always wanted to do but maybe not had the time? Guess what there is no time like the present and retirement can be just the occasion to go for it. There is an old saying, life is like a coin: you can spend it any way you want but you can only spend it once. How will you spend your life coin?