I have been retired for nine months now. In some ways, it seems as though the time has flown by. In other ways, it seems like my life has been like this for a long time and work is now a distant memory.
When greeted by friends, I’m often asked, “So how’s retirement?” My stock answer is “Great!” And overall, it really is.
I’ve long been amused by this definition of the word “affirmation:” An affirmation is when you lie to yourself repeatedly until you actually believe the statement to be true. Therefore, whenever I answer an inquiry about how my retirement is going, when I answer “great!” I am reaffirming to myself that it actually is.
In fact, during retirement I’ve had happy, blissful days and I’ve had depressing, frustrating days – much the same as when you’re living any other phase of your life.
Here are seven things I have learned about being retired and about transitioning from work to retirement, followed by three key takeaways for you.
1. I don’t miss work
I really don’t. I certainly don’t miss the deadlines, the performance reviews, the office bureaucracy and politics, the noisy cubicles, or anything else.
I knew that most of my work friendships would fall away quickly, and they did. The people I worked with are very nice people and I enjoyed working with them. But in most cases, the only thing we had in common was that we worked together. The primary communication channels we had developed were work-based systems (work email, work calendars, seeing each other in the halls or in meetings, etc.) and I became disconnected from all those systems when I left.
I do, however, miss the paycheck.
2. It’s easy to be unfocused and undisciplined – which is not always good
I’ve always been a night owl and NOT a morning person. To me, not having to answer to an alarm clock is the ultimate freedom. I love not having my sleep rudely interrupted by an alarm clock.
Most mornings, I rise at around 9:00. After eating breakfast, showering, catching up on email, Facebook, and other online distractions (which is what most of them are, but they’re fun!), it’s time for lunch. Half of what used to be considered “the work day” is already gone.
I realize this is a time and productivity sink. Part of it is made up by the fact that I’m usually quite productive in the evenings (sometimes until 2:00 AM), so I’m really just time-shifting. But one of my biggest realizations is that I’m not getting nearly as much done as I should. I may have to go back to using an alarm clock and putting myself on a more disciplined schedule.
This generates some cognitive dissonance for me. I always looked forward to enjoying a retirement that was unstructured and free. But then, I’m trying to build two enterprises (Retire Fabulously! and Presenting for Excellence), and I want to be able to devote more time to them so that they will grow faster.
I’m still working on finding the right balance between enjoying the freedom that retirement is supposed to bring and still feeling like I have to be productive.
3. I haven’t even started many items on my to-do list
During my last few months of work, I created a list of things I never had time to do while I was working, that I would do after I retired.
I would go through our attic, our garages, our closets, and my desk drawers and get rid of many things that have accumulated over the years which I haven’t used for a very long time. I would narrow down my massive music collection and sell unwanted CDs, records, and videos. I would transfer much of my music collection to our jukebox computer and create playlists. There are more, but this should give you an idea.
Guess what? I haven’t done any of that. Not a thing. I haven’t even started.
This doesn’t really surprise me. During my two eight-week sabbaticals from work, I didn’t accomplish many of the items on my to-do list either. One reason is that I’ve never been disciplined about doing things that either I don’t really want to do (I should do them, but I’m not excited about doing them) or things that don’t have urgency or hard deadlines.
Besides, with so many things to do for my two businesses, it’s hard to give higher priority to cleaning out a closet.
4. I have to expend a little more effort to create social interaction
Jeff and I both belong to two musical ensembles (one we participate in together, one each that we belong to separately). We get plenty of contact with friends and acquaintances there. We invite guests to our house at least once a month, and receive invitations to get together with others.
Still, without our jobs, we don’t see as many humans each day as we used to. Going out to lunch and having hallway conversations with co-workers was relatively effortless.
Now, we have to make the effort to get together with people. It’s not difficult, but it doesn’t happen by itself.
5. It’s easy to spend all day in front of the computer
While I worked, I spent much of each day in front of a computer, and that has created a deeply engrained habit. A lot of contact with friends and acquaintances takes place via computer, and it has become our primary source for news, reading material, and information of all sorts.
Plus, writing this blog and researching information for content is all done on my computer, as well as much of the effort that goes into my other business, Presenting for Excellence. So in many ways, I still work in front of a computer.
While I do get out of the house for my musical, social, and shopping activities, I often think I should be spending more time outdoors, or at least away from the computer. I could be doing some of those things on my to-do list, for example.
6. It takes much longer to start and build a business that I ever imagined
Because I made the decision to take the early retirement package about five months before my last day, I didn’t have as much lead time to lay the groundwork for either Retire Fabulously! or Presenting for Excellence. It often takes up to two years to get businesses such as these up and running to the point where there are sufficient readers or customers.
The expression “build it and they will come” is definitely NOT true. Building a business from scratch is hard work and takes a lot of time and effort.
7. Even the best budgeters and planners are sometimes foiled by unexpected expenditures
For the most part, we have done a pretty good job of keeping our regular monthly spending within the budget limits we had set. But we have been hit with some household and personal expenses that went beyond the amount we had allotted for such things.
A couple months ago, we had to replace both of our air conditions, for a total cost of over $17,000. Ouch! We had to have our four palm trees skinned for $1120. More recently, we needed to have a termite treatment and 2-3 exterminator visits. And after enjoying ten years of needing no dental work besides routine check-ups and cleanings, I now have to replace three crowns.
In closing, here are three suggestions to anyone who is within a few years of retirement:
1. Devote some thought to how you want your days to look after you retire.
Actually write down how you envision that you will spend a typical day and what your schedule will look like for a typical week. Don’t forget to leave some time for mundane things like household chores and grocery shopping.
If you find that your vision for an average day in retirement is entirely recreational, or disproportionately devoted to any one thing, you might want to scale back this highly idealized vision into something more realistic.
Remember that a healthy retirement lifestyle should contain a balanced selection of activities that are physically engaging, mentally stimulating, socially engaging, and fulfilling.
2. Allow yourself some spontaneity, but don’t expect to live with no plan at all.
There will be some days when you don’t feel like sticking to the plan, and you decide that you’d rather do something else, or nothing. That’s fine, in moderation. In fact, it’s one of the joys of retired life.
But having no plan or direction for how you wish to spend your time is a recipe for boredom and unhappiness. If you get up each day with no idea what you’ll do that day, you’ll resort to sitting in front of the computer or the TV all day, and you’ll be miserable. That’s unhealthy, too.
3. Leave some wiggle room in your budget for unexpected expenses.
While formulating a realistic budget is essential, you can’t anticipate everything that’s going to come your way. You might want to enjoy some unexpected recreation, too!
© 2014 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.
Photo credit: David Uy. Some rights reserved.