Are you uncertain about what retirement holds for you?
Are you worried that your days will be dull, boring, and empty?
Some people continue to work because they truly enjoy their jobs. Some people continue to work because they haven’t saved enough money to retire. But you would be surprised at how many people continue to work simply because they have no idea what they would do if they didn’t.
Does this describe you – or people you know?
Last month, near the end of the 2015 holiday season, my husband and I attended a cocktail party. Most of the other attendees were in our general age range – 50s and 60s. Most of them were people I was meeting for the first time.
One of the first questions that always comes up when you meet new people is, “What do you do?”
That question can be awkward for retired people, especially for those who are recently retired and still adjusting to not having their career label or job title available as a quick and easy answer to that question. Simply saying, “I’m retired” doesn’t provide a very good path forward for the conversation, and may lead the other person to grasp for something else, like the weather or how a local sports team is doing. (Yawn.)
I have an answer I usually give that offers my new acquaintance several options for continuing the conversation.
I say, “I’m a software engineer who retired early a couple years ago. Now I’m a writer, a wedding officiant, and a jazz trombonist.” If they ask what I write about, that provides a nice lead-in for me to talk about this website and my book.
Twice during that evening, when the topic of retirement was introduced, my conversation partner simply said, “I have no idea what I would do if I retired.” So, he just keeps working.
I hear this fairly often, and it always makes me a little bit sad.
It’s difficult for me to imagine that people have no idea what they would do with their life once they no longer have to work.
Have people immersed themselves so deeply in their demanding careers or (if they are parents) the lives of their children that they have buried so much of themselves and forgotten who they are?
If this resonates with you, and you are unsure how you will fill your days after you no longer have to work, please allow me to offer some suggestions.
What has brought you joy in the past?
Think back over your entire life – not just your adult life, but also back into your teen years and even back to your childhood. What did you do for fun? Did you play a musical instrument or sing? What physical activities did you engage in? What games did you enjoy? Did you read a lot?
What are some of your fondest memories? Think back to experiences where you truly felt happy and alive. What were you doing? Was it certain vacations you took? Was it a hobby you used to enjoy, but had to give up because you no longer had time for it?
All of these things represent ideas for activities that you can return to once you leave work and you have plenty of time on your hands.
Did you play in band when you were in school? Lots of people pick up their instruments again after many years. My husband and I play in a community wind symphony in which the vast majority of members didn’t play their instruments for many years, but now play again. One lady didn’t play her trumpet for 35 years! You would be surprised at how quickly it comes back.
Was one of your fondest memories a trip to Disneyland? There’s no rule that says that 60-year-olds can’t go to Disneyland. You could plan a coast-to-coast amusement park tour!
Did you enjoy camping when you were a teenager? Our country is filled with lovely national and state parks. If you don’t have the same enthusiasm for sleeping in a tent that you had when you were young, trailers and RVs come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges.
You probably won’t be able to participate in rough, physically demanding sports after you retire – but you could volunteer to coach a team.
Think about things your friends do that seem interesting.
Still not sure what you could do?
If you’re still coming up short on ideas, here’s a list of 100 things you can do after you retire.
Another idea is to treat yourself to an “inspiration day.” That’s a day you set aside to explore and dabble in some new thing. Here are some examples:
- Try vegetarian or vegan cooking for one day. There are plenty of recipes online.
- Try videography. Take some short video clips using your smart phone or a video camera (borrow one from a friend if you don’t have one). Use iMovie, Microsoft Movie Maker, or some other video editing software that offers a free trial version. See what you come up with.
- Try writing or blogging. Use Google to search for websites that tell you how to get started.
- Check out volunteering at a local service organization or museum. Go there and talk to their volunteers to see what it’s like. If they have a new volunteer orientation coming up soon, go to it. You can decide whether or not to commit to anything beyond that.
- Try painting. Go to an art store and ask the clerk to recommend a minimum amount of supplies for one particular medium, then go home and try it.
There are all sorts of things you can try just for a day. If the activity you try sparks some interest, you can explore it further. If it doesn’t, forget about it and try something else. At least you experienced something new and learned something. You may get some ideas for new things to try.
You can learn more about the concept of the “inspiration day” here.
What would an ideal day in retirement look like to you?
Take out a sheet of paper or open up a new document on your computer, and plan out a typical day in retirement. This is probably not much different than what you would do for a “me day” that you would enjoy on a day off work.
What time would you get up? Would you set an alarm or just rise whenever you awaken?
What would be part of your morning routine? For example:
- Spending a half hour with a cup of coffee reading the paper
- Walking the dogs
- Going for a walk or run
- Catching up on email or Facebook
What would you do in the afternoon? How about the evening?
What would you like to have in your life that you don’t have time for now?
Of course, each day won’t be exactly the same. There are certain activities that will occur weekly, or maybe two or three times a week. For example:
- Going to the gym three times a week
- Hiking, biking, or playing golf on the weekend
- Taking a class
- Going to a band or chorus rehearsal one evening a week
- A poker night or game night with friends
After contemplating this, you can construct a typical week in retirement.
Now, here’s a reality check.
If you find that your vision for an average day in retirement is entirely recreational, or disproportionately devoted to any one thing (like playing golf every day), 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.
You’ll need to allow time for more mundane things like grocery shopping, cleaning the house, and paying bills, just like you did during your working years.
Daily life in retirement is not fanciful bliss. It’s not a permanent vacation. But it shouldn’t be empty and boring, either.
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.
Allow yourself some spontaneity, but don’t expect to live with no plan at all. 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.
Still not sure what you will do after you retire?
If all this seems formulaic or superficial, and you still haven’t identified enough things to do during retirement that excite you and give you something to look forward to, you might need to dig a little deeper. Here are a few questions to ponder:
What really makes you happy?
When are you “in the zone” and you lose track of time passing?
What talents and skills do you possess that could help others or that you could teach others?
How could you make the world a better place, even just locally and in some small way?
What do you want to be remembered for? (This is as much about what you mean to others as it is about tangible things you accomplish.)
Remember that it’s never too late to alter your course and try something new. In fact, your retirement (or renaissance, as I prefer to call it) is the perfect time to do that. You no longer have the requirements of your job to dictate what you do. You don’t have to answer to anyone else – although coordinating with your spouse is usually helpful!
What are you looking forward to doing in a typical day or week after you retire?
If you're retired now, what do you most enjoy about your daily or weekly routine?
Please share in the comments below!
© 2016 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.
Photo credit: Phil Dragash. Some rights reserved.