The New Normal: Time for a Retirement Reset

As of April 19, about 40% of the people in the United States have received at least one vaccine shot and many of us in the older age brackets have received both. The pandemic isn’t over by any means, and it will continue to be a factor in our lives for many months to come, but there’s good reason for hope.

Like many people across the nation and around the world, you are probably eagerly anticipating a return to some form of normalcy. But what will this “new normal” look like?

I have written on numerous occasions that retirement offers you an opportunity to design your life for optimal satisfaction and fulfillment. Once you are freed from the constraints of spending much of your time at work doing things you may not be too enthusiastic about doing, you can choose what to include and what to remove from your life in order to truly enjoy your retirement.

I believe that the coming emergence from the pandemic offers you another such opportunity to re-imagine what you would like the rest of your life to look like. It’s a chance to re-design your dream retirement. It’s a retirement reset.

Over the past year, you have gone without many of the activities and social interactions that were so easy to take for granted before. Vacations were cancelled. Concerts, plays, sporting events, and gatherings of all sorts were either cancelled, scaled back, or adapted to be experienced online.

If your life was a white marker board, most of what was on it got wiped off.

During the first few months, I actually enjoyed having a nearly empty calendar, even though I missed the activities that were no longer on it. I’ve kept a full schedule throughout my working years, and that has carried over into the first six years of my retirement. Going forward, I may opt to add fewer activities back onto my calendar in order to enjoy more free time.

You have probably adopted some new habits over the past year – some good, some not so good. Perhaps you made more effort to reach out to the friends and family members you value most. Maybe you took more walks or you created more opportunities to be outdoors. You have probably eaten more meals at home and become a better cook.

Or perhaps pandemic-induced ennui led you to snack more, drink more, and spend more time idly. There’s no question that this has been a difficult, stressful time and sometimes just relaxing and coping was the highest priority.

The experiences of the past year have probably led you to attach more importance or urgency to some things, while you may have discovered that other things just aren’t that important.

I have had several projects in mind to do “someday” for several years, including ripping my remaining vinyl records to digital and converting some old VHS tapes to DVDs. I have completed or at least started on some of these projects, and others remain untouched. I believe the truth is that if I still haven’t started on something by now, after a year of having plenty of time on my hands, I probably don’t really want to do it and I should just forget about it.

This past year has been a reality check in many ways.

If you decide to take this opportunity to re-evaluate your priorities, values, and plans for your retirement, here are ten questions that can serve as prompts. If you are married or partnered, these might make good topics for conversation with your spouse.

1. Do you want to return to living your life as you did before?

2. Which people did you miss the most, and which relationships declined in importance?

3. What activities did you miss, and what did you discover that you don’t miss?

4. Which habits that you developed during the pandemic do you want to keep?

5. Which habits do you want to eliminate or replace?

6. What have you learned about yourself this past year?

7. As you think about the rest of your life, how have your priorities changed?

8. Do you have a different list of things you want to do?

9. Do you like the slower pace and the emptier calendar, or are you eager to be busier?

10. Have thoughts of “life is too short” led you to feel a stronger sense of urgency or purpose for what you would like to do going forward?

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

Further reading: 9 Things We Learned During COVID-19 That Will Endure (Next Avenue)

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© 2021 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.

Photo credits:
Rainbow and mountain (Fusia, Italy): Loris Tissino
Silhouette at sunrise (Cape Town, South Africa): Joshua Earle
Lothar Wandtner


6 Responses

  1. William DeyErmand says:

    Hey Dave!
    Been a year of learning about myself, and being “contained” by society rules. Aging is fearful enough, without society being “germ cautious”. One thing I know now for sure, my wife and I can tolerate each others company, day to day, without any other human. It has put our very near retirement in prospective to what we only need. We found a “cottage” town, mostly active retirees, and we are are staying the course for a healthier, simple lifestyle. True friends are obvious now. We hold on to so many unnecessary people and things in life when we should “declutter” them every so often. Hope you are doing well. William

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi William!

      Thanks for your comment. It’s great to hear from you again.

      This pandemic has certainly been a litmus test for how well spouses can spend large amounts of time together. I’m glad you and your wife are doing well.

      And yes, it has really made what’s important (and who) more clear than ever.

  2. Marilyn says:

    Terrific list for self-examination, Dave! #9 especially caught my eye, as I find I truly ENJOY having an empty week ahead with no obligations, appointments, expectations! It has helped me immensely to have tons of free time to process PTSD, which I think everyone who has survived the past 5 years’ stresses has been trying to catch our collective breath! Thanks for a provocative post!

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Marilyn,

      I like seeing several empty days ahead on my calendar too! I never thought I’d say that.

      Sometimes, I write more effective articles by asking good questions rather than trying to provide good answers. Hmmm…


  3. Excellent points Dave!

    One of the things I’ve learned over the past year are the things that are most important to me. Like keeping healthy, content, and grateful for what we have. Instead of always being busy, I expect I’ll be far more selective with my time. This includes friendships, activities, and even travel plans. In many respects, it’s changed my outlook on life and the things I value the most.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Shannon,

      Like you, I’m going to try to be more intentional and selective with my choices. It remains to be seen whether this clarification of priorities lasts for the rest of our lives or only for a couple years.

      Thanks for your comment!

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