This week I happened to have discussions, in some cases extensive, with several friends about retirement.  These were friends who were staring at retirement, and were nervous about it.  As I’ve been ‘retired’ from civil engineering since November 2017, and have what most people consider a pretty darned fun life, I felt qualified to discuss this.

Before I retired, I got a piece of wise advice; “Don’t commit to anything for the first year.”  I put this into effect and it worked well.  When you retire, everyone figures you now have 40+ hours of ‘extra’ time, that they can diver to their pet projects or causes.  Since retirement is new, you need some time to figure out a new rhythm.  My life in retirement doesn’t look much like I imagined.  I had visions of sitting in an easy chair spending hours in the sun, reading all the books I had not been able to read when all my reading had to be on professional topics.  Today, I still don’t have enough time to read as much as I thought I would.  In fact, there are lots of things I don’t have time to do, but only because I’m busy doing things I want to do more.

I actually made a list of things in various areas that I thought I wanted to do in retirement.  I looked for it just now.  I had it taped to my office wall for many years, but I must have tossed it, figuring it had served it’s purpose.  From memory, I think only about half the items had lines through them.

The advice that I add, to the piece of advice I got, is this:  Most people when they think about impending retirement, think about all the things they don’t like about work that are going to go away with retirement.  Everyone’s list is different, but typically it’s things like long meetings, dismal commutes, lack of time for other pursuits, inflexible schedules, customers or coworkers who are hard to deal with, etc.  What people usually fail to consider is all the good things about work (besides the paycheck) that are also going to go away when they retire.  Things like being part of a team working toward a common goal, the sense of contribution and achievement, the accolades of customers and staff, the challenges of continuing to gain education and skills, the satisfaction of being a valuable resource because of your experience, the relationships with people who you sometimes have spent more time with than your own family, the structure of a business calendar.

If you fail to come up with at least some sort of plan to build these benefits of work into your new retirement life, you will find things missing from life, and may even make rash decisions, like getting another job.

Everyone’s different, but for me, I addressed these in a couple of ways.  To meet my need for structure and achievement I use a calendar and a task manager.  This is handy for all the various projects I have going on, but also allows me to check off items that feed that sense of getting things done. My alarm goes off at 6 a.m. every morning (except on Wednesdays when it goes off at 5:20 so I get to my men’s group).  I have the freedom to hit snooze if I feel tired, but it keeps me on track for getting everything done.

For being part of a team working toward a common goal, I ended up taking a parttime dishwasher job at The Sparrow Bakery near our home (the story about that is in my book).  I’m an important part of a high-functioning team, and when the day is done, I don’t take work home with me, except for baked treats to share with neighbors.

If you’re married, another unknown aspect of retirement is the impact on your relationship.  In working years, one or both of you was out of the home for most of the day.  One friend was worried about retirement, and having her husband wandering aimlessly around the house annoying her.  Francie and I faced this early on, when I started consulting for the City of Carlsbad from my home office.  Francie was used to having the house to herself while the kids were at school, so it was a shock to come around a corner and find me there.  Since I was still working, I was mostly in my home office, but it gave us an early taste of this.

In retirement, it has evolved to us each having our own interests.  We set aside the mornings to sit together on the couch, read the paper, read news to each other and discuss, and talk about the coming day, and friends.  In the evening we watch the news with a glass of something (or rock on the front porch in summer), catch up on the day, and prepare and eat dinner together.  Other than that, we’re usually off doing our own things.  I’m often in my office, she’s in her sewing room or reading/writing/crafting up on the couch, or we’re out and about.  It works for us, but we do enjoy trips in Wally, where we get some quality 24/7 time on road trips, which is something we both like to do.

Don’t try to plan everything or figure everything out ahead of time.  I didn’t go into Sparrow Bakery thinking I would work there… but I was alert for possibilities.  There were actually several potential options I had in mind, but Sparrow popped up and it’s been great.

If you’re nearing retirement, I hope this has given you some helpful tips.  If retirement is a long way off for you, that’s okay, it just gives you more time to plan how to make it awesome!

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  1. I really appreciate your observation that people need to consider what they are giving up when they retire. A wise friend once told me “never go away from something you want to avoid… only go toward something you want to be invested in.” I have several friends whose lives are built around work and are terrified about an “impending” retirement. My advice to them was don’t retire until there is something that is worth your time which can replace the sense of accomplishment and community that they are getting from work.

  2. I was part of an unexpected RIF last spring and considered it a trial retirement for a few months. I was faced with the question of what I was retiring to, and quickly realized that the more hiking/biking/camping I was looking forward to would not fill my days (or retired life overall). Then I joined a job search group that gave me a purpose and made me part of a new team. Last fall, while networking, I found out about ended up getting a seasonal job at my local REI. Now I enjoy my time networking and working part time. This isn’t the retirement I pictured, but actually so much more fulfilling than I expected.

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