Congratulations! You’re Retired! … Now What?

It’s not news to anyone that the people in the Baby Boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) are leaving the workforce and entering their retirement years in larger numbers than ever before. An estimated 10,000 people turn 65 in the United States every day.

Among my circle of friends and former co-workers, I am seeing a dramatic increase in the number of people entering retirement. Many have been tempted by enticing early retirement incentives; some have been given the message that they really should take them. It’s as if they are being told, “Here, let me help you pack up your office. I’ll hold the door open for you!”

If you find yourself retired a little sooner than you had planned, you may not be quite as prepared, in both practical and emotion ways, as you would have been if you had retired on your own timetable.

If you are among the “suddenly retired,” or if you have recently retired by choice but somehow the big day crept up on you a lot faster than you expected, this article will help you with your transition.

You have probably been anticipating your retirement for many years. Perhaps you’ve entertained some general ideas about what your retirement will look like.

Despite your years of anticipation, you may still be surprised by what it’s really like to wake up and have no job to go to. You will probably find that your life will suddenly be different in more ways than you might ever have anticipated.

What will your first few weeks and months of retirement really look like?

Oddly, this might be one of the most stressful times of your life. Why? Shouldn’t your graduation from work to leisure be liberating and exciting?

In many ways it will be, but any life change or any change to your surroundings and your routine can cause stress.  Even positive and welcome changes, such as going off to college, starting a new job, getting married, or moving into a new house, can cause stress.

The time when you end your working career and enter retirement may be the period in which you experience more changes happening simultaneously than at any other time during your life. That’s a recipe for high stress.

What will be changing?

For starters, there’s your daily schedule. You may actually miss the predictability and the structure you have been accustomed to living with for most of your life.

Suddenly, you won’t be around people all day – with one exception. If your spouse is also home all day, you will now be around him or her almost all the time. As much as you love your spouse, suddenly being together all the time will change the dynamic between the two of you.

Now more than ever, it’s important to talk and share your feelings and concerns with each other.

You will find that social interaction doesn’t happen as easily anymore. It now requires more intentional effort to maintain your network of friends and spend time with them. It’s worth the effort.

Your physical surroundings will change. Regardless of whether you enjoy your workplace or despise it, it’s what you are accustomed to. And while you probably regard your home as your castle and your sanctuary, you may develop “cabin fever” and crave opportunities to get out of the house.

After you retire, getting out of the house for some fresh air and exercise is more important than ever.

The things that bring you a sense of reward and accomplishment will change. You may miss being mentally challenged, having responsibilities, and being productive. You may find that you now lack a sense of purpose. You may miss your job title, if that defines a significant part of who you are. You may be surprised to find that you miss your job!

It’s important to select some activities that will provide you with a new sense of fulfillment and purpose.

Simply recognizing that you are entering a period of extensive change will take a lot of the edge off. Recognizing these changes and accepting that they will disrupt your life, at least for a little while, will go a long way towards helping you navigate through them with less stress.

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Hammocks on beach

It’s fine to let yourself chill out – for a little while.

For the first few weeks, it’s fine to allow yourself time to decompress. You’ve earned it. If you despise your alarm clock as much as I did (and still do), leave it off and get up whenever you like.

Do whatever you feel like doing each day.

Treat yourself to a movie or binge-watch some TV series on Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime.

Read a book you’ve wanted to read.

Go for a drive, or even a short getaway vacation in the middle of the week.

Stay up late.

Have a drink at 3:00 in the afternoon.

Book a spa day.

Go lay out by the pool if you have access to one and the weather is conducive.

Indulge yourself. Be a little lazy. Do whatever you feel like doing.

That will feel great for a little while, but soon you will (or should) come to the realization that this isn’t sustainable. You will probably have at least another twenty or thirty years ahead of you and it won’t be all hedonism.

Life goes on. It’s time to get on with it.

Now is the time to be intentional and design how you want your days – and your life – to be.

If you think about it, this may be the first time in your life when you have been fully in control of how you spend your days.

During your entire working career, your work schedule was determined for you. Even if you had a flexible work schedule or you were an entrepreneur, you still had meetings, deadlines, and long lists of things to accomplish that drove how you spent your time.

Before that, while you were in school, your life was driven by your school schedule. Your hours outside of class were impacted by your homework and project assignments.

During your summer breaks and as a pre-school child you had more latitude with how you spent your time. But even then, you were constrained by what you were allowed to do and your free time still occurred within timeframes that were controlled by your parents.

Now, you have total control. Your daily schedule and your calendar are a blank slate. You can design them to be whatever you like. You are literally standing on the verge of the next great chapter in your life.

Open schedule book

How tightly you schedule your days is up to you. If you thrive on routine and structure, you might want to schedule each day of the week down to the hour or half-hour. If you want your retirement to be a little less structured, you can simply develop a list of what you’ll do on a typical Monday, Tuesday, etc., perhaps just broken down by morning, afternoon, and evening.

A lot will depend on how comfortable or antsy you feel with a lot of time on your hands.

Of course, you will probably deviate from your schedule more often than not. A friend may call and invite you to lunch. If it’s a beautiful day, you might decide to go have fun outside. One of the greatest joys of retirement is that you have the flexibility to ditch your plan and go with the flow!

Your life will continue to evolve, and your daily routine will adapt.

But creating a plan for how you’ll spend your days after you retire will help you articulate what is important to you and what you want your life to look like.

It will give you direction and keep you active and engaged.

It will prevent you from sinking into a boring, purposeless rut of wasting your days in front of the TV or the computer.

It will encourage you to form new lifestyle habits that will serve you well during the coming years.

If you don’t fill your life intentionally with the activities that truly bring value to you, then trivial and unrewarding things will easily rush in to take up the space. There’s always something around the house that needs fixing or cleaning. There’s an infinite amount of brain candy on the internet.

If we are meticulously careful with the use of the days, the years will take care of themselves. - J. Oswald Sanders

The rudderless retirement

The sad truth is that when many people quit working, whatever else was already part of their lives simply expands to take the place of work. Most people don’t change their habits and their lifestyle much after they retire.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has conducted some informative studies on how people spend their time. Some of their studies have focused on older people.

BLS Stats - Leisure time employed vs not employed

These charts show that when work is removed from people’s lives, the other activities that were already present simply increase to occupy a little more of each day. The greatest jump is time spent watching TV.

BLS Stats - Average time spent in selected activities

In the second chart, you may be pleased to see the growth in “Leisure and Sports” corresponding to the decrease in working. But as the chart below shows, over half of that time is claimed by watching TV. Physical activity comprises about 5% of this time.

BLS Stats - Leisure time on an average day

Nothing in these charts indicates to me that a statistically significant number of people are taking on new, exciting things during their retirement, such as more traveling, volunteering, or fulfilling pursuits such as writing, art, music, crafts, photography, etc.

Change is intentional.

You can choose to design a happy, fulfilling retirement, or simply stand by and let retirement happen to you.

If you have great things in mind for how you’re going to spend your retirement years (and I hope you do!), you will need to mindfully change your habits, routines and priorities to make them happen.

For a deeper dive into visualizing your ideal retirement, download the free Retirement Visualization Guide.

What are your biggest concerns with transitioning from work to leisure?

If you’re already retired, what were your biggest adjustments? What advice do you have to share?

Please feel welcome to share your thoughts in the comments below!

This topic is explored in greater depth in my book Design Your Dream Retirement. This book will show you how to visualize your retirement in an optimistic, possibility-filled light, and provide you with the knowledge and tools to help you create a plan for achieving your retirement dreams. You will learn how to fill your life with a balance of activities and pursuits to keep you happy, healthy, and fulfilled.

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© 2016 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.

Photo credits:
“Happy Retirement” sign: Andrea. Some rights reserved.
Man under stress:
Yanath Lotero
Hammocks on beach: Jdmoar. Some rights reserved.
Open schedule book: Eric Rothemel

6 Responses

  1. William DeyErmand says:

    Hi Dave,
    Thanks for the charts, as they help me to see how life is in retirement. I have talked with many retirees about life after work, and I have watched my wife adjust after being “let go” due to age. The first 6 months were hard with loss of wage, which retirees adjust to a lower income in retirement too. She missed her friends at work, went to job interviews to no avail, before deciding to go to work for herself. My son and his partner inspired her to be creative, and I believe now, that having encouraging people in your life makes all the difference when facing retirement.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi William,

      “Having encouraging people in your life makes all the difference when facing retirement.”

      That’s a great message. I hadn’t really thought of that, but it’s true. Who we surround ourselves with has a huge impact on us at every other stage of our life – why should entering retirement be any different?


  2. Kenny says:

    Welcome back Dave! Love the article, as always. Having seen so many people at my company “encouraged” to retire this summer, I’m aware more than ever that it is highly likely my retirement will not come at the time of my choosing. One cannot start thinking/planning about this soon enough. Your articles stimulate me to do so; I appreciate your insights and encouragement.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Kenny,

      It’s really true that people retire, on average, three years before they had planned to. As the Baby Boomer generation hits “that age,” and companies get top-heavy with higher-paid older folks, I can see this trend increasing.

      Thanks for the comment and the kind words!

  3. CC says:

    Really thoughtful and comprehensive post, David. Thanks for this. My retirement (funding being cut) will happen Dec. 31 for a job that’s 4 days/week. I’m both excited and apprehensive and know how fortunate I am to not be panicked to find full-time work. I already have ongoing freelance work and hope in the next year I’ll find the balance between that and putting other positive things in my life. Thanks for your work.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi CC,

      I’m glad you have almost six months to plan your transition. It’s also great that you already have a foundation in place for freelance work. You can be in control of how much work you take in order to balance personal fulfillment, time for other things, and income.

      Thank you for the comment and your kind words!

      Best regards,

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