Is There A Normal Retirement?


It was the end of 2012 when I first started looking for articles on what retirees did to create a happy retirement.  My queries on the web resulted mostly in articles about retirement timing and finances. There was little to be found about a normal, happy retirement.

Last week one of my readers mentioned, “retirement means different things to different people” (thanks for the idea, Walter). That led to my wondering is there a normal retirement? My current search of the web indicates that most people still plan on their date to retire and their retirement income, but not much else.

Gathering information from you, my readers, I’d say there is no normal retirement. While most people plan on retiring somewhere between ages 65 and 70, what they do after that varies widely. I did an informal survey a few years ago with most of you responding about taking up some type of artistic endeavor — painting, writing, drawing, music, dance, knitting, quilting, acting — there is a wide variety of activities covered under the term art.

I know several people who read, read, read and belong to book clubs. They love literature. One woman belongs to three clubs. She can indulge in her passion for reading stories, then gather with her groups for socializing and stimulating discussion.

Besides volunteering there are many retirees who return to work part-time, whether they need to or not. I know of several people who continue working part-time for the social connections, sense of purpose and challenge that work offers. One woman told me, “My goal is to work until I’m eighty.” Her husband of 56 years does not like her working, but the work gives her such enjoyment, she continues at her job. All of these retirees, in fact, have spouses who did not take up paid work in retirement, opting instead to attend classes, continue hobbies, volunteer and whatever else they want to do.

Some retirees choose to just kick back and let each day unfold itself to them. They reason they worked long hours for decades, had bosses telling them what to do every weekday and maybe beyond, wended their way through office politics and satisfying clients and customers. To them, retirement is a long awaited luxury to just be in their own space and time doing whatever comes along.

Some retirees choose to focus on physical fitness, playing golf or tennis, biking, hiking and swimming. Some take up yoga. I know a ninety-year-old who still golfs twice a week.  His mind is as sharp as his physical fitness.  Staying in good physical shape is important for all of us as we age.  Some retirees choose to make it their focus. What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.

Then there are those retirees like me. I don’t ever want to go back to the old grind, but I also need meaning and purpose in my life like I need air to breath. Doing activities that are fulfilling to me is totally necessary to my happiness. I’m a proponent of finding new meaning and purpose in retirement. Admittedly, what defines new meaning and purpose is obviously different for different people.

I also know people who spend most of their day watching TV. One man has three TV’s going all the time on the same channel, so as he moves from room to room he can continue watching his chosen show. Sitting around on the couch in front of the boob tube all day isn’t a life.

With a possible twenty or thirty years in retirement, you may reinvent yourself as many times as you did during your working years. You may end up doing some or all of the above or any number of other activities. You may be content to just float from day to day for a while, then find yourself needing meaning and purpose. You may not want to return to work even part-time, then find yourself wanting to engage again. Retirement is no different, than any other time in your life. It has twists and turns, ups and downs, opportunity knocking on your door and days of wonderful quiet. Whatever you choose to do in retirement is the norm for you. But, for goodness sake, do something.

16 comments on “Is There A Normal Retirement?

  1. All very true. I will be 65 this year and will be retiring in a month, 6/1/17. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor, and I discuss many of these same things with soon-to-be retirees. I also have a cycling coach who preaches the benefits of exercise for health and longevity. She is 52, and is an accomplished triathlete and certified triathlete coach and nutritionist. It is so important to have balance in retirement as well as a sense of meaning and purpose. It is the key to feeling young in in spite of our chronological age.

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  2. I trained to become a certified mediator. And, much to my own amazement, I now volunteer at a refugee camp in Greece and am a member of the Board of Do Your Part, a 503(c) disaster relief organization. Who knew? I knew I’d travel – since my retirement in 2010 I’ve taken 63 trips of three days or longer. But that was the only part of my life now that I’d planned. Such freedom!

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    • Linda, Yes! Fabulous! Who knew? I agree. I never thought I would have a second chance to be a writer, but here I am. Retirement offers so many options and choices and freedom to do what we never thought possible. K

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  3. Doing something is important. What it is, is less important. The key thing is it should interest you, and preferably mentally and physically challenge / stimulate you. So if your main interest is sedentary, then it is a good idea to plan in some exercise as well.
    Since I retired 5 years ago, I have pursued an interest in jewellery making/ silversmithing, I am a non-exec governor at a university which takes 2-3 days a month. I try to fit in a 4 mile walk every day. I have taken up blogging. I follow my investments. I do Pilates once a week. I am fitter than I have been for years, (sadly not as thin as I would like!)
    But if the sun is out, I can often be found sitting reading a book in the sun. Why not? That is what retirement is all about. Choices!

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  4. I was 55 when I retired eight years ago. As a language teacher, I’d always been fond of acronyms and made “SCIPP into retirement” my motto, where S=social, C=creative, I=intellectual, P=physical and P=practical. On a day when I’ve had lunch with a friend, written a blog post, done a crossword puzzle, taken a long walk, and vacuumed, I’ve SCIPPed successfully. Of course, this is just a personal guideline, but it does give structure to my days, even when I don’t do something in all five areas.
    It’s important to set your own goals and not let others determine or judge what is right for you. If volunteering or working part time doesn’t appeal to you, then don’t! Doing whatever feels “normal” to you is what makes retirement so rewarding.

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  5. Well, I agree. There really is no such thing as normal. Exciting things happen if you are open to them. Disappointing things too. Those of us reading this blog are not so much ‘retired’ as independently wealthy (although we may not feel that way). We didn’t retire. We earned our freedom. Always nice to read you Kathy.

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  6. I have been raising my grandson in my retirement. Not how I pictured myself. It isn’t easy but I am also an artist and I squeeze in my art whenever I can as well as swimming. Without those two things I would not be able to survive this.

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    • Roberta, you are not alone. Many retirees are finding themselves raising grandchildren due to a variety of circumstances. I cared for my youngest grandson for two years while his mother went back to college and worked. For me, it was not full-time nor until he turned 18 or so. You are wise to carve out time and activities for yourself. K

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  7. Kathy – you have such lovely way with words! “Twists and turns, ups and downs, opportunity knocking on your door, and days of wonderful quiet” is exactly right. I also am coming to the belief that there will be many re-inventions of myself over the next 20+ years. In fact, one is happening right now. New insights into myself, new down-sized house being purchased, new habits to be formed after we move! But retirement remains for me the freedom to make choices based on what’s important to me.

    One of the challenges today about retirement is that there is a belief that there is a “should”. You should travel. You should spend more time with your grandkids. You should move into a smaller, ranch style condo. You should volunteer. Your should exercise everyday. I remember when I got married, there were lots of “should” statements about what a wedding and reception should be…. my way of dealing with that was then asking (even if it was just in my head) … “and will the bridal police arrest me if I don’t do that?” I’ve always slightly bucked the norms in life, so will continue to do that in retirement. (I did not have the 2.5 kids & house in the burbs – I was an engineer and primary breadwinner). It’s nice to hear bloggers however start to point out that there really is no “norm”! Harder for starting into retirement though, because it means you really need to know yourself to define your own path.

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    • Thanks Pat! Yes, we do really have to know ourselves in order to define our own path in retirement or any other time of life. It sounds like you have done a fine job with that in your life so far. When people use “should” that is their ego talking. People want people to be like them, which validates their beliefs so they use the “should” word. It’s tough sometimes to buck the trend, but it can be extremely freeing. That’s what’s great about retirement…we are free to be whoever we want to be. K

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  8. Although I retired from work a couple of years ago we just moved cross country to be near family. We chose to live in a quite large active 55+ community near coastal S. CA and have been here a week and a half. I am seeing this as the true start of my retirement as I can chose how to spend my time once again. So far what interests me is volunteering with and attending community theater, setting up an exercise routine that includes group activities so as to meet people and socialize, joining a group that raises money for charity, spending lots of time with family, and exploring CA again after a 20 year absence. My husband is thinking of taking up golf again and getting involved in the men’s golf group. He is still working albeit long distance for 5 more months and has to travel on business during that time so has less opportunity to jump in right now. It is a work in progress.

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  9. A great post. Yes, retirement is different for everyone. There is no cookie cutter approach. But, you are judgemental in the scenario about the television watcher. Maybe he finds television watching keeps him informed about politics, sports, and current events. Maybe the shows he watches are enjoyable and informative or even let him dream. Cooking shows, travel shows, do it yourself project shows, shows about famous people or important events in history all can be thought provoking, interesting, and fun. Just saying—.

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    • Thanks Walter! I might agree on the man watching TV, but he watches game shows, court TV and old westerns and that’s all, which is why his family is worried about him. The senior center is right around the corner from his house yet he won’t go there. He gives them all the self-imposed limitations you can think of for not doing anything else with his life. I also know a woman who does the same thing day in and day out, only it’s game shows, soap operas and old movies, then complains she’s bored. Sitting in front of the TV seven days a week is not a life. I like all the types of programs you mentioned, but I don’t spend the entire day, every day watching them. If these people were in their 30’s instead of 70’s, everyone would be concerned about their behavior thinking they were depressed, lonely and wasting away. I’m not being judgmental; I’m concerned about them and how society views this as normal for someone who is aging. K

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  10. Very thoughtful and enjoyable article. I think about this subject all the time. I am 50 and can’t wait to retire. Everyday I consider the possibilities of retirement, though I know it’s at least ten years away for me. The one thing I really want to do for sure is take at least one whole year off for myself, to do whatever I want–even if it’s nothing. Then maybe I’ll get a part-time job or start on some artistic endeavor. But I’m sure no matter what I do, I will enjoy being out of the grind.

    Thank you for your blog.

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