Avoid These Common Mistakes New Retirees Make

Since no one has firsthand experience being retired until they actually do, we may stumble while learning to navigate our way. This is new territory, and we typically have to figure things out as we go. Some people do not fully appreciate the magnitude of unlimited free time until they experience it, while others fail to plan ahead enough to sufficiently prepare for multiple decades of retirement. Whatever the particular oversight, being blindsided by the unexpected threatens to put a damper on an otherwise smooth transition into retirement.

Retirement doesn’t have to be full of surprises. We can learn from the experiences of those who have gone before us. Here are a few potential stumbling blocks to be aware of as you begin your retirement journey.

Thinking you know it all from day one. Navigating our careers made us into efficient workers who were good at the job we did. But those skills that enabled us to advance through the ranks are not always the same qualities that lead to a successful retirement. If you want to make the most of your second act you might have to make some changes. Your retirement activities are likely to evolve over time. You will encounter good and bad surprises and need to deal with them as best you can. It is impossible to know ahead of time exactly how your retirement journey will play out. Don’t be surprised to feel a bit out of sync at the beginning of retirement. You will likely have to change and adjust along the way.

Waiting for life to happen. When you first retire you will likely be ready to enjoy a little downtime. Feelings of relief will blend with growing excitement about what could lie ahead. But it can be a mistake to expect a fulfilling retirement to materialize without your active involvement. Just because you made it this far doesn’t mean your job is done. You can be as active as you want to, but try to make it a conscious choice. It is important to take control of the new life you have waited and worked for.

Assuming you have enough interests to last you. Many of us cannot wait to revisit the hobbies and passions we were forced to neglect due to the responsibilities of everyday life. It is a wonderful thing to finally have time you can choose how to fill. But don’t be surprised if a few years into retirement you find your enthusiasm has diminished. If you don’t want to become bored, it helps to always be on the lookout for something new that captures your interest. Just because you have not tried something in the past does not mean you cannot take a stab at it now. More is better when it comes to interests in retirement.

Believing you and your partner are on the same page about retirement. It is not uncommon for spouses to have differing views on the ideal way to enjoy retirement. My vision of how to spend the perfect day may be nothing like what my wife has in mind, and that is OK. There is no reason to fear such differences. What helps to keep things running smoothly is honest discussions and open sharing about retirement expectations. Share your vision of retirement and encourage your partner to do likewise. Don’t wait for a problem to arise. Become familiar with what each of you looks forward to and fears. It will be easier to navigate your way if you combine forces.

Limiting your options. When my parents retired, their vision of the future was one of peaceful moments, a bit of bridge, a dash of golf and enjoying their freedom. That was the way they wanted retirement to be, and it worked just fine for them. I envision my second act differently. I do not see retirement as the end of the road, but a new beginning. I am still healthy, active and have a variety of interests. And now I have the time to really pursue what excites me. Short of health or financial issues, living in retirement can be the beginning of new experiences you have the power to personally select.

From my blog for US News & World

Start Your Retirement Right

When I first retired I was not sure exactly what I should be doing. For 30 years my life was pretty much dictated by my career. I went to work Monday through Friday, and then tried to catch up with the rest of my life during fast-paced weekends. Raising a family, paying the bills and trying to put aside a little for the future was a full-time undertaking.

Then I retired. Over the past few years, I have learned some valuable lessons and survived a handful of surprises I had not foreseen prior to the transition. I am very happy with the experience and where I am today, but there are some things I might have done differently. If I were to start my retirement over again, I would focus on these key areas.

Control the pace of your day. Along with your new found freedom to do whatever you want comes the responsibility to fill your day with activities and meaning. Initially, I was happy doing nothing. After three decades of working a little downtime was well deserved. I became pretty good at going with the flow and sustaining a leisurely pace through the days. But after a while I began to tire of having nothing to show for those hours. I was used to achieving goals and getting things done and found the abrupt end to my productivity somewhat disturbing.

Eventually I learned the importance of creating balance and found a happy midpoint between relaxation and making things happen. With a routine that typically gets me out of bed by seven, I keep occupied until early evening. Part of that time is dedicated to my hobbies and personal goals. But I also set aside time to relax, contemplate and maybe take a nap. I do things when I want to, whether working out, reading, writing or snoozing. When I have had enough, I move on to the next option. I decide what and when to take my next steps. All of this is done at a pace that suits me for that particular day. It feels nice to be in control.

Break your retirement future into shorter time periods. Attempting to plan what you will do for the next 20 years in retirement can be an intimidating chore. That is a long time. I sometimes find it challenging to see ahead to next month. What can help is to focus on smaller chunks of time. Instead of deciding what you will do for the next two decades, try focusing on the next two years. A bite size plan is easier to wrap your mind around. Should you find yourself part way there and decide you would rather do something else, you have only expended a small portion of your overall retirement. You may even find your interests will change ten years from now. There is plenty of time to take a different direction. You don’t have to figure it all out right now.

Be proactive. I have a favorite aunt who is 73 and maintains a level of activity that puts most of us to shame. She hikes, travels and socializes with a wide group of friends and family. Joining her in a recent hike through a local vineyard, my wife and I were hard pressed to keep up with her energetic pace. And the winery hike was her idea. She does not sit back and wait for life to come to her. My aunt is forever in search of the next new thing, adventure or cool event she might undertake.

Inspired by her enthusiasm, I am learning to look beyond my familiar and well worn lifestyle. I am beginning to step outside of my comfort zone. It is certainly comfortable to hang out at home. There are no traffic jams or crowds and whatever you need is right there. But there is so much more if you are willing to look for it. And the Internet and social media makes it easier than ever to find something that fits your individual tastes. Whether you want to flaunt your cooking skills with an eggplant parmigiana recipe, find a group of local spelunkers or throw in with a square dancing troupe, access is only a few keystrokes away. Staying active and engaged has kept my aunt younger than her years. By following a similar game plan my wife and I hope for the same success.

Written for US News & World