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Your Retirement is a Journey, Not a Destination

Throughout your working years, you have probably viewed your retirement as a destination. It is a goal you are saving for and will hopefully reach one day. But once you reach this destination, then what?

The perception of retirement as a destination may be why some people approach retirement with dread rather than anticipation. They view retirement as a finish line or as the end of the road.

But retirement is simply a milestone you pass on your journey. It’s like crossing the border from one state to the next. The road will continue to unfold before you.

Your life has changed in countless ways from the time you graduated from school and entered the full-time work force until the present. You have probably changed jobs and perhaps changed careers. You may have lived in numerous places, gotten married and raised a family. Friends have come and gone, your hobbies and interests have evolved and your body has changed.

Your retirement could easily last two or three decades. It won’t be a one-dimensional, stagnate state of being. Your life will continue to evolve in many ways after you retire. You may move, the people in your life will continue to shift and you will probably travel to new places and engage in new activities.

You may not see your life changing much on a day-to-day basis, just as it didn’t seem to change much during your working years. But whenever you stop and reflect back over a year, five years or ten years, you will be amazed at how much has changed and how your life continues to evolve.

Your retirement journey will probably pass through several phases. They won't be delineated by specific events or ages, but by gradual transitions. The phases will overlap and some will last longer than others.

The initial adjustment.

This is the most dramatic shift. It begins the first day you don’t have to drag yourself out of bed and go into work.

During the coming days and weeks, most aspects of your daily routine and your lifestyle will change. Your income and spending habits will change. You will no longer be spending most days with your co-workers and you’ll be spending a lot more time at home. Your relationship with your spouse may change.

Experiencing so many changes in a short period of time can be stressful and disorienting. You will probably want to allow yourself time to chill out and decompress from years of workplace stress. You may want to celebrate your retirement by treating yourself to a nice vacation.

But once you have adjusted to the fact that you no longer work, it will be time to create a new daily and weekly routine that includes a mix of physical activity, mental stimulation, socialization, and pursuits that bring you happiness and fulfillment.

The go-go years.

If you retire in your mid-50s to mid-60s, you will probably still be in reasonably good health and be able to live an active and independent lifestyle. Despite your chronological age, you don’t feel old yet. In fact, you’re not even sure what "old" is supposed to feel like.

These are the years you will probably fill with traveling, physical activities and organizations to join. You’ll have plenty of time for gardening and home projects, and you may move to a different place to enjoy your retirement. Your schedule may seem as full as it was when you worked, but being busy and active at this stage of your life is good for you both mentally and physically.

The slow-go years.

After a while, age will start to catch up to you. You will probably still travel, but your suitcase will seem heavier and your daily itinerary will be lighter. You’ll probably favor shorter trips to closer destinations.

While you may not be able to engage in as much physical activity, there’s still plenty to do. You can continue to stay mentally engaged by taking classes and enjoying concerts, theatre and museums. There are still many hobbies and crafts you can enjoy which don’t require strenuous activity. You will probably appreciate more time for relaxation.

The no-go years.

Ultimately, you will reach a point where you will have to curtail many of the activities you have enjoyed up to this point. You may require some assistance from family members, friends or hired help, or you may need to move to an assisted living or continuing care facility.

Fortunately, there are still things you can do. You will have more time for reading, enjoying your music or movie collection, or working puzzles. If you like to write, you can create your memoir, document your family history or write poetry or fiction. With all of today’s communication media, it is easier than ever to stay in touch with your family and friends and keep up with what is happening in the world.

Knowing that your retirement will change over the course of many years will raise your awareness of the possibilities you have for the rest of your life.

If you have a long list of things you want to do after you retire, you will be better able to plan for what you should focus on during each phase of your retirement.

On a more philosophical level, you will be able to appreciate the passage of time and the gifts that each phase of your life has to offer.

As always, please feel welcome to comment below.

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Reprinted from my blog on U.S. News - On Retirement.
© 2017 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.

Photo credits:
Winding mountain road: JanBaby.
Woman reaching for alarm clock: Jellaluna. Some rights reserved.
Pickleball players: Michael Martin. Some rights reserved.
Couple at pond: Jennie-o. Some rights reserved.
Older men on park bench: Celine Ferre / The World Bank Photo Collection. Some rights reserved.
Handful of sand: Scott Keelin. Some rights reserved.

11 thoughts on “Your Retirement is a Journey, Not a Destination

  1. Kenny

    I'm just back today from being on sabbatical (retirement preview) for 9 weeks and love this article. My focus for the next few years will be to do everything in my power to maximize the number of "go-go" years and minimize the "no-go" years. Obviously that means doing everything I can to financially prepare (save money, reduce footprint, eliminate debt) but that also means focus on health- avoid stress, eat very healthy, & move, move, move. The time is not far when I will slide into real retirement, and I look forward to it!

    Reply
  2. Wm DeyErmand

    This is a great article. I like the comments too. Once a person thinks they know where they want to retire, they need to rent a place there and experience the culture and quality of life. Also check out the hospital in the area by State ratings. We have done this 3 times now, one was a complete fail. Not enough to do to keep us from "bumping" into each other. Staying healthy requires mental and physical activity and aging requires help from Senior amenities eventually. Check those out too. Taxes usually pays for these amenities so don't be so willing to move to a Tax free state until you know what is provided by the local and State taxes for Seniors.

    Reply
    1. Dave Hughes

      Hi William,

      All good points. I especially like the point about taxes. How much you pay in taxes is only half of the equation; the other half is what services you get for those taxes.

      Arizona is a good case in point. We have low taxes here, but we are also among the lowest in the country for funding education (and many other things). I've never had kids, but I don't want to live in a society with a lot of uneducated people. Plus, I have friends who are teachers and it breaks my heart to see how they struggle.

      Reply
      1. Wm DeyErmand

        I prefer where people care about the children's educational needs too. The first sign of low taxes is a larger classroom of children. I would never live in Tennessee or Alabama because of this and other things that are not tax funded like emergency vehicles.

        Reply
  3. Laura

    Thanks for another great article. I love your perspectives retirement. I am hoping to stay active with my husband gardening, doing yoga and much walking so I will be able to stay healthier as long as possible. Looking forward to my retirement in a few years. On my 3rd and final sabbatical now so I am getting to practice!

    Reply
  4. Simone

    Health is such a blessing! I am newly retired, every day is an adventure but for some of my older friends health is seriously curtailing what they can do. I am therefore thankful for good health and hope to enjoy it as long as I can. This article is a needed reminder that my stage of retirement cannot last forever.

    Reply
    1. Dave Hughes

      Thanks, Simone. Thinking about how my health will change during various phases of my retirement has allowed me to realize that I don't have to do everything that I hope to do during my retirement right away. Of course, we never know how many days we'll have left, but now I am better able to prioritize what I should do sooner above what I will still be able to do later.

      Reply
  5. Rachel Giffhorn

    This post is really motivational, especially for those who dread retirement. It will help people who want to get more from life after retirement. I liked the way you have described the different phases of retirement.

    Reply

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