“Retirement is a blank sheet of paper. It is a chance to redesign your life into something new and different.” –Patrick Foley, Winning At Retirement
“Don’t simply retire from something; have something to retire to.” –Harry Emerson Fosdick
I have been a very jealous man lately. What is that commandment: Thou shall not covet your neighbor’s goods? Maybe I haven’t been coveting his goods, per se, but I have definitely been jealous of his new life for the last month. This youngish guy who lives on my street just retired, and I cannot seem to wrap my mind around it. Or maybe I can, but it just annoys me to process it because I become so wild with jealousy. Either way, for the very first time in my life, this guy has me pondering what the whole idea of retirement means to me.
For reasons I cannot explain, I have always had the feeling that I would die young. I don’t have a death wish, and I don’t claim to see the future or know how I will go, but I have just always thought I would not be here for long. And since I have never expected to live into old age, it makes sense that the thought of retirement just never occurred to me. So, whenever I heard stories of someone retiring or asked retired people about how they fill their time, other than being jealous that they no longer have to work, I guess I just never inserted myself into the scene in my imagination. It wasn’t in the cards for me, so why bother?
Then last month, my neighbor guy retired. And this guy is young! Not like 30 young, but young to retire. Early fifties. Worked for the city. Great pension. Done. Anyway, his retirement has my head spinning. Because even though I didn’t do his job for 30 years and I don’t have a pension and many other important facts that make our lives quite different, the fact that he is not much older than I am AND that he is retired has me wondering if I might actually do that some day. It is a wild thought, too. Like a whole new quadrant of my brain just opened up for business. Now, because of course my brain leaves no topic unscoured once it arrives in there, I simply must figure out exactly what my retirement would look like.
I feel like the usual question people ask is, Where are you going to retire? As though the location is the most important thing. And it seems like the main answers that are deemed acceptable are 1) Right here where I’ve always lived; 2) Where the grandkids are; 3) Arizona; or 4) Florida. But is that it? Are those the options? And is that even the right question to start with? Maybe it should be, How do you want to spend your time? Once you figure out your activities and interests, then the location could follow. Maybe the activities and location are so intertwined that asking one assumes you will take the other into account. Hey, like I said, I have never thought about this stuff before; I am trying to get all the settings right before I dive in!
I think it’s probably unwise to use my early 50s neighbor as my example, though, because that is fantasyland (sort of like, “If you won the lottery at age 50….”). If I retired in the next five years, I would want to head for the mountains and spend so much time hiking long miles and sleeping in a tent. I don’t think that is going to be as realistic if my retirement comes 20 years from now. Maybe the only thing similar in my visions of a 55-year-old retirement and a 70-year-old retirement is time spent on the beach. No matter my age, I will most definitely want to spend lots of time by the water and in warm weather. I have been stuck in frigid Northern states for most of my life, and I truly do not want to be here any longer than necessary. I am here now because this is the life I set up for my kids, and they don’t want to leave it. But I can guarantee you that if I live to see retirement, I will see it through sunglasses sitting by the pool or the ocean.
I would love to travel. Jetting around the world and immersing myself in different cultures would be fantastic, but I think I would also be content to crisscross America on long roadtrips. A different retired neighbor of mine bought a camper and a truck to tow it with. That sounds to me like a fun way to pass the golden years, too. There is enough beauty and variety on this continent to keep me fully engaged in a life dedicated to exploration and adventure.
I hope I spend my time still creating and learning. If I haven’t gotten to it by that point, I believe I will still want to learn a few musical instruments and will set myself up with lessons from a real teacher the same way I send my kids to piano lessons now. I see myself taking photography seminars and trying new lenses and techniques and such. I hope I am still writing and thinking of ways my words might help someone. Maybe I will join the local theatre troupe. I can definitely imagine myself trying a painting workshop, a SCUBA course, or whatever else they are offering in the Community Education brochure. I hope that kind of stuff always excites me.
As I think of this, it strikes me how the whole thing about retirement visions is dependent upon one’s finances. It would be easy to get into this exercise and say, “I’ll have a house on the beach in Florida for Winter, a log cabin in the mountains for Summer, and maybe a condo downtown in the city where my kids live. I will travel the world. I’ll spoil my grandkids. I’ll collect boats. And so much more!” But who suddenly becomes rich when they retire? You may have more time—which sounds absolutely wonderful to me—but not more money. So I keep cautioning myself not to make this the same answer I would give if you asked me what I would do if I won the lottery. Social Security is not a Powerball ticket. I am trying to be reasonable about what I would do with the time, not so much the money.
And then there’s that weird unknown about how healthy and energetic I imagine I will be at that age. Because believe me, I have had plenty of fantasies already about not working, envisioning my wife one day coming home and announcing, “I got a fat raise! I now make enough money so you don’t have to contribute financially. Go ahead and quit your job!” In this fantasy, we are not necessarily millionaires, but just wealthy enough that we don’t need two incomes. The hitch is that I am always my current age and health in these fantasies. I am never old and worn out.
So, I don’t know if, in this current exercise, I am setting the bar too high for retirement. Will I be healthy enough to travel and adventure? Will I be energetic enough to take on new challenges and keep looking to grow my mind and my skillset? Will my fixed income allow for big trips and cool classes, or will I have to settle for walks around my local parks and YouTube guitar lessons? I get that the nature of the Future is that it is unknown, but I am trying to make this exercise worthwhile and reasonably accurate.
I can do without the multiple homes and luxuries if you tell me I am going to be healthy, curious, creative, and not freezing all Winter long. And have all of that glorious TIME! That is what I really want. It is what I want now and what I have always cherished: just unscheduled time to fill with whatever I want. With as many interests as I have and as many things that I am dying to learn about and try, I am not a man who has ever been bored. When I hear a guy like my newly-retired neighbor talking about getting a job “not for the money but just to keep busy,” my mind nearly explodes. If you put me in a thousand parallel universes with all different circumstances, I cannot imagine ever saying something like that. I think of all the things people fill their free time with today—television, video games, social media—you could offer me immediate retirement in exchange for taking all of that stuff away from me, and I would shake on that deal in an instant. I promise you I would be happy as a clam and not pass a bored day for the rest of my life.
That is why I long for retirement so much when I finally stop to consider it. That is why I covet my neighbor’s new life. Enough money to live on and no one with a claim on my time: that is truly a dream to me. I can hardly wait!
How about you? How do you imagine your retirement life? Open up your journal and your imagination. What do you see for yourself when your working days are done? Is it your first inclination to picture where you want to be, what you want to be doing, or who you want to be with? Let’s start with the location. Where do you think you will live when you are retired? The same place you call home now? Somewhere you once visited? Someplace warm, like Florida or Arizona? No matter where you envision, do you imagine you will travel a lot when you retire? More or less than you travel now? Will you go farther away than you go now? Who do you see yourself spending your time with when you retire? Your partner? Your kids and grandkids? Old friends? Do you see yourself making many new friends and spending the time with them? Would it bother you if you spent most of it alone? Will you be more or less social when you retire? What other ways do you imagine yourself changing at that stage of Life? Will you be more or less open-minded? More or less adventurous? More or less candid and honest? Curious? Political? Focused on your legacy? Do you think you will still have ambitions? How will you fill up your days and years without a job to dominate your calendar? Will you join groups or leagues? Go out for lunches or dinners? Take up some new hobbies or rekindle some old ones? Read? Nap? Sit by the pool or the beach? Travel? Volunteer? How content do you think you will be with those activities? Will the fulfillment of your career be hard to replace? Will you be bored? Make an attempt to answer all of these questions from two perspectives: 1) Realistically: from where you actually believe you will be, and 2) Fantastically: from where you would ideally like to be. How widely do those perspectives differ for you? Is there something you can do to close the gap between now and then? Do you imagine that you will be happy in either scenario? How often do you daydream about your retirement? Is it usually the Reality version or the Fantasy version? Leave me a reply and let me know: What is your vision for your retirement years?
Make your whole life beautiful,
P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your community. Let us build lives that are worthy of appreciation and reward.
P.P.S. If this way or examining your life and your values appeals to you, consider buying my book, Journal Of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers. Namaste.