Now That We Are Retired, What Next?

When you finally make the move to retirement the possibilities for good times to be had can seem endless. Instead of spending your time working for the man (or woman) you will find yourself in the enviable position of choosing to do what you actually want with your days. You are free to get up when you want, dilly-dally as you choose and spend your newfound freedom pursuing whatever interests you for the moment. Then move on if and when you are so inclined.

Rather than obsess over the company’s quarterly performance you can focus on what really matters – like starting that lovely flower garden or maybe learning to speak Italian or perhaps trying your hand at painting. Just ask yourself what you would most like to be doing and fill in the blank. Of course if you enjoyed being part of the working world you might try your hand at starting your own business or engage in a venture that excites you and keeps you wanting to come back each day. The beauty is you can choose whatever course of action you feel is right for you.

So the day comes around and you make the move – you call it quits, say your goodbyes to co-workers, pack up your box of office mementos and drive away from the place you have spent the majority of your hours for the past years or decades. You have graduated into the latest class of retirees. As of now you own the clock and calendar – whatever you say goes.

Now what?

With high expectations many of us jump into our second act no looking back. Some are happiest doing nothing, enjoying a downtime they are unaccustomed to but can easily get used to. After the rush and hustle of the job, who doesn’t deserve to take it slow and chill a bit? Others cannot wait to start their next adventure. Only this time they are free to try something they have always wanted rather than have to do for the money. Each of us gets to decide how we move forward. But how much thought has gone into what exactly that might be?

Over the years I have heard from many who are navigating their way through retirement with varying degrees of success. Some find themselves happily engaged in various interests and hobbies and pastimes, amazed at how the days fly by. They don’t have enough time to get it all done! Others struggle to find their place in an unfamiliar world, not quite sure what they should be doing. With no one telling them what to do they are at a loss. And if you have done nothing to plan and prepare for the next 20-30 years, life is not necessarily going to get better by itself.

I recently posted my 195th blog for US News & World – On Retirement. During those almost four years I shared articles with readers who like me were doing their best to figure out this retirement game. I learned a lot and hope my readers found some value as well. But now I feel it is time to move on and try something new. I am not sure exactly what that is but it is fun to contemplate the possibilities.

I think it is important to continue to extend our boundaries and try new things as we live our retired lives. Doing the same thing with little variation can become a brain numbing habit that requires no independent thought and does little to stimulate our curiosity. I am personally at my best when challenged or at least experimenting with something new. The focus is on challenging not stressful.

Although I look forward to stepping outside of my comfort zone, I accept the reality that I don’t want to step too far outside. While some of a similar age may choose to ski down precarious Swiss Alps or zipline high above jungle canopies, I am a bit less adventurous. I don’t need my heart beat to race to have a good time! But that does not mean my retirement will be boring.

I want to travel and am blessed with the perfect companion in my Swiss wife who has ventured far and wide. With her language skills and familiarity with world travel my list of potential ports of call broadens exponentially. I want to learn to cook wonderful meals that are healthy and tasty. I want to grow much of my own vegetables so I can pick fresh produce to add to my dishes as needed. I want to become familiar with all of the trails that crisscross the parks and valleys within 50 miles of where I live. I want to walk along the California coast with no destination in mind for as long as I want breathing the fresh salt air and listening to the pounding surf. I want to keep my mind engaged learning new languages and studying subjects that truly interest me from nature to history to geography to TBD.  I want to play beautiful melodies on the piano. And I want to spend time with my wife doing whatever it is we may, happy being near one another.

Retirement is here and I for one plan on taking full advantage of all it has to offer. Let the games begin!

Finding Your Retirement State of Mind

Every once in a while you meet a senior who seems to have retirement figured out. They appear to be genuinely happy with their state of affairs and making the most of each day. When you ask about their retirement experience they shine a genuine smile and are happy to regale you – often at length – about how wonderful it is to be in their shoes. Their happiness is infectious and you may find yourself caught up in their joy. Although it is safe to assume not everything is perfect in their world, their overall outlook is positive.

My wife and I recently spent a weekend in Carmel Valley trying to escape the latest Bay Area heat wave. While dining in a shaded patio beside a burbling fountain decorated with playful water nymphs we found ourselves seated next to a retired couple. This couple had retired to the Carmel area more than 15 years ago. Before we even got our menus they began sharing their years together as a retired couple along with just how happy they were to be retired.

The best part was how excited and animated they became reliving the moments and experiences they enjoyed along the way. Between extensive travels abroad and heavy involvement with the local community they painted a vivid picture of a fulfilling and exciting retired life. Each new arrival to the restaurant bid them hello and everyone in the room seemed to know them. This retired couple seemed to be equal parts proud and happy to be an integral part of their local community.

Finding the right retirement state of mind can help you realize a happy and fulfilling second act. Here are some helpful pointers I gleaned from our recent encounter at the restaurant:

Become involved in something that matters. Carmel Valley is compact, but like any small community you can find a lot going on if you know where to look. Our new friends recommend we identify what most interests us personally. For example, I love spending time at the ocean, so why not see if I might contribute a day or two each week working at Point Lobos National Park or the Aquarium on Cannery Row. It is not about the money but rather staying engaged doing something you like. My wife would like to help out the significant senior population in the area and so might offer to deliver food or drive those who would otherwise remain homebound. Local clubs, societies and organizations are always looking for volunteers to assist during special events. There are a wide variety of options when it comes to possible areas to contribute your time. In fact, we have heard from more than one couple that one of the biggest problems among the newly retired is suddenly finding yourself committed to doing too much.

Don’t limit your possibilities. Just because you have not done something in the past does not mean you cannot give it a whirl now. With time to do what you want, retirement offers a second chance to try new things. A little experimentation might uncover a hidden passion or lead to an exciting new undertaking. Consider your retirement a blank chalkboard you are free to fill with whatever strikes your fancy. Try not to be overly picky on the first pass. You can make adjustments later. And if after your initial investigation you find you don’t like a particular selection, just pull out your handy eraser to make room for something else.

Get to know your neighbors. Living in the frantic Bay Area with everyone enmeshed in all-consuming careers is not the most conducive environment when it comes to getting to know the people on your block. Sure, we recognize one another and say “hi” when we pass on the street. But at least for us it has been difficult to build close relationships. In retirement, you will no longer be time constrained and have the chance to get to know those people next door and across the street. Who knows what common interests you may share. Neighborhoods used to be much more closely knit and supportive. With a little time and effort maybe you can bring a little of that back into your life.

Stay active. There is a time and a place to rest and relax during retirement. But it is also important to have an active life that allows you to stay involved with living. You cannot experience new things tucked into the same day to day existence. Our restaurant friends seemed to be in perpetual motion. And when they did take a break they were planning their next adventure. Just how active you want to be is up to you and your personal tastes. But try not to deprive yourself of that satisfied feeling at the end of the day after you have accomplished something that matters or tried something new.

Written for my blog on US News & World.