Lessons I Learned as I Prepare for Retirement

I have looked forward to retiring for years. The idea of having control of my time to do what I want sounds about as good at it gets. As an obsessively organized person who likes to have a bit of control over things, I am not comfortable adopting a wait and see attitude, especially when it comes to something as important as planning for my retired life. I don’t want to let retirement just happen. I want to do what I can to provide for the best second act possible.

About four years ago I began seriously researching retirement. I visited popular websites, read books, subscribed to newsletters and joined AARP in an effort to get a better handle on what was ahead. During the process I created a blog to share my discoveries and get feedback from those navigating their own personal retirement journey. What I have learned has caused me to adjust some of my initial perceptions and raised my optimism for the future.

I no longer fear being bored. When I first began planning for retirement, I was convinced that the biggest threat to my future happiness was becoming bored. I have always been an active person on the job and off. Without work to take up the majority of my time, I could not fathom how I would stay engaged and active for the next 20 years. A few fellow bloggers sought to enlighten me and described how their retired lives kept them at least as busy as when they worked – only now they were having fun. But I was convinced it was not going to be easy.

On my “trial retirement” for the past two years, I have developed a routine that starts at 7 a.m. each morning and keeps me engaged until late afternoon. I have revisited hobbies that I never had time for and discovered some new passions to pursue. And I keep looking for new things to do. Having a basic routine that I am free to modify combined with a renewed ability to explore new activities has me optimistic about my retirement and much less concerned about becoming bored.

My wife has not yet ventured into retired living and might find it initially challenging. She is an energetic, organized and involved person who prefers to be busy rather than stagnant. Work has always been an important part of her life, and taking that out of the equation makes her a tad bit nervous. The good news is her husband has been in a similar situation and has almost made the transition. We should be able to figure it out together.

I realize I don’t have to be perpetually busy. After over 30 years in the corporate grind I initially felt a little guilty if I was not doing something every minute. Working in stressful environments left me conditioned to be doing something worthwhile all the time. Transitioning into a retirement lifestyle where I am no longer on the clock took some getting used to. But I eventually came to accept and appreciate down times when I do nothing. I have come to realize it is truly wonderful to relax in the backyard, partake in an afternoon nap or just plain daydream. I don’t have to be doing something all the time, and I am getting used to the idea.

I accept that I cannot be prepared for everything. I did not foresee the bubble of 2000 or the recession of 2008, and I probably won’t see the next bear market coming either. Although we have saved what we can, there is no guarantee it will be enough. There is a lot of uncertainty in the future, and no one can be prepared for every possible contingency. By accepting that everything is not within my control I feel I am better equipped to prepare as best I can and cope with whatever comes my way.

Retirement is a transition. Getting used to being retired and making the most of it will be a gradual process. I may not get it right on my first try, but I have time to make it better, improve and learn. Although I am getting older, I am optimistic about retirement and ready to give it a try.

From my blog on US News & World

A Recipe for Success in Retirement

My folks married in 1956 at a little church in San Mateo California. As they said their vows and committed themselves to each other on that cool November afternoon, I am sure they were excited to launch their future together. Looking back over what is currently year 58, they are still going strong living comfortably in the same place for the past 50 years. From their perspective I am sure the last half century has been a truly interesting, unpredictable, never boring, not always easy but well worth it journey. And for those of us lucky enough to witness their relationship they have showed us how to do it right.

My family and friends all say I look like and have many of the same mannerisms as my dad which makes sense – like father like son (my son is a chip off the old block as well). I hope I also take after my dad when it comes to the little things he does to make their relationship not only work, but rock:

No detail is too minor – dad is very in tune with mom’s likes and dislikes. Before she says a word he instinctively knows what she is thinking or in need of. And when he steps up, he always goes the extra mile. Every morning when he brings mom a cup of coffee in bed it comes on a nice tray with a freshly cut flower from the garden and the newspaper neatly folded beside. Each time the calendar rolls around to the birthdays of us kids, dad takes mom out for a dinner celebration. After all, she did the real hard work and deserves to be spoiled a bit. Dad never forgets an anniversary or special date knowing if it is important to mom it is important to him. Even when there is no special occasion, he knows each day is a one-time only occurrence and does what he can to make the most of it.

Once a romantic always a romantic – a few years back my dad gave me a book of poetry. When I browsed through it I noticed various markings and highlights. He explained to me these were some of the favorites he and mom read to each other while dating and in the years after. I can envision them picnicking in a park taking turns sharing verses from their collection of favorite poems. Dad also passed to me a love of music. It is not uncommon to see a tear in his eye while a particularly memorable song plays in the background eliciting memories held special. When out for their evening walks, the two still hold hands as they make their way around the neighborhood. I have learned from their many examples it is always the right time for a little expression of love and romance never grows old

Make time to do what you love – although tied to a demanding schedule working at the hospital, dad was sure to make time to pursue his passions. Weekends were filled with things like fishing first thing Saturday morning, a dose of determined gardening to keep those world class roses blooming, tennis with the family in the afternoon, the weekend family drive, and a hearty BBQ to end it all. Dad has lots of passions and he learned early on the importance of setting aside time to pursue them.

Mom has also shown me what is important to keep a relationship going strong well beyond the first half century:

Family first – no matter how inconvenient or difficult a situation, family comes first. Although we all have our quirks – some more generously gifted than others – when it comes down to it the bond of blood is what matters. I know having the support of my parents while going through various challenges in my personal life got me through what could otherwise have been overwhelming moments. Having been raised like this, I hope I also instill in my own family this most important priority.

Let a smile be your umbrella on a rainy day - mom has always been an optimist perpetually ready with a smile whatever the situation. She sees the glass as half full even when there is no water in it! Mom has always showed the rest of us that things are as good as we make them. This positive attitude has saved the day more than once when dad or one of us kids found ourselves momentarily down in the dumps. There is no doubt that her optimistic outlook is deeply seated in my own personality and for that I am forever grateful.

Play to win but play fair – mom is a competitive person – she likes to win. But she always plays by the rules. She never cheats at bridge, would not dream of calling a ball out on the tennis court unless it clearly was, and basically calls it like it is regardless of the consequences. Winning may be important, but how you win is equally so.

Mom and dad have one other noteworthy tidbit that helps sustain their happy life. They have fun together no matter what they do. In the car they used to sing duets as the family tooled down back roads on another road trip, alternating between songs in German and popular American tunes. They never missed a chance to hit the dance floor where they would twirl and spin enthusiastically to the music. They traveled far and wide on planes, trains and automobiles exploring new destinations for the first time or revisiting old favorites. Their calendar remains packed with dinner parties and bridge games and concerts and tennis and golf. And they have learned to enjoy doing things together as well as apart. Mom and dad live their lives adhering to some right-on advice from Michael Jordan, “Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.”

Tomorrow morning when dad brings mom her coffee and newspaper with a red rose from the garden putting an exclamation point on how to do it right, they will continue living that recipe for success that has made the last 58 years something special for them and all of us fortunate enough to share in their journey together.