What to Expect in Retirement

The only way to really understand what it is like to live the retirement life is to do it. You might read books and blogs to get a high level overview of what to expect. Friends and family may have helpful input based upon personal experiences. And there are more courses and classes than you can shake a stick at. All of this information can provide some guidance as you begin to navigate your retirement journey. But no one who has gone before you will have lived retirement in exactly the same way you will.

Our freedom to pursue what we love while building the custom retirement closest to our individual definition of perfection is a gift. Imagine creating a “job” description for yourself that includes only those things you love. As a retiree you can set your own hours, spend your time doing what you want, avoid unnecessary stress, answer to no one and look forward to tomorrow. How does that sound?

Although your journey will not exactly mirror my own I want to share a few noteworthy discoveries made over the last four years spent in the trenches (aka retirement).

Taking responsibility for your own inspiration

It is a sad fact that some retirees all too soon find themselves disappointed. When high expectations are not met boredom and frustration can follow. And yet there are others who revel in their days. They are busy and engaged and often cannot find enough time in the day to get everything done they want. One difference is they do not wait for the world to inspire them. Instead they seek out excitement and new experiences forever on the lookout for new avenues to explore. It is not always easy to find inspiration to live life to the fullest. But waiting for something to come along is not a good course of action. I do my best to use my imagination, explore my dreams, try to stretch beyond any self-imposed limitations and go for it. So far so good.

Feeling more at peace with life

Many retirees find retirement to be a safe port after the storm. There is a lot to be said about finally arriving at the doorstep of our second act. Most of those stresses that consumed us in earlier years are behind us. We need no longer struggle with the pressures of the work scene. The family is for the most part (hopefully) raised and independent. We no longer feel the need to prove our self to anyone other than our self. And we have blessed free time to spend as we choose. Where in earlier days it was easy to let all the little things get to you, retirement seems to thicken the skin a bit – we learn not to sweat the small stuff especially when beyond our control.

For many, retirement can be the happiest time of their lives. Leaving stress behind and enjoying the moment can be just what the doctor ordered. I am learning to go with the flow and try to focus on the positive.

Watching expenses more closely

A reality of retirement is you must live within your means. According to  a recent study by BMO Wealth Management 35 percent of Americans over 55 consider debt reduction their biggest financial concern. If you were budget conscious before you retired the transition should be relatively painless. Just keep doing what worked for you on your way here. If balancing the books was challenging in the past there is some good news. You will no longer have to deal with certain expenses like education, mortgage payments (roughly one third of Americans 55 and older have paid off their homes), commuting costs, business clothes and 401k deductions. The bad news is healthcare costs have the potential to more than make up for many of those discontinued fees. I am learning in retirement the importance of balancing and prioritizing, of spending on what is most important to health and happiness while cutting back on extravagant or unnecessary things. So far it is not that difficult – just takes a little extra effort.

Humoring those friends not yet retired

Although I am retired not all of my friends are so fortunate. It should not be surprising that an occasional pang of jealousy might come into play. The good news is my friends are a great bunch of people. They look forward to their own exit from the working world, most the sooner the better. Still it does not hurt to be sensitive. Some jobs are just fine while others are nightmares. I try to encourage those struggling to hang in there and keep their eye on the prize. I tell them how I enjoy the retired life but don’t rub it in. Keep on track, stay focused and don’t give up. I can personally vouch for the fact it will be worth the wait.

No one knows how their retirement will play out until they begin living it. Expect the unexpected. Prepare as best you can for the financial as well as non-financial aspects of your journey. Do your best. Then hang on for the ride – it should be a doosie!


Which Retirement is Right for You?

Many retirees-to-be envision their own retirement based on what they witness playing out around them. How parents live their daily life post-working world provides one insight into possible paths. Observing friends and neighbors as they make the best of challenges that come with aging can offer one more perspective. What we see on television, the movies and the media shines a spotlight on yet another set of potential ways our second act may play out. And anyone 50 or older has likely been warmly welcomed to the fold by the folks at AARP who regularly share first hand experiences from retirees around the world.

Although the generic concept of retirement includes certain common elements how individuals go about living their second act can be as unique as their own personal snowflake. Each of us has the ability and the freedom to create our own scenario based upon what matters to us most, what we hold dear, and how we really want to spend our time now that we can make our own choices.

When it comes to retirement it is as the saying goes different strokes for different folks.

The Part Timer

There are some who though having achieved “retirement age” still find genuine satisfaction in working. Whether the option is to stay within the same area of expertise or try something new, their ideal retirement includes work in some shape or form. Many enjoy regular interaction with co-workers and cannot imagine life without sharing important moments with peers.  Others value the feeling of worth a regular paycheck affords. Some see retirement as their chance to try a new career path, something that genuinely matters and allows them to harness their creativity. Just because we are a bit older does not mean we do not have something to offer. Working part time or for a cause you value can bring meaning to the days, an important ingredient to any successful retirement plan.

Pursuit of Pleasure

Where one group of retirees is happiest including some work in their life others want to be as far from the job as possible. They have put in their time, paid their dues, answered to the big boss for long enough and once retired plan to aggressively enjoy their freedom. This is their time to revisit passions and hobbies that until now they did not have time for. No longer tied to the clock each day can roll out at whatever pace suits them best.  You might find these retirees stretched out on a tropical beach with Mai Tai in hand or casually enjoying 18 holes at the local country club or savoring a long lunch with no pressure to be anywhere anytime soon. Some may call them selfish with so much focus on their own happiness. But in reality that selfishness just may be tainted with a slight jealousy regarding their path chosen. The good thing is we each have the luxury of changing our own course should we be so inclined.

Make up for Lost Time

Some look to retirement as their chance to make up for time lost while working the daily grind. Travel demands, late meetings, working weekends all took a toll on the lives they would have preferred to live – namely spent with their family. How many little league games were missed? How many ballet recitals took place with their set empty? How is it possible that those squalling bundles of noise and pungent smells matured into the young adults they are now? Retirement puts you back in control of your time and your calendar. This can be the opportunity to re-establish ties that weakened and show the love you have always felt but were unable to squeeze into a busy schedule. And what a lucky generation of grandchildren wait in the wings. If you could not be there as often as you hoped for your own children, grandkids are a great way to make up for lost time.

Take it Day by Day

Not everyone has a plan for retirement. This can be dangerous if you find yourself bored after one year “on the job” and are not sure what to do for the next two decades. However others can be just fine with a little flexibility in their day. With no one telling them what to do they are free to explore whatever interests them for the moment. Little is in the must do now category so stress is minimal. Maybe today is a good day to write a blog or perhaps take a hike along that newly identified trail. I might read then workout then have lunch then nap. Perhaps me and the missus will schedule a few days down the coast – mid week of course (why hassle with weekend crowds now that we don’t have to). Boredom might show its ugly head upon rare occasion but generally this retiree has a good list of to-do’s to engage her efforts.

A little of this, a little of that

I would venture to say most of us are some combination of the above. We may spoil ourselves one week and the next reach out to family or friends that have fallen off our radar. We may try our hand at a short work gig but later return to the no work ever state of mind. We can even go back and forth – it is up to us.

It is important to remember there is no absolute right or wrong when it comes to living the retirement that is best for you. Not always will you automatically find yourself traveling the right course. Things change, people change. Our ability to adapt and make the best of whatever our situation will help us realize a meaningful fun retirement. That is in fact the right retirement for each of us.


Savor Life

Have you ever found yourself at some little restaurant off the beaten path with just the right mix of ambiance and good food?  The service is as it should be – waiters not overly aggressive in monitoring the readiness of your plate to be removed while your glass of water is efficiently maintained at full. The noise level does not require you raise your voice allowing you to engage in meaningful discussion and genuine sharing. The wine selection is intriguing without costing an arm and a leg. And the food – oh the wonderful food! If you are smart you take your time and enjoy the perfect storm of goodness that you find yourself experiencing. Who knows when or if you will ever again luck into such a moment? Make it last, take your time, and savor.

Flashes of perfection can be exquisite whether experienced at a restaurant, in a relationship, while appreciating a breathtaking view or just spending time quietly contemplating your own inner thoughts. Sadly these moments do not come along enough. Their rarity makes them that much more special. Their transient nature makes it even more important to grab hold and enjoy.

The other day I found myself feeling a little wound up, strange considering I am one of the lucky ones enjoying retired life. I don’t remember what triggered the feeling but it sure felt like the “old days” while working when the only speed I knew how to live was faster. Back then everything had a time line and there was no excuse for failure to deliver. But I am retired now. What is the rush? There is more than enough time in the day to complete everything on my plate. If not there is always tomorrow. Why should I feel anxious about anything?

It dawned on me how I choose to live my life and at what pace is ultimately up to me. Rather than hurry, wouldn’t it make more sense to take advantage of my freedom and make the most of each experience? In retirement you needn’t always be on the run. It should be okay to walk.

Taking a seat on the living room couch I tried to think of areas where I might be needlessly hurrying rather than calmly enjoying. I hoped to better pace myself to avoid glossing over or missing entirely special moments that came my way. As I thought it through I came up with a few basic ideas to help keep me on track.

Enjoy each bite. Rather than just shovel in my meal to stoke the fires, I can pay closer attention to what I am eating. Be aware of the complimentary flavors and textures, appreciate the aromas, and take my time. There is no rush – or at least there should not be. A long leisurely meal is a wonderful experience. And no TV. How can you expect to appreciate your repast if you are caught up in the mind numbing advertisement infested “entertainment” that is television?

Disconnect for a while. It sure is handy to have an iPhone to contact my friends in real time as well as stay on top of important current events. But it can get out of hand if you find yourself perpetually poised to click on the first ping or vibration. I am discovering the amazing world all around by giving myself the freedom from distraction that constant connectivity demands. Less connection to electronics more connection to the real people and places that surround us.

Be slow to anger. As the years progress I find myself less tolerant than I once was. Little things, like poor service or products that are not as advertised, tick me off. It can be easy for that anger to rise to the surface to take control of me and upset my peace of mind. I am learning to recognize when I start to get wound up and take a deep breath. Is it worth the angst? I don’t want to waste my moments being unnecessarily angry at things over which I have no real control. God bless you mister slow driver. Have a great day late night calling telemarketer. I wish you the best loud iPhone talker. It’s all good.

Take time to reach out to friends and family. I now control my free time. I manage my calendar according to what I want to do. I have the luxury of engaging in long conversations instead of just quick catch up calls shoved into limited time slots in an overly committed day. I am able to pay closer attention to and dig deeper into important topics affecting those I care about. It is amazing how an unexpected call from a friend can brighten you day whether you are the caller or the callee.

Keep on dancing. One of my regular readers loves dancing and typically ends her notes with this phrase. Nothing more you really need to say. Thanks Carol!

Relax in front of a warm fire. The flicker and warmth of a fireplace always gives me a feeling of security and peace. Time stands still as you gaze into the ever changing glow of flickering flames. For that moment all is well with the world. On a cold night there is nothing better than snuggling up in front of the old fireplace with a good book and a warm body next to you.

Go for a walk. My wife and I love to explore the hidden hiking paths that are scattered throughout our area. You never know when you will turn a corner and suddenly find yourself in the presence of unexpected beauty. A crystal clear stream babbling beyond a crumbling bank or an ancient resident tree standing proudly draped with pale green moss almost touching the ground. The peace and quiet refreshes while encouraging a slower often introspective pace at which to proceed.

Life happens fast. We cannot always dictate the pace at which we are forced to live. But sometimes we can take control, step back and appreciate our many blessings. The good moments may be few and far between. But when they come around let the savoring begin!