I am fully settled into my retirement after thoroughly enjoying the first 5 years. For me, retirement is akin to a permanent summer vacation: I get to do what I want, when I want, where I want, and with whom I want. With no undue obligations. I am fortunate to be in such a position.
To be sure, the pandemic experience has put a damper on life, especially prior to widespread vaccine availability. But my wife and I have adapted and survived, even thrived. That being stipulated, there are some things I have gotten wrong and hope to change over the next 5 years. These are lessons that, if applied well, will make life more interesting, more enjoyable, and more healthy. That, in any event, is the plan.
The lessons learned revolve around the subjects that are important to me in retirement and include, in no particular, order: travel, health, mental engagement, friends and family, and living my way.
Lesson 1: Travel Is Important (We Want More, More, More)
My wife and I did not travel much when working. We were too busy. So it wasn’t until we had more time in retirement that we fully realized what we had missed. And how enjoyable the exploration of new and the revisiting of known places really is. However, with the notable exception of cruising, we don’t especially like the act of traveling, per se, but we both enjoy the planning and the anticipation of travel and exploring our destinations once we arrive.
For instance, last March we drove from San Francisco to Palm Springs to Scottsdale to Sedona then back. Twelve days of road tripping: 10 percent of the drive was incredible. But 90 percent was drudgery: California’s Central Valley, LA freeways, and desolate desert? Not our cup of tea.
Nevertheless, our time in Scottsdale and Sedona was marvelous. We would both love to return. Maybe, going forward, our plan will be to fly to a general area then rent a car to get to nearby, desired destinations. Destinations are to be embraced. Tedious drives are to be avoided!
I’ve found that once a trip is over, I really enjoy the memories and talking about what we did and saw together, where we went, and when. It is satisfying. I’ve also found that I enjoy writing about my experiences. Some I share on TravelAwaits but most I write for myself, occasionally sharing with family and friends. The more we travel, the more I can write and memorialize. Win, win!
Lesson 2: KISS ME
When younger I remained fit through my self-developed but never world-famous fitness program, which I named: “K.I.S.S. M.E. (Keep It Shut, Sport. More Exercise.)”
Eat less and move more. Should be simple. As if… Since retiring, I’ve slipped a bit in this area. More food and drink indulgences than when working. And a little less physical activity. More “carpe diem,” less sensible moderation. But I’ve come to appreciate that this is not sustainable for a long, healthy retirement, let alone life itself.
Part of my less-than-stellar lifestyle pattern change is related to pandemic stresses. Part is due to recovery from a surgery. But, honestly, most is related to me becoming less disciplined. I am on permanent summer vacation, after all!
Certainly, I know how to eat healthier. I know how to exercise and what exercises to do. The issue, as I assume it is for many, is finding the discipline to accomplish these goals. It’s not that difficult to make smarter food choices, to take smaller portions at a meal. Nor is it that difficult to take a 20- to 30-minute walk most days and do some body-weight resistance exercises, balance training, stretching, and core work at home several times per week. Equipment is good but not required. Fitness programs are all over the web. But success requires discipline. And there’s the rub!
But I’ve come to accept that if I want to make the most of my time in retirement, in a manner I enjoy, then I need to do the right things. It’s a case of playing the long game over the following years, a case of making the right decisions on a daily basis. Maybe not every single day, but at least consistently. That’s how desired results are achieved. It’s doable and hopefully I’ll actually do it.
The reward? Improved health, enhanced quality of life, and increased longevity. So KISS ME!
Lesson 3: Exercise The Brain
I had plenty of mental stimulation during my career. Sometimes I think maybe too much! All of that disappeared upon retirement. Poof! I imagine that might be the case for others.
Initially, I increased my reading of fiction and non-fiction books. And that worked for a while. but I grew dissatisfied with the passive nature of such mental activity. I tried games…and hated them. Although, if I find a good local game of Texas Hold ‘Em I might go back to playing poker.
Eventually, I started to write. First I wrote several stories about growing up and shared them with my family. Then I helped a brother who was putting together a written history of the extended family. In doing so I realized that I enjoyed the challenge of writing, the thought processes involved, and the satisfaction of creating. That led to writing about travels with my wife and then the occasional article for TravelAwaits.
Over the next five years, I hope to continue my writing. Maybe topics other than travel? Possibly fiction? Who knows. I may not be a good writer, but I am a happy one. The writing process is engaging, stimulating, and an encouragement to think. It exercises my brain. When asked why I write, my only answer is that it is enjoyable, and since I’m on permanent summer vacation, that is sufficient.
Lesson 4: Nurture Old Friends
In some respects, retirement is like shutting a door on an old life and opening it into a new one. That has certainly been true for me. Most of the folks I worked with were my colleagues but not friends in the true sense. I didn’t socialize with them much outside of work then and do less so now, with several exceptions. However, every now and again, I have thrown a “happy hour” for these former colleagues to keep some connection with my work days. And some have generously reciprocated. These gatherings are fun and worth continuing but, with COVID, they have been placed on hiatus. Hope to recommence soon.
Since retirement, my wife and I have spent more time with a small circle of existing friends, initially with trips overseas and around the country. Then COVID hit and we modified our social time. After the first 12 months or so of cocooning at home, we cautiously tipped-toed back together. That was great for our pandemic mental doldrums. And fun! Vaccinated. Masked up as appropriate. We’ve done road trips together around California, Oregon, Montana, and Arizona.
Socializing with good friends has been important to my wife and me, and we hope to continue doing so as often as practical in the years to follow.
I have also reconnected with old friends. Some from my early career in government, some from my time in the military, some from my medical training days, and one who was my best friend in childhood.
These reconnections have been fun and have emphasized to me the importance of circling back through the days of yesteryear. People are important. These reconnections have occurred mostly via email and text, sharing jokes, articles, and life updates. They have also been in person when feasible. All such encounters have been worth the effort (and sometimes they have been a real effort) but I hope to continue and extend them in the years to come.
Lesson 5: This Is My Time
I’ve read in multiple places that to have a fulfilling, successful retirement one must have purpose or structure in one’s life, a reason to get up each morning. I’m not sure that’s necessarily true if purpose or structure means taking a part-time job, volunteering, babysitting grandkids, or doing something “worthwhile” because someone else thinks it is so.
Not to say such activities are not important or not required of some, because they are. But rather, I don’t want them. At the beginning of retirement, I thought about how I should spend my time. I actually thought I would combine work and travel by taking part-time jobs in places I wanted to visit. The opportunity to do so in my profession is immense. I quickly realized that retirement and work are like vinegar and oil for me: They do not mix.
I thought about volunteering but, being honest with myself, I have resisted, knowing I would feel some hesitation and obligation, which is the antithesis of my idea of retirement. Of course, I may change my mind. I’m certainly open to new activities but I expect that for the next several years I will not actively pursue them. At present, I have little structure in my life other than living my current adventure or planning for the next one.
It’s a time of smooth sailing and that currently works for me. I hope to continue living retirement on my terms, with friends, family, writing, travel, and more exercise. Plus good food, but less of it.
Retirement strategies and priorities may well be different for others. And that’s great. But for me, retirement time is my time and I plan to use it as such. That is the fifth lesson I learned. Retirement is, after all, my permanent summer vacation.