Lessons I Learned as I Prepare for Retirement

I have looked forward to retiring for years. The idea of having control of my time to do what I want sounds about as good at it gets. As an obsessively organized person who likes to have a bit of control over things, I am not comfortable adopting a wait and see attitude, especially when it comes to something as important as planning for my retired life. I don’t want to let retirement just happen. I want to do what I can to provide for the best second act possible.

About four years ago I began seriously researching retirement. I visited popular websites, read books, subscribed to newsletters and joined AARP in an effort to get a better handle on what was ahead. During the process I created a blog to share my discoveries and get feedback from those navigating their own personal retirement journey. What I have learned has caused me to adjust some of my initial perceptions and raised my optimism for the future.

I no longer fear being bored. When I first began planning for retirement, I was convinced that the biggest threat to my future happiness was becoming bored. I have always been an active person on the job and off. Without work to take up the majority of my time, I could not fathom how I would stay engaged and active for the next 20 years. A few fellow bloggers sought to enlighten me and described how their retired lives kept them at least as busy as when they worked – only now they were having fun. But I was convinced it was not going to be easy.

On my “trial retirement” for the past two years, I have developed a routine that starts at 7 a.m. each morning and keeps me engaged until late afternoon. I have revisited hobbies that I never had time for and discovered some new passions to pursue. And I keep looking for new things to do. Having a basic routine that I am free to modify combined with a renewed ability to explore new activities has me optimistic about my retirement and much less concerned about becoming bored.

My wife has not yet ventured into retired living and might find it initially challenging. She is an energetic, organized and involved person who prefers to be busy rather than stagnant. Work has always been an important part of her life, and taking that out of the equation makes her a tad bit nervous. The good news is her husband has been in a similar situation and has almost made the transition. We should be able to figure it out together.

I realize I don’t have to be perpetually busy. After over 30 years in the corporate grind I initially felt a little guilty if I was not doing something every minute. Working in stressful environments left me conditioned to be doing something worthwhile all the time. Transitioning into a retirement lifestyle where I am no longer on the clock took some getting used to. But I eventually came to accept and appreciate down times when I do nothing. I have come to realize it is truly wonderful to relax in the backyard, partake in an afternoon nap or just plain daydream. I don’t have to be doing something all the time, and I am getting used to the idea.

I accept that I cannot be prepared for everything. I did not foresee the bubble of 2000 or the recession of 2008, and I probably won’t see the next bear market coming either. Although we have saved what we can, there is no guarantee it will be enough. There is a lot of uncertainty in the future, and no one can be prepared for every possible contingency. By accepting that everything is not within my control I feel I am better equipped to prepare as best I can and cope with whatever comes my way.

Retirement is a transition. Getting used to being retired and making the most of it will be a gradual process. I may not get it right on my first try, but I have time to make it better, improve and learn. Although I am getting older, I am optimistic about retirement and ready to give it a try.

From my blog on US News & World

How do you stay positive when life keeps getting harder?

It is not easy to come to grips with growing older. The world around us fixates on all things youthful while advertisers bombard us with happy, wrinkle-free picture-perfect models cavorting happily with nary a care in the world. The message seems to be if you are young you have it made. But what about those whose teens and twenties are a distant memory? Is there a place for those of us whose youthful spirit finds itself betrayed by a progressively more wrinkled visage?

I am doing my best to come to grips with the wear and tear of my 55 years of living. I do my part as far as getting my exercise and following a healthy diet. Overall things are going fine but not all the time. The spirit may be willing but if the body doesn’t pitch in it sometimes feels like an uphill battle.

As the years progress we learn it is not always easy doing those simple things we took for granted not so long ago. Little aches and pains insidiously work their way into daily life. Bending down to pick up a dropped set of keys requires more dedication than it should. I cannot make up my mind if I should bring my book closer or hold it at arm length to read type which seems to be tinier every day. It wasn’t that many years ago when my day began with a single multi-vitamin. These days my prescription regimen is far more involved and my vitamin is now specifically for those over 50. Just minor annoyances in the overall scheme of things but still…

I remember as a teenager my father expressing his chagrin that all the actors he grew up with were getting old. At the time his comment did not make much of an impression – they were all old to me! Now I get it. Not only are my favorite actors and actresses IMG_0290showing a little more gray even those high energy rockers that populate my musical memory cannot escape the effects of time. I remember seeing The Eagles in concert when I was 17 and they were jamin’. Although I enjoyed a recent revisit as the band tours once again, it was impossible to ignore the fact that these guys are now in their late sixties and early seventies. I don’t even want to talk about The Stones.

When I get together with old friends I realize they are actually becoming “old” friends. We overlook the gray atop our heads and bravely try to see beyond lines that are slowly laying claim to our foreheads and the corners of our eyes. Our discussions have moved from the cutest girl in the office to the cutest daughter in college or recently graduated even. We easily share memories of past adventures that bring tears of mirth but now often find those mixed with real tears shed for losses and pains experienced along the way.

There is just nothing easy about getting old.

Thankfully there is a positive side. I believe with some effort it is within our power to learn to accept certain challenges brought on by advancing years. Each step we take is a part of our own unique journey. Some are easier than others but all move us steadily forward. Rather than mourn the losses, I think it makes sense to focus on the positives, the opportunities, and the new adventures that wait.

I am not yet a grandparent but look forward to the experience. What could be better than spending time with tiny inquisitive ever energetic mini-people as they experience for the first time what life has to offer? The first trip to the zoo, the first birthday cake, the first face-to-face with the family cat – everything eye opening and fresh. And at the end
fun in the sunof the day the little treasures go home with their parents who get to do the heavy lifting for the foreseeable future. I might almost feel guilty enjoying all the good and passing on the dirty diapers and childhood challenges to the persevering parents…almost.

I look forward to spending more time with my wife. She is still working these days so we are limited to sharing evenings and weekends. What I am talking about is when she is job free and we can take off during the middle of the week for an impromptu journey to wine country or the coast or just about any place where we can be together. I can’t wait for those extended trips back to Europe or Mexico as well as exploring places we have never been. So long as we are healthy, we hope to stay active and engaged always searching for that next new experience.

As a retired person, I no longer suffer the stresses of the job or demands of pursuing career advancement. The only ladder I plan to climb is the one to put up my Christmas lights. No more meaningless meetings. Goodbye annual performance reviews. See ya critical deadlines. I don’t think I will miss work much at all. And if I find I do, I can always look into contributing my time doing something I enjoy that matters to me.

Best of all, is there anything better than having the freedom to spend your time as you see fit? Imagine the glorious feeling of starting your day when you want, filling your hours doing what you enjoy, taking a nap when the mood strikes, trying something for the first time, and just generally occupying your time having fun.

Along with the challenges we will face comes the real chance to live and explore, to love and laugh, and to make the most of each incredible day.

Retirement – here I come!

How To Keep Retirement Fresh

Once you are fortunate enough to retire, you don’t want to squander your hard-earned free time. With 20 or 30 years to look forward to, you are free to fill your days with activities and experiences you genuinely want to pursue. But not everyone enjoys this newfound freedom. You could find yourself somewhat lost, unsure of how to spend your time and bored with the limited options you are able to come up with.

Now that you manage your own time, it is up to you to keep your retirement life interesting. Here are a few ideas to help keep retirement fresh:

Do something special for you. After decades of work and caring for a family, it is not surprising that we may have fallen into a less-than-exciting routine. Doing the same things every day is a rather lackluster way to go. As a retiree with time on your hands, why not shake things up a bit? Do something special or out of the ordinary. It could be as simple as celebrating your birthday in a new way by introducing a bit of adventure. Take the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and try something you have always wanted to do.

While I am not a thrill-seeker, I’m still planning some first-time adventures for retirement. I look forward to perhaps steelhead fishing the Rogue River in Oregon, hot air ballooning over Sonoma Valley or camping at Big Sur under the pine trees. I’m hoping to have at least one annual adventure in the coming years.

Go ahead and spoil yourself. If you have never been pampered by a full-day spa treatment or sat by an outdoor fire on the beach while watching the sun set, this can be your chance. Splurge on a five-course meal with wine pairings or open up the pricy bottle you’ve been saving. Create a special event to look forward to.

Keep learning new things. I recently signed up for a series of online classes on understanding investments. I want to better understand the terminology and concepts of the investment world. With the flexibility of online sessions, I am able to watch as much as I want at one time, pause when needed and replay if I do not quite grasp the concept Musical Glassesthe first time around. There are also many other topics available, including everything from growing a killer garden in containers to medieval European history to understanding the brain. Best of all, there is no exam at the end of the process.

If you prefer the face-to-face interaction of a standard classroom setting, local colleges offer a diverse collection of topics for those with the time and interest. You can even learn with the great outdoors as your classroom. Consider taking a senior group hike through a national park, where trained guides describe the culture and history as you walk through some of the most beautiful spots on earth. Since you choose what and how you study, learning can be fun.

Expand your social circle. The more people you engage with, the more variety you expose yourself to. I am not talking about more Facebook friends, but more people you actually see and interact with in a non-virtual way. When my parents first moved to their current home, they did not know anyone. But they made the extra effort to meet the neighbors and spend time with co-workers. Before long they found themselves busily engaged in regular bridge clubs, tennis outings and dinner parties. They have come to know many wonderful people with diverse backgrounds while maintaining a perpetually busy calendar. Whether you prefer a club setting or more intimate gatherings, getting out and meeting others can open up new avenues to explore, keeping your retirement interesting.

Have some fun. With no stress from a job and more free time to pursue your interests, you might think retirees would be happier than most working people. But whether due to the effects of aging, money concerns or other factors that come into play, retirement living can be challenging. To make the most of your time, you need to add some fun to your day.

Pause to think about what brings a smile to your face. You and your partner could create separate lists of things you most enjoy doing. Put each on a slip of paper and throw them into a hat. When you need a little inspiration for something to do, draw one and go for it.

A few years ago my wife tried her hand at Sudoku. She has always been puzzle-inclined, and before long she found herself starting each morning with the daily Sudoku from the newspaper. I was reluctant to give it a try since I did not understand the attraction. However, I recently gave in, and now my wife makes a copy of the daily puzzle so both of us can enjoy the challenge. You never know where you might find yourself having fun until you try.

From my blog for US News & World