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?

Why Travel In Retirement

We are nearing the end of another memorable trip to Switzerland. Everything to this point has been spectacular from the uncharacteristic perfect weather – a bit warm but virtually no rain or other atmospheric negatives, something the locals say is unheard of this time of the year – to the manageable crowds to the other worldly beauty everywhere we look.

Looking back at the journey I want to share some highlights as well as a few pictures (I was requested by numerous readers to share some of the sights with a snapshot or two. The hard part is picking just a few):

(1) Seeing the family again – I talked about this in an earlier blog but cannot say enough about the incredible treatment we received from everyone in the family. Just last night a bunch of the relatives came over to share an evening and meal including the newest additions to the clan age 1.5 and 4 years. Between the perpetual energy of the kids and the tasty spread that included a diverse selection of salads along with most of the meat groups (steak, chicken, sausage, and more sausage) there was never a dull moment. I cannot wait to return the favor when they visit us.

(2) Getting slightly closer to overcoming my fear of heights – one gondola up the side of a 12,000 foot beast of a mountain, two train trips through the Alps along canyons and precipices high above the ground below, one backward Alpsmoving tram up the side of another steep mountain watching the towns below fade into obscurity in the widening distance, and numerous hikes along trails that sometimes brought me a bit closer to the edge than I would desire – I survived them all. As a matter of fact I find I no longer break into a cold sweat viewing some dangling transport inching its way up a mountainside even when imaging myself a passenger – progress!

(3) Incredible scenery in all directions. We visited some world class spots to view magnificent nature at her best. I can assure you those unreal pictures you may have seen of Switzerland are very real. It turns out all we needed to do was step into the backyard where we stayed to gaze upon a ring of mountains in all directions and the picture perfect geometrically precise farms that dotted Swiss flag on Jungfrauyochthe valleys at their feet. I may have a few favorites – Schynige Platte on a crystal clear day or the tiny husli where we spent a few nights in a cozy farm house in Grindelwald or the many dizzying sights riding the Glacier Express – but second and third and fourth place are all spectacular.

I am fortunate to travel as I have with my multi-lingual travel companion, guide and lovely wife. I am learning from her to be more than an anonymous traveler. There is so much more to experience by engaging with those you meet along the way. While in Zermat Beatrice took time to talk with a Japanese tour guide at the next table learning where her group had been, where they were going and all about her tour guide career that had her in foreign countries 180 days each year.

On another occasion we were riding a train in Pontracino with a young family seated across from us. She casually said a few words in Swiss German and soon we were all smiling and communicating in a combination of German, English, and sign language. Later we ran into this same family high on a Alpen lichenmountain trail and then one more time while having dinner. Each time we greeted each other and briefly caught up on the events of the day. Although I do not speak the language I am getting better at picking out a few key words so I get the gist of the conversation – at least about 30 percent of the time. And I have learned a simple gruezie (hello) is a great ice breaker generally eliciting a broad smile (hopefully not merely because of my pronunciation).

Traveling in retirement can be a wonderful experience. Travel allows you to try something new whether a new place or new people or new activities. It allows you to release your inner flaneur providing the freedom to wander, nowhere in particular, always with the possibility you may discover something amazing around the next corner. Travel allows you to step outside of your comfort zone and be whomever you want. You are no longer just someone retired from the job but rather a world explorer, an exotic adventurer, an international man/woman about town, a connoisseur in training.

Not speaking the language is a sure fire way to make you realize how helpless you could be if not for the fact many along the road speak English to some degree. With a little effort you should be able to start picking up a bit and then a bit more of conversations around you. I think there is no better mind exercise than learning a new language. And it is an education for a lifetime – the more you work at it the better you get.

Enjoying the local gastronomic specialties is a task to be happily undertaken whether of the food or beverage variety. How fun it is to ask for “a local beer” and wait in great expectation of what will be delivered to your table, frosty and foamy, a small piece of this particular spot on the globe.

blogflowersA wonderful trip, many beautiful pictures, lots of memories, and now back to reality. But even reality will be a new exciting adventure as we now move into our new digs in Carmel Valley. We are beginning a new journey, this time a bit closer to home. But a new journey just the same. I can’t wait to step out the front door and head to the left or perhaps the right as this flaneur in training continues his journey through our wonderful world. Auf weiderschen, adieu, hasta la vista, and see you soon.

Retirement Happiness Depends on Your Perspective

Getting retirement right has a lot to do with setting reasonable expectations. It is not just about what you want – it’s also facing the reality of what you get. Some look forward to an idyllic escape from the stress and strain of working for a living, a time to slow down and smell the roses and enjoy the moment. Others may hold a more pessimistic view, imagining their second act as one of gradual decline and loss of independence. For the majority of us, retirement will be somewhere in between. But having the right outlook and a realistic perspective may help tilt the scale in our favor.

When we are young, we have great aspirations for the life we want to live. Ahead lies a promising career that hopefully inspires us. By working hard and saving, we might have those nice things that make life more enjoyable. And perhaps we envision a family to share our life and love with. We want it all, we feel there is no reason we should not have it all and we have plenty of time to give it our best shot.

As we approach retirement, many of these earlier dreams have either been realized or adjusted where appropriate. The idea of starting a new career can seem unrealistic, although there are those rare seniors who do just that. For most of us, if we have had a good career and achieved the goals we set, that particular hunger has been, for the most part, satiated. While at 25, achievement, recognition and accumulation were all important, at 65, having been there and done that, our goals are different.

I look back fondly on years spent working furiously for various startups. At the time it was a blast, and I energetically gave my all, happy to be working with a unique bunch of people equally as dedicated. Today, just thinking about running at that breakneck speed honestly tires me out. I believe my mind could still compete, but I really have no desire to do so. The fact is, my goals have changed. I no longer need to outperform my peers to be recognized. I don’t need to compete for a higher position or bigger office or more letters after my name. This is, to a large extent, because I am happy where I am at the moment. But another part might be due to the fact that as of now, I have statistically lived the majority of my life. It is no longer important to me to be the best in the eyes of others. What is important is spending my life with those who matter most, doing what I want with my time and having no regrets.

Many of us have known someone facing a debilitating or terminal disease that either impacts their quality of life or shortens it prematurely. When they are finally able to come to grips with what their fate, priorities tend to shift. What was so darn important to achieve during a future spanning 20 or 30 years can become less important in an abbreviated time frame. Each day is precious, and we learn to reprioritize what really matters.

I ask myself how I would spend my days if I learned I had five years to live. I sure would not worry about making a fortune or becoming a vice president or pursuing other lofty goals. I would want to spend time with my family and let them know how important they are. I would want to visit those places I have always wanted. I would sample every new restaurant in the area without concern over too much spice. I would try to find peace inside myself and enjoy every moment I was given. With a shortened future, I would not want to waste time.

Why would I live any other way in retirement? Now that I am in control of much of my life, I should do what matters to me. I set the standards and make the rules. I can make the choice to positively face each day no matter what may be in store. My retirement happiness is in my hands, and I sure do not want to fumble. No more waiting for the right time – that moment is now.

Written for US News & World