Editor’s note: I’m very pleased to be able to once again share Dave Hughes’ outstanding columns and advice on retiring and retirement. You can read his previous columns on LGBTSR here. – Mark
By Dave Hughes
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “Life is a journey, not a destination” has been appropriated and adapted for many purposes, and it definitely applies to retirement. Retirement is a part of life, after all.
If you’re like many people, throughout your working years you have probably viewed your retirement as a destination. For decades, it was a goal you saved for and hoped to reach one day. But once you achieve this goal, then what? Is that all?
If you perceive retirement as a destination, that could lead you to view retirement with dread rather than eager anticipation. It may seem as if retirement is the end of the road. Or perhaps retirement is the mountaintop, and it’s all downhill from there. But retirement is simply a milestone you pass on your journey. There is still much to come! It’s more like crossing the border from one state to the next.
If you think back on your life since you began your work career, you’ll probably discover that your life and your circumstances changed in countless ways. You probably changed jobs and maybe even changed careers – perhaps multiple times. The places you lived have changed, your marital status has probably changed, and you may have raised a family and subsequently become an empty-nester. Friends have come and gone, your hobbies and interests have evolved and your body has changed.
Your retirement will be varied, as well. It could easily last two or three decades. It won’t be a one-dimensional, stagnate state of being. 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, but years from now whenever you stop and reflect back, 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. These phases won’t be delineated by specific events or ages, but by gradual transitions. The phases may 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 answer to an alarm clock 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 probably be spending a lot more time at home. Since you won’t be surrounded by co-workers, you’ll have to expend more effort to spend time with people. Your relationship with your spouse may change.
Experiencing so many changes in a short period of time can be stressful and disorienting. It’s fine to allow yourself some time to chill out and decompress from years of workplace stress, 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. Ideally, this new routine should include a mix of physical activity, mental stimulation, socialization, and pursuits that bring you happiness and fulfillment.
The go-go years. During your early years of retirement, you will probably still be in reasonably good health and be able to live an active and independent lifestyle. You don’t feel old yet; in fact, you’re not even sure what “old” is supposed to feel like.
You will probably fill these years with traveling, physical activities and participation in organizations that interest you. You’ll have plenty of time for gardening and home projects, and you may move to a different place to enjoy your retirement. At times, you’ll feel like you’re busier than when you worked! But this is a good problem to have. Being busy and active at this stage of your life is good for you both mentally and physically.
The slow-go years. Sooner or later, 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 and 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 allow more time in your schedule 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. 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. You will have more time for reading, enjoying your music or movie collection, or working puzzles.
Realizing that your retirement will change over the course of many years is actually liberating. 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. It’s refreshing to know that you have possibilities for the rest of your life. 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.
© 2017 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.
Dave Hughes created RetireFabulously.com to help you envision, plan for and ultimately enjoy the best retirement possible. Most articles focus on the non-financial, “lifestyle” aspects of retirement, such as successfully transitioning from work to leisure, choosing where to live, identifying the things that will make retirement happy and fulfilling, and more. Dave is available for speaking engagements and workshops, and also officiates weddings. Dave lives in Chandler, AZ with his husband, Jeff, and their furry family members, Missy and Maynard.