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.

Retirement is About Learning as You Go

Chances are you will not be fortunate enough to predict with great accuracy where life will take you once you retire. More likely you will live through twists and turns, adventures and mishaps, ups and downs as you navigate the retirement jungle. You may think you have it all figured out, that you are more than ready to jump into your second act. After all how difficult can it be? Just leave the stresses of the job behind and focus on doing what you really want. Step up to submerge yourself in some serious rest and relaxation. Now that you have arrived, just let the fun begin.

For the first year or so as you begin to chart your retirement course, it can seem pretty easy to engage and enjoy yourself just as you hoped. Who doesn’t enter retired life without a list of important to-dos, a conglomeration of everything you have never had time for until now. Long neglected hobbies crying out for attention can now be rejuvenated. You are finally able to explore those trips to places that until now you have only read of. And simple relaxation that a busy career stubbornly refused to allow can be enjoyed. What a life!

Then as your second act progresses and you start living your day to day retired lifestyle, you may discover you overlooked a little something here or did not count on a bit of that there. Perhaps you realize those numerous hobbies you planned to revisit are not quite as interesting as you remember. Maybe all that freedom to do whatever you want leaves you a bit at odds. After all, 20 years is a long time to entertain yourself. And since we are such a diverse bunch of retirement travelers, there is no one roadmap to direct us exactly where to go.

I have found over my brief retirement that not everything I expected turns out as I thought. But I have also discovered that I can adapt. I am beginning to understand retirement is an ongoing education and I am learning something new all the time.

Rediscover what you really enjoy

A demanding career can easily take control of our lives. The intense focus and constant demands can have the unfortunate effect of numbing us to having a good time. With nothing but work on our minds, we forget what it is that we really enjoy doing. Who has time for fun when there are only so many hours in the day? Retirement can be our chance to take another look at what really lights our individual fires. We no longer have to only img_2151.jpgdream of the ever illusive free time – it is now ours for the taking.

As a retiree I uncovered a previously unknown interest in history. Now if you knew me as a student you would understand what a major shift this is. I wanted nothing to do with things of yore. History and geography had no place in my busy life. But this is different. Perhaps it is the fact that this time around I can study what I want rather than being force fed an inflexible diet of core requirements. I discovered a passion for French Impressionist Art as well as all things Parisian. I love the variety of the unique neighborhoods inhabited by novel worthy characters scattered throughout the snail shell configuration of her 20 arrondissements. While visiting, I became the flaneur I had read of, wandering the streets with no particular destination in mind, enjoying what I found around each new corner. Back home I attend on online courses introducing the cast of characters and social environment that made up the ever so interesting eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in France. A key attraction for me is the freedom to pursue whatever avenue I find most interesting for as long as I want. If I get bored or distracted at any point, I simply exit with no exam required to justify my existence.

Accept it is okay to slow down a bit

I have always been active working out, hiking, trying new things, pursuing various hobbies and just generally not sitting still for long. Even as a youngster as soon as my homework was done I was out the door to play whatever chosen sport du jour with the neighborhood kids. Now in retirement I am learning it is okay to remain stationary for more than ten minutes. I appreciate my newfound freedom to read a book during the middle of the day. Should I feel a bit sleepy after lunch I feel no guilt reclining on the couch next to the cats happily emulating their napping prowess. I am learning – reluctantly – to hand over the heavy grocery bag to younger family members (even though I could still carry it just fine…really…). When we travel, rather than tear up the town scurrying to see every site imaginable we appreciate a quite break at a café or park bench. And you know what? By slowing down I am actually able to better appreciate all that is going on around me.

Learn you do not have to stay perpetually busy

When I first retired I felt guilty if I was not doing something “worthwhile” every spare moment. Totally accustomed to performing at 110 percent all the time, the thought of doing nothing took some getting used to. I am learning that doing nothing hold its own wonder. Without every moment laid out ahead of time I can follow my own natural rhythms. I am a morning person and so look forward to getting out of bed and on with the day. But should I feel the urge to spend an additional hour in bed that is exactly what I do. And I do it without feeling guilty. It may sound easy but until you accept that you have real control of how you choose to spend your time, that gnawing guilt can hang out on the periphery.

The journey continues as does my ongoing education. I am realizing that I did not learn it all in school and there is really no age at which learning is over. With so many interesting avenues to explore and the freedom to engage, it appears that much of my education is just beginning.