Permission to Retire

We all seek approval in life. A project successfully completed does not feel quite done until recognized and commended by the powers on high.  We selflessly toil for hours at our kid’s fall festival seeking nothing more in return than a brief tip of the cap for a job well done. And we happily slow to let the car ahead merge into our lane – happily that is as long as we get “the wave” of appreciation from the recipient of our good deed. Most of us just want to be recognized for our efforts to know we did the right thing and are appreciated.

It should be no surprise if when it comes to our decision to retire we also look for approval of our chosen course. Retiring is a big deal impacting the rest of our life. Who doesn’t want to feel we are doing the right thing that it is the right time and we are not making a mistake. We want to get this one right from the get go.

There are so many potential gottchas when it comes to retiring it sometimes amazes me any of us take the plunge. Do we have enough money saved to pay the bills for the next 20 years? What if we live longer than we have budgeted for? Will we quickly become bored with a day that is 100 percent under our control? What if we have health issues that undermine the quality of our retired lifestyle? What if we just don’t like being retired?

As we navigate our retirement journey, there is no guarantee we are on the right track. There is no absolute promise of a bright future. Before we take the leap, we want to be as sure as possible we are doing the right thing.

Some look for approval from co-workers. These people we have spent the majority of our days with often for many years likely know us as well as anyone. Their tacit approval encourages us and helps reinforce our decision. Likewise a disparaging remark may undercut our commitment and cause us to doubt the wisdom of our ways. If the people I work with – all intelligent folks who I respect – think my retiring is a bad idea, maybe they are right.

If you turn to family members, count on more input than you ever asked for. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone will gladly spew advice like the steady stream of water from a newly opened gate on a filled to the brim dam. And there will be no shortage of doubts. Are you sure you have enough saved? Do you really want to quit your job in times like this? Maybe you should wait another five years? Our family wants what is best for us but they don’t always know exactly what is right for our individual situation.

What if you are so bold as to choose to retire early? Now you’re opening a whole new can of worms. Opinions may vary from excitement for your situation to concern about whether you are prepared to jealousy that you are able to make the move while others must continue their work grind. Some cannot imagine leaving work before they are forced out. Others cannot dream of working all the years required to reach 65. What is right for others may not be precisely what you need or want for your second act.

As you search for that comforting permission to retire you often try to factor in the collective wisdom of retirement pundits. These experts in their field collect and decipher mountains of data and statistics to come to the recommendations they hold sacred. The problem I find is so much data and so many studies and so many moving parts become overwhelming. Who do you believe? Who is most qualified? And just when you think you have a clear path a new study pops up that has you rethinking your strategy.

All the best intentions of friends and family and co-workers, all the information you read and gather on the news, in fact all third party insight falls short when it comes to one important consideration. Even if they truly want what is best for you, no one knows exactly what is in your heart. No one but you has lived the life you have. Only you have negotiated and survived the many challenges to become the person you are today. You are the sum total of 65 (or thereabouts) years of living a unique life that no one else has or will ever live. In the end there is no one more qualified to make the decision to retire than you. When you decide the situation and timing is right, it is up to you to give yourself permission to do so.

There is nothing wrong with advice so long as you recognize it for the imperfect information it is. It is smart to weigh the options and consider all the possibilities before making any important life decision. Then, when you have the facts and have applied them to the unique individual you are, you can feel secure in the decision you make – whatever that decision is.

How to Make Your Day Special With Nothing Planned

Now that I have retired I find it is up to me to put my new found freedom to the best use. No one else is going to tell me what to do. This freedom was hard earned over years of working and saving and doing without today to prepare for a better tomorrow. Well guess what – tomorrow has arrived.

I am fortunate to have a wide variety of interests and hobbies and passions that engage me now that my working days are done. With this diversity I have not yet had a problem keeping busy or feeling productive. I realize I am new to the retirement thing but still off to a relatively good start I think (I hope).

The other day I was watching an internet course on Impressionist Artists of nineteenth century France. What an amazingly talented bunch of people in an equally amazing time and place. In the 1850’s there was an art critic named Claude Baudelaire whose belief was artists should focus on and paint the world around them. Paintings should be “of their own times” to provide historically accurate recordings for both people of current times as well as future generations. He suggested the best way to discover the world was to start in your own neighborhood. And the best course of action was to wander the streets paying close attention to the people and places and goings-on around you.

Baudelaire coined a term that inspired me to write this particular blog. The term is “flaneur” which basically referred to someone who strolled the streets and boulevards of Paris with no destination in mind, in search of diversion. Rather than focus in to one specific spot, the flaneur steps out of his door and begins walking, nowhere in particular with no goal in mind. It is in this wandering that he may discover new and previously unknown treasures, not necessarily on any map but treasure just the same.

I love the idea of starting my day in a flaneur state of mind. I see myself stepping out the front door and heading right or left depending on the mood. Then just walking. Whether in my neighborhood, while visiting a family member or even better when traveling, my natural curiosity is piqued as I wonder what might wait around the next bend.

When my wife and I travel, we have a bit of the flaneur in our meanderings. We pick a destination or two for the day but don’t worry about charting the most direct path to get there. Instead we figure out the general direction and start walking. We are big walkers. The last time we spent a week in Paris we never took the Metro or taxi or any other means of transportation. We walked and walked all over the city and back. Occasionally we got lost but often it was in those moments that we discovered something wonderfully unexpected. Whether an historic little church tucked away in a quiet neighborhood or a tiny restaurant catering to the locals or a brightly decorated dress shop hidden between larger more impressive surrounding buildings, we never knew what we might find. How cool is that?

Venturing into unfamiliar surroundings can be a bit scary. What if you get lost? What if you cannot find the whatever-it-is you are searching for? What if you end up on the “wrong side of town”? Today you can rely on technology to get you safely through. Google maps on your iPhone with an always-on GPS to pinpoint your location makes getting lost more of a challenge than not. But that is not how the flaneur did it back in the 1860’s. Part of the excitement of new discovery was in not knowing exactly where they were at any given moment.

I confess that my wife is a bit more flaneur than I. She is the one who will instinctively head down an alley just because it is there or spy a little out of the way café with a setting right out of a Monet painting. She does not stress when we lose our way. Of course she has a great sense of direction, a talent in which I am extremely lacking. I have learned to follow her lead and the results have been nothing short of magical.

It will take me some time to fully unleash the flaneur within – but what better opportunity than in retirement. I have always been a highly organized person, some may even hint a tad obsessive. Typically I would not dream of heading out without a map in hand and a darn good idea of the most efficient way to get where I want. But I think I can get used to the idea of letting go of that need to control. Even if my wanderings do not always produce a hidden gem along the way I am still immersing myself in the local surroundings and getting a better feeling for the flow of life within the neighborhood. And as we all know walking is wonderful exercise for those of us who have reached “retirement age”.

As I look out the window beyond my computer screen I witness a beautiful day under sunny skies – perfect walking weather. I think I will head out for a little jaunt, not sure where I am going, nowhere in particular. Today I might start out with a right turn as I reach the street. And when I get to the next intersection…? We will see – such is the carefree life of this retiree and flaneur in training.   :)