Retirement is Like a Buffet. Will You Stuff Yourself or Starve?

There’s a buffet restaurant a few miles from our home called Pacific Seafood Buffet. Most of the food is Asian, and the primary draw for us is the opportunity to eat all the sushi we care to eat for one price. Of course, there are a lot of other good dishes there too: tempura vegetables, shrimp, crab cakes, and many things you typically find at Asian buffets. And there’s green tea ice cream for dessert!

The lunch price is very reasonable, so we go every couple of months. It would be dietarily disastrous to go any more often than that. We all know that buffets are invitations to overeat, and our visits to Pacific Seafood Buffet are no exception. On the drive home, we usually bemoan the fact that we have eaten too much.

At a buffet, there’s so much to choose from that you can’t possibly eat everything. You may enjoy many of the foods on the buffet, but if you overeat you end up feeling so stuffed that you feel sick or uncomfortable. That diminishes the enjoyment from what was supposed to be a pleasurable experience.

The solution, of course, is to accept the fact that you won’t be able to eat everything you want today. You’ll have to leave some things for another day. But that’s okay – you can come back another day and eat different things. There will always be buffets.

Life is like that, too – especially retired life. There are so many things you could be doing, and not nearly enough time to do them all. You might find that your days are often so full that you wonder how you ever managed to keep up while you were still working.

Having too many things to do is a good problem to have. While that is frustrating at times, it beats having nothing to do hands-down.

At the buffet that is your life, you could opt to take small portions of everything rather than choosing just a few things that you will truly enjoy. But you’ll probably end up with a life that is perpetually busy but not very fulfilling. You’ll have dozens of things to do, few of which truly bring you enjoyment.

There will always be things that come along to claim your time. And when your spouse or friends suggest things for you to do, it’s difficult to say no.

Try to weigh every option that comes along against what is really important to you. Only accept choices that align with your design for how you want your retired life to look. That’s why it’s so helpful to design your life and curate the things that you allow in.

Rationally, you know that you’re better off to forego some of those delicious-looking dishes on the buffet. But it’s difficult to think rationally when you see so many tempting things being offered to you, calling out for you to simply say yes.

Whenever you start feeling overwhelmed by everything you have to do, it helps to realize that most of these things don’t have real deadlines. You answer only to yourself (and perhaps your spouse) if you don’t get some things done. If something gets postponed to next week, next month, or next year, there is no real consequence. No one else will notice.

One of the realities we become more aware of as we age is that we have less remaining time left. That’s true, but chances are you will enjoy twenty or thirty years in retirement. You will have plenty of time to get some of these other things done. It’s okay to save a few things for later.

And if you were to find out that you only had a limited amount of time left to live, how many of those things would suddenly seem trivial and unimportant? What would you de-prioritize in order to get the most out of your remaining time?

Besides, wouldn’t it be awful to knock yourself out for a few years to get everything done, only to arrive at a point where you have nothing else to do? Checking off every item on your to-do list might provide momentary satisfaction, but then you would have to deal with boredom and having no further purpose in life.

It’s great to create lists of things you would like to do after you retire. There’s no need to try to do them all in the first year.

Sometimes when the afternoon is beautiful and I want to get out of the house and enjoy some fresh air, I grab a book or magazine I’ve wanted to read, fix myself a refreshing cocktail, put on some soft background music, and sit out on the back patio. I may read, I may ponder life, I may let my mind wander where it will, and I may even nod off for a few minutes. But it’s one of the most rewarding, relaxing things I do.

If you feel like spending the afternoon relaxing or doing something recreational or spending time with a friend – do it. Each day is a gift. Most of those things on your list can be pushed back a little bit.

Remember, once you’re retired, most things in life don’t have real deadlines. If something gets postponed, there is no real consequence. You answer only to yourself.

It’s like saving room for the dessert on the buffet.

Life is like a buffet, and that is certainly true in retirement. Will you starve? Will you stuff yourself to the point of discomfort? Or will you choose to enjoy your favorite dishes today, always leaving something new to try tomorrow?


©2018 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.

Image credits:
Seafood buffet: Elias Noessing
Buffet restaurant: buffetcrush
Buffet with dome lids: Warren Moore
Tapas and hors d’oeuvres: Gábor Adonyi
Donuts: Pexels

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