What Will You Do In Retirement?

Last week Mike wrote to ask me for a quick answer to the question, “What are you going to do when you retire?” Mike plans to retire in three months. I often receive the related question, “What do you do all day?”. Jan of retirementallychallenged.com (thanks Jan) gave Mike a succinct answer, “Whatever I want.” While it’s true we can do whatever we want in retirement, I think there is more behind the question than mere curiosity.

I know that not everyone reading this blog is a baby boomer, but most asking the questions are baby boomers. We’re a generation that hasn’t thought much about stopping what we’re doing. Many of us are still workaholics. We invented the youth culture — remember ‘don’t trust anyone over 30’? Now 10,000 of us are turning 65 every day of the week.

Boomers have always been the huge train coming down the track. Our numbers caused a boom in the building of hospitals, schools, housing, cars and other stuff. We still want everything on our terms, including retirement. Therein lies the rub. We don’t know what our terms look like. We ask the soon-to-be-retired in the hope of finding answers for ourselves.

Unfortunately, many haven’t saved enough to retire outright and will have to continue working at least part-time. Others have the money, but never developed any hobbies or passions. Their lives revolved around work and family. The go to activities in retirement are travel the world, golf, travel the country in an RV. Those activities do not appeal to everyone. The questioners are wondering what the Mikes of the world are going to do hoping to get some insight into what they will do. There is gobs and gobs of information on financial planning for retirement, but very little on living a retirement life.

The truth is we don’t ever really retire. It is my experience that we save enough money not to have to go to a job to earn a living. However, we still need meaning and purpose in our lives. Our jobs provided much of that along with our social identities and structure. Retirement means we have lots of unstructured time with which to create a new role designed by us for us.

A couple of nights ago Martin and I talked about the question. We are engaged in activities we did not have on our bucket list or story board. Some of the activities we did envision never came to fruition. We don’t care that they didn’t. We wear jeans and t-shirts most days. I kept one dress, one skirt, a couple nice slacks, blouses and jackets. Oh, and two pair of heels. The rest went to charity shops. No more concerns about dry cleaning, polished shoes, polished nails, calendars, to do lists for work and home, juggling appointments, clients, office politics, satisfying the boss and spending weekends running errands. And no rush hour traffic! I let my hair go grey and get it cut every ten weeks instead of cut and color once a month.

To me this is the answer to “What are you going to do when you retire?” :

“I’m going to leave my work role and identity behind. I’m going to explore who I am at my core. I’m on a mission of discovery. I’m going to fail at times, but that’s o.k. I’m also going to succeed. It is both frightening and exhilarating. The possibilities are endless. I’m never going to stop learning. I’m stepping outside my comfort zone. I’m reinventing who I am and may do that every few years.”

And, as Jan says, “Whatever I want.”


27 comments on “What Will You Do In Retirement?

  1. Kathy, you’ve written an excellent, clear summary of the thinking processes that many of us boomers have gone through to develop ourselves in retirement. Thank you! I know this post will be helpful to many readers!


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sometimes we need to remember that even in work-mode, we evolved…we progressed…that’s life…moving forward…growing in mind, body, spirit….for forever!


  3. Great article. My husband and I are retiring in a couple months. I have to say what I’m looking forward to the most is not having to get up every morning and race out the door. But second on the list is exploring new possibilities, allowing my creative side to blossom rather than having to take a back seat to the paycheck, and enjoying a retirement that’s fulfilling, which is however I define it.


  4. @Kathy, how is your retirement going? In my research for the Seniorpreneur Project I found that less than 20% of seniors actually have a purpose and/or meaningful work in retirement. The rest 80% or more are doing whatever they want to do. This trend will continue until we make the necessary changes in our own communities that value seniors to be contributing members to our society. For example I often go for a walk in our beautiful River Valley and I meet different retired seniors during my walks. On this one occasion it was a very hot summer day and I met this retired senior who was wearing a full business suit carrying a pair of field glasses. I asked him how he was and what he was doing. He said He goes to the River Valley to do some bird watching. I then asked him if he has done any significant activities since he retired. He said that he retired as a school board administrator and he does not plan to do anything special. This is a good example of a senior doing whatever they want to do and whenever they want to do it.


    • Wow! The birdwatcher must be very bored if that’s his idea of retirement. I agree that changes need to be made in our communities, but that’s up to we ‘seniors’ to change the way we are viewed. I find that most people want continued meaning and purpose in their lives. As far as how is my retirement going…If you have been reading these pages, you know the blog and writing and speaking out about retirement issues has given me renewed purpose in retirement. My husband and I are also artists…he is producing a commissioned pen & ink drawing as I write this. We attend an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Furman University where we take art, writing and other courses, use the library, eat at the cafeteria with the younger students (mostly 18-22), volunteer and take part in other activities on campus, including research on retiree lifestyles. I also garden on our 6 acres and enjoy canning food. And we take art classes at such places as community colleges and John Campbell Folk School. We also hike in the beautiful nearby Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountains. I find the 2,000 members of our local OLLI are vibrant, engaged and wanting more from retirement than the usual. I also find that attitude with my readers. These are the people who are creating a changing view of aging and retirement. I hope your birdwatcher exchanges the suit for more casual attire and finds something meaningful to do with his time. The key is getting out of your comfort zone and refraining from self-imposed limitations such as “I’m too old to do that.” He has plenty of options but it’s up to him to take the leap. K


      • If the bird watcher is content and satisfied, then how can anyone assume he is bored. Retirement means different things to different people. I would venture to say his retirement is more typical of the “average” retiree, while your retirement is not the norm. And I did attend Osher courses. Instructors and course material were very good, but the average age of attendees was probably 75+–not conducive for younger retirees to socialize or make new friends. Felt out of place.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Walter you are correct…the bird watcher may be very happy and not bored. In fact, my husband feeds the birds by putting seed on two stone walls behind our house and we enjoy watching and identifying them. I’m sorry to hear your Osher is attended by a less diverse population and you felt out of place. At the Osher I attend there are people from their 50’s to 96 and a huge variety of backgrounds. I do have to say I believe my retirement is becoming more of the norm. Most of my friends enjoy the type of activity and lifestyle I do. And our ranks are increasing, at least in my area of the country. One of the reasons for our Osher’s success is the large influx of retirees from other states. I’m glad to hear your courses were good…keep attending. K


  5. I’m 68 and recently stopped working part-time. My husband is 75, has had a mild stroke and, very much unlike me, is quite sedentary since the stroke. I do several things everyday that keep me engaged in life outside errands and house work…..I still run for a masters team so exercise each day. Also I recently took up watercolor painting and got a new digital camera….taking classes for each. But I’m sad my husband isn’t a companion in activities. He does go to dog training classes with me (fun for all 3 of us), but doesn’t even want to eat out due to noise and crowds and I have to push to get him to go for even a short walk. If I ask him to come up with an activity he’d like to do, his only answer has been to go to a movie. His only other interests are reading, watching tv and going to Philadelphia Union soccer games, if the weather is perfect. I like the Union games and most of the same tv shows, so we do share those. But it’s hard when two retired spouses aren’t at the same place in life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joy, I am so sorry to hear about your spouse. There are many married couples dealing with the unexpected health issues that come with aging. I remember Bill Gates saying one of the most important items we need to attend to in today’s world is the brain issues such as stroke and Alzheimers with the huge numbers of aging baby boomers. It is also difficult for the immediate family and especially spouse who find themselves in the position of caregiver. I am happy to hear that you are doing different activities to keep your retirement interesting. You must take care of yourself otherwise where will your husband be? It is a sad situation. My heart goes out to you and others making the best of a situation where our spouse is not the person they once were. Hugs…K

      Liked by 1 person

  6. As a currently retired RN after 45 years in the health care industry, I am aware of the role of good health in retirement: it is your #1 priority. My husband retired 3 years prior to me, and we fill our days with slowing getting going in the morning, cooking a favorite meal-perhaps in our slow cooker-having lunch, then walking the wharfs in downtown Newport, Rhode Island. In the summertime, we live less than 5 miles from our beloved Sachuest Beach (aka Second Beach to the locals) , and make a “day of the beach,” bringing our lunch, reading materials there, as well as walking the beach. At night we read our favorite novels and catch up on the news. This Fall I will start back at my cardio dance classes, as I used to be an aerobic instructor in my younger days–Lol, and take to the local pool for water aerobic classes. The days are filled–oh, I forgot about the daily naps, too! Amazing how the time fills up. My days may change as I age, but who knows? I’m happy now and do not miss the chore of answering to a boss, nor do I ever miss getting up at 5 am! 8 -9 am is the better choice now, and who cares what time you go to bed? In a rush?? No more!! By the way, Kathy, love your retirement blogs–both interesting and informative.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Joan. I forgot about the 5 a.m. mornings…I don’t miss those either! Having grown up on the Jersey Shore I also envy your days at the beach. Sounds lovely and summer is on it’s way. Thanks for sharing your retirement adventure. K


  7. Hi Kathy, Thank you again for an article that I find affirms and validates what I am discovering in retirement after l.5 years. I retired when I was about 69. My husband of 5 years who is 75 had been retired for 15 years and enjoyed it! I have loved being able to stretch out my schedule and be less structured than I was when I worked. In our case we were able to travel and play together until my husband had his knee replacement surgery. I took on his care giving, though difficult and demanding, with a gladness that I could stay home and help him with no sense of being torn by a feeling I “should be at work”. He improved from the knee surgery only to find he has a new and serious back-pain from bulging discs. It is therefore, like with Joy’s post, much harder for him to join me in doing activities. So while we see how the avenues he is pursuing to reduce pain work out for him I have been doing some local speaking engagements for my Life Coaching business and am starting a newsletter. I also am planning to do some fun things with friends and I take long walks on our nearby trail. Still I find it to be a sad experience.
    I think my main point is that I am reminding myself that life is still life with all it’s twists and turns in retirement. It can come up that I will need to revise my plans and I can grieve the losses,and as I adjust(and I am not there yet) take care of myself and find enjoyment through whatever comes.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Melody, I’m sorry to hear about your husband’s health issues. As you already know health is one of the stressors as we age. I believe this creates a sadness in all of us as we realize the parts will wear out, limiting our options. I hear from many people in my travels facing the same dilemma and I believe it is important to stay engaged as you are doing. Life throws us curve-balls are all ages and stages so your reminder is a good one. K


    • Melody, thanks for reminder that life always brings twists and turns, ups and downs. While it’s healthy not to repress feelings of grieving when our visions and dreams don’t work out the way we thought, we also have to be thankful for what we do have. I get frustrated that my husband is not with me on my activities, but I still have him as my faithful, loving companion in my life. For that I am grateful and I blessed.


  8. Ha! My “Whatever I want” reply was reserved mostly for situations where someone was giving me a lot of push back on my choice to retire relatively young. I found that, with some people, no answer will satisfy them, and I wasn’t going to convince them that leaving work was a good idea. For those who really want to know, I much prefer something like your richer, more nuanced response.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jan. I’ve also heard the “too young” speech…even from my doctor. But my belief is we don’t really ever retire. I’m thoroughly enjoying the freedom and activities I engage in. I know we are never supposed to say never, but I never intend on going back to that other work world. K

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Many things still require management in retirement – time. finances, health, home, relationships, self. The privilege for me is the absence of the time constraints of a formal work day. Remember when you used to complain about not having enough time to finish a project, exercise, rest, engage in hobbies read a book, take a course, etc? OK, now you have the time. What are you going to do with it? Here are a few of the mottoes that I referred to pre-retirement: Do life so life doesn’t do me; At every moment I have the right to choose. They apply to my retirement as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love the “explore who I am at my core”. That really sums it up for me. At almost 3 years into retirement, I’ve learned a number of things about myself and continue to try new things, trying hard to make choices based on what I truly want versus what others tell me I should. Sometimes that self knowledge is hard to dig out…so still feel like I’m exploring. And realizing things will continue to evolve, especially as I am part of a couple, and his health is starting to impact life choices. But the ability to make choices, everyday, on what I/we want to do is the best thing. So, yeah, “whatever I want” sometimes says it pretty darn good!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. @Kathy, These are all examples of seniors doing what they want to do when they want to do it. What is a possible solution to give seniors 50+ more options in their retirement planning activities? First of all, your financial planner is not the answer and never has been. Too many seniors are left out in the pasture before their time as being unimportant, isolated, socially discountable, politically weak and economically insignificant. Another problem is that most if not all Lifelong Learning institutions are only disseminating general information; and they are not geared to providing real learning situations in depth for the individual senior. Most seniors are choosing ‘liberal arts’ as their preferred retirement learning choice. However; after a senior has learned how to do water coloring, writing, drama, crafts,etc. there is no next level to help them pursue their interest(s) further.

    Like Pat in these comments says, “Sometimes that self knowledge is hard to dig out…so still feel like I’m exploring;” and also “where health is starting to impact life choices.” Why should seniors have to go it alone when their own communities have the facilities, mentors & coaches to help them out but no will not come forward to discuss these important issues with them? And, most governments are providing financial aid only for the under 40 demographic to help them get a job or startup a new business, while many seniors have the same wish but NOT the corresponding help that is urgently required.


    • Joe, I agree there is much ageism in our society. Many people look at people over 50 as washed up, has beens with little to contribute. The 55 and over communities and the reasons for their invention in the first place contribute to this attitude, which is one of the reasons I am not a fan of assisted living and 55 communities. However, I also disagree with you that there is no next level for people to pursue their interests further. I went back to college at age 45 and earned a bachelors. If I wanted to pursue a higher level of education today, I could. I could also start a business. Many seniors (and I hate that word and see it as part of the problem, not the solution) start their own businesses pursuing a lifelong dream. I live next door to a senior who travels the world as a consultant on safety in manufacturing AND has a farm of 65 acres AND a saw mill. There are people who are working as mentors and coaches. Last year I took part in a psychology class on aging at Furman University as a subject. The student assigned to interview me (3 interviews) and her classmates revered me for what I did with my life and what I am doing now with my life. I took part as a subject to help change attitudes about aging and retirement. It is up to us to change people’s outlook on aging. Even the 20 year olds are aging…we start aging the minute we are born! This is just another phase in our lives. Research at Cornell and Stanford shows that our brains are at their zenith not in our 20s as previously thought but in our late 50s/early 60s…part of that is because of experience and the resulting wisdom. We know the brain has plasticity. It is up to us to educate people about new research and change existing attitudes. Thanks for your insight and comments. K PS see Linda’s comment from “Is There A Normal Retirement”.


  12. Beautifully articulated, Kathy.
    I’m sitting watching a beautiful lake, pondering my next chapter. I retire this upcoming week from a 30+ year role as a therapist and college prof and am thrilled to finally be here…done with that.
    Finding a new identity, giving up the trappings and status of the old. Wow, that’s a challenge! And yet, I know I have to let go of one bar to fully grab the next. I look forward to reading your essay on the stages of retirement, as it sounds like a ready road map. Not today, though. Today, I want to spend in this magic of in between, where all things are possible, and watching a blue heron fish is my biggest chore! I look forward to reading and exploring your posts! I’m thankful to find someone who’s paved the path for me!


    • Thank you Kathy. And congratulations on your retirement. Do read the Stages of Retirement as I believe it will help you make sense of some of your emotions as you forge a new identity without paid work. K


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