Retirement Lessons


Last Thursday marked the fifth anniversary of our retirement. Martin and I celebrated at a favorite lunch spot, The Blue Porch, with friends. Five years ago I had no idea how emotionally under-prepared I was to retire. Our mantra back then was, “We’re going to have fun!” It took about six weeks for me to realize we weren’t having fun. I started this blog on a whim. Putting my feelings in writing had always helped. Writing not only helped me, but I hope it helped some other people along the way. It also opened up an unexpected world for me. These are the lessons I learned giving way to a more fulfilled life and understanding of what it means to retire.

Ask yourself if retirement is what you really want and need. If you’re running from a job you hate, are just worn out from working or stressed by your work environment, maybe what you really need is a sabbatical. A month away from work may provide an attitude adjustment. Another option may be to work part-time, easing into retirement. Not all companies hire part-time employees, but if it is an option at your workplace, consider it.

If retirement is indeed what you want and need, then have a plan. I’m not talking about a financial plan, although that’s vitally important, but a how will you fill your time plan. If you don’t have a plan of what you will do to fill the time you spent working, commuting to work and preparing for work, you will end up bored, a leaf in the wind with lots of other people ready to take up your time with their agenda. Will your current hobbies and interests fill the gap or will you need more?

Speaking of planning, also give some forethought to your transitionary period. You may hate your job or feel bone tired with working, but post-retirement you may find yourself missing the daily routine, the camaraderie of co-workers and the identity that work provides. It will take time to create a new identity, find a new social network and settle in. Retirement is a major life change. This is a new phase offering plenty of opportunity to do what you want to do with your time. However, after 40 or more years in the workplace, there is also a period of grieving. Yes, grieving for your lost identity and the social aspects of work. If your company offers an Employee Assistance Program including counseling, take advantage pre-retirement to discuss your feelings and expectations with a counselor. Having meaning and purpose in life doesn’t end when you leave the workplace. Purpose is an essential to being happy and healthy. It will take time and effort to find your renewed purpose.

Think about where you will retire. Having downsized and built “the retirement home” in 2004, I stayed exactly where I was already. I got that part of it right. Close proximity to a nationally recognized teaching hospital system and colleges offering daytime adult education courses geared toward retirees were essentials on my list. The icing on the cake was discovering an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at a nearby university. The Blue Ridge Mountains where bicycling, motorcycling and hiking are prominent activities that Martin and I enjoy are in our backyard. It may seem like a great idea to live in the middle of nowhere with lots of peace and quiet, but if it takes an hour to get to a doctor or hospital, it may not be a sound idea. I had a fall in 2015 requiring stitches. Martin had me at the ER in 15 minutes. It wasn’t life threatening. However, it made me think about heart attack, stroke or surgery. I was glad the hospital was near.

Choose your timing carefully.  I retired in the fall.  As a gardener and hiker and Martin as a bicyclist and motorcyclist, our timing undoubtedly should have been in the spring.  We may have had fun for more than 6 weeks! I’ve read many, many times that retirement should begin January 1st.  If you are living in the frozen tundra of the north, unless you are a winter sports advocate or plan to escape to a warmer climate for a few months, emotionally, January may be the worst time to retire.  No matter where you live, make your emotional outlook and core retirement activities a priority.  It’s your calendar; do what’s best for you.

Recognize that retirement is not the end, but the beginning. It is a journey, not a destination. Retirement offers the opportunity of a lifetime to try new and different activities. You may not enjoy all the things you try. If an activity doesn’t pan out, give something else a try. This is a time to be adventurous. Renew your childhood curiosity. You get to start all over again without the pressure inherent for success in the workplace. Because people are living longer, years in retirement are also increasing. You have the opportunity to reinvent yourself many times over. I am not the person I was 5 years ago. I look forward to what surprises may unfold for me in the future.

Views on retirement and getting older are changing. Retirement is whatever we choose to make it. There is no one size fits all. There are as many options as there are one-of-a-kind snowflakes blowing on a winter’s day. I hope my lessons help you avoid some of the pitfalls and reap the rewards of a retired life. As always — put your dent in the universe!

19 comments on “Retirement Lessons

  1. Thank you for those insights! I retired in June and kept busy all summer. Retirement was great, easy, no adjustments. Then the rain, dark, blustery arrived and my adjustment period arrived with it. I’m working through it and redefining myself. We will be downsizing but haven’t yet decided where. Lots of things to think about in this transitional period

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    • It’s my experience, supported by a lot of my readers, that it takes about 2 years to adjust to a retired life. If you haven’t already done so, read my post in the header on Stages of Retirement. It will get better when you discover new meaning and purpose. Best wishes. K

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  2. I never really thought about the timing of retirement. (We sort of “fell into” ours in August.) Perhaps those first few months may not have been so teary-eyed, had I been able to be on the golf course! I’m not certain that we will ever completely “adjust” because the Voyage keeps changing from week to week! We’ve just become a little more secure about it…and we’re having a ball!


  3. I have been lucky since I have been an artist all of my adult life. When it came time to find a job I became a graphic designer. So when I retired I went back to becoming a full time artist. I am selling my work and happy. However I do worry about my husband as he has no hobbies……he retires in December. We are planning to move to our retirement home in June so this winter will be spent readying the condo for sale. After that when we move he will have to find something to do. There is a lot to do where we are moving in Arizona so I am not too worried about it.


    • Artists never retire Roberta. Neither do musicians. The arts can keep you going your entire life, which is why they are one of the activities people should consider when they retire. There are so many varieties of art to choose from that there has to be something for everyone. Best wishes on your move to Arizona! K


  4. Hi, Kathy – I totally agree that retirement today can be “whatever we choose to make it”. The possibilities are endless! Without prior warning, some people find it more difficult to transition into retirement than others. Your advice in this post is spot-on. Thank you for sharing it!


  5. I wish I were one of those gifted folks with talent like Roberta and others, but I’m just the average Jo with absolutely no special abilities. My near-40 year career in the nonprofit sector ended unexpectedly 3 years ago with retirement-in-lieu-of-layoff on the cusp of my 78th birthday. (My agency had major financial problems and had to declare bankruptcy.) I was lucky to have been able to remain employed into my late 70s, and I certainly didn’t realize how important work was in my life until I didn’t have it anymore.

    I’ve adjusted (what else can one do?) although I still miss the sense of purpose, productiveness, usefulness and identity I had as a 57-year member of the workforce. I was already volunteering for a cat rescue/rehoming organization during the last couple of years on the job, and I’ve continued doing that, as well as caring for our own 3 senior kitties. I’ve also become more active on several political websites and read a lot more than I did in the past.

    I suppose I should have expected physical limitations as I approached 80 Y/O, but until they started showing up, I didn’t. I probably couldn’t hold down a job now–even if hiring an 80+ worker ever happens. I can no longer do a lot of yard work, which I also miss. I walk most days, try to eat right and and do what I can to hang on to good health, as does my husband (he’s 88).

    I guess my message to those in their mid-60s and 70s in the earlier stages of retirement would be, “Do it now” (whatever “it” may be for you), while you still have the energy, good health, motivation and (ideally) money. With some exceptions, all are likely to be in shorter supply in your 80s and up!

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    • Well said Elizabeth! And you don’t sound like the ‘average Jo’. Bravo to you and your husband for being so active with volunteer work, politics and walking. Your advice of ‘do it now’ is great advice. There’s no time like the present because we don’t know what tomorrow may bring. K


  6. Great suggestion about the timing of retirement. Living in SoCal, it’s not as important as where it snows, but if I had though about it more, I might have chosen September instead of May since late summer/early fall is our “real” summer around here. Either way, retirement beats working no matter what month 🙂 .


  7. Kathy – so well said. I think I will be changing even more this coming year (three years in) since we’ve (finally) downsized and I’m hoping to more fully be living the retirement lifestyle I’ve envisioned. I’ve always been a destination person, so enjoying the journey has been a learning experience.

    Only thing I would add to your (wonderful) 20-20 hindsight is… be ready and willing to adjust any plan you’ve put into place. I had no plan at first :-), but I’ve adjusted the plan I did create as I’ve learned more about myself.


  8. Your blogs was one of the first things I looked at for retirement ideas last year. I find them informative, uplifting and on target. Keep up the good work.


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