I am fully settled in my retirement after having fully enjoyed the first 5 years. For me, retirement is like a permanent summer vacation: I can do what I want, when I want, where I want and with whom I want. Without undue obligations. I am lucky to be in such a position.
Certainly, the experience of the pandemic has put a damper on life, especially before the widespread availability of vaccines. But my wife and I adapted and survived, even thrived. That being said, there are some things I got wrong and hope to change in the next 5 years. These are lessons that, if applied well, will make life more interesting, more enjoyable, and healthier. Anyway, that’s the plan.
Lessons learned revolve around topics that are important to me in retirement and include, in no particular order: travel, health, mental engagement, friends and family, and living my way.
Lesson 1: Travel matters (we want more, more, more)
My wife and I didn’t travel much when we were working. We were too busy. So it wasn’t until we had more time in retirement that we fully realized what we had been missing. And how pleasant it is to explore new places and revisit familiar places. However, with the notable exception of cruising, we don’t particularly enjoy traveling per se, but we both enjoy planning and anticipating the trip and exploring our destinations once we arrive.
For example, last March we drove from San Francisco to Palm Springs, Scottsdale to Sedona, and back. Twelve days of road travel: 10% of the journey was amazing. But 90% were drudgery: the Central Valley of California, the freeways of LA and the desolate desert? Not our cup of tea.
Nevertheless, our stay in Scottsdale and Sedona was wonderful. We would both love to come back. Maybe in the future our plan will be to fly to a general area and then rent a car to get to nearby desired destinations. The destinations are to be adopted. Tedious journeys are to be avoided!
I have found that once a trip is over, I really enjoy reminiscing and talking about what we did and saw together, where we went and when. It’s satisfying. I also discovered that I liked to write about my experiences. Some I share on The journey awaits you but most I write for myself, occasionally sharing with family and friends. The more we travel, the more I can write and commemorate. Win, win!
Lesson 2: KISS ME
When I was younger, I stayed in shape with my self-developed but never world-famous fitness program, which I named: “KISSME (Keep It Shut, Sport. More Exercise.)”
Eat less and move more. Should be straightforward. As if… Since my retirement, I’ve slipped a bit in this area. More pleasure in eating and drinking than at work. And a little less physical activity. More “carpe diem”, less sensible moderation. But I’ve come to understand that’s not sustainable for a long and healthy retirement, let alone life itself.
Part of my less than stellar lifestyle change is related to pandemic stress. Some of it is due to recovery from an operation. But, honestly, most of it has to do with me becoming less disciplined. I’m on permanent summer vacation, after all!
Certainly, I know how to eat healthier. I know how to exercise and what exercises to do. The problem, as I suspect for many, is finding the discipline to achieve those goals. It’s not that hard to make smarter food choices, to eat smaller portions at a meal. It’s also not that hard to go for a 20-30 minute walk most days and do some bodyweight resistance exercises, balance workouts, stretches, and core exercises at home. several times a week. Equipment is good but not mandatory. Fitness programs are all over the web. But success requires discipline. And here’s the problem!
But I’ve come to accept that if I want to make the most of my time in retirement, in a way that I enjoy, I have to do the right thing. It’s about playing the long game in the years to come, about making the right decisions every day. Maybe not every day, but at least regularly. This is how the desired results are achieved. It’s doable and I hope I’ll do it.
The reward? Improved health, improved quality of life and increased longevity. So kiss me!
Lesson 3: Exercise the brain
I had a lot of mental stimulation during my career. Sometimes I think too much! All of that disappeared in retirement. Poof! I imagine that may be the case for others.
At first, I increased my reading of fiction and non-fiction books. And it worked for a while. but I became dissatisfied with the passive nature of such mental activity. I’ve tried games…and hated them. Although, if I find a good local game of Texas Hold ‘Em, I might start playing poker again.
Eventually, I started writing. I first wrote several stories about growing up and shared them with my family. Then I helped a brother who was writing a written extended family history. In doing so, I realized that I loved the challenge of writing, the thought processes involved, and the satisfaction of creating. This led to writing about traveling with my wife and then an occasional article for TravelAwaits.
Over the next five years, I hope to continue my writing. Maybe topics other than travel? Maybe fiction? Who knows. I may not be a good writer, but I’m happy. The writing process is engaging, stimulating and thought-provoking. It exercises my brain. When people ask me why I write, my only answer is that it’s pleasant, and since I’m on permanent summer vacation, that’s enough.
Lesson 4: Cultivate old friends
In some ways, retirement is like closing a door on an old life and opening it on a new one. This has certainly been true for me. Most of the people I worked with were my colleagues but not real friends. I didn’t socialize much with them outside of work then and I do less now, with a few exceptions. However, from time to time, I organized a “happy hour” for these former colleagues to keep a connection with my working days. And some have generously reciprocated. These gatherings are fun and worth continuing but, with COVID, they have been put on hiatus. I hope to start again soon.
Since retirement, my wife and I have spent more time with a small circle of existing friends, initially with trips abroad and across the country. Then COVID hit and we changed our social time. After the first 12 months or so of cocooning at home, we cautiously tiptoed closer together. It was great for our pandemic mental slump. And funny! Vaccinated. Hidden if applicable. We took road trips together around California, Oregon, Montana and Arizona.
Socializing with good friends has been important to my wife and I, and we hope to continue to do so as often as possible in the years to come.
I also reconnected with old friends. Some from my early government career, some from my time in the military, some from my medical training days, and one who was my childhood best friend.
These reconnections were fun and underscored for me the importance of going back through the days of yesteryear. People are important. These reconnections have happened mostly over email and text, sharing jokes, articles and life updates. They have also been in person when possible. All of these meetings have been worthwhile (and sometimes a real effort) but I hope to continue and expand them in the years to come.
Lesson 5: It’s my time
I have read in several places that to have a fulfilling and successful retirement, you need to have a purpose or a structure in your life, a reason to get up every morning. I’m not sure that’s necessarily true if the purpose or structure means taking a part-time job, volunteering, babysitting grandchildren, or doing something “meaningful” because someone else does. think.
Not to say that such activities are not important or not required of some, because they are. But rather, I don’t want them. At the beginning of the retreat, I thought about how I should spend my time. In fact, I was thinking of combining work and travel by taking on part-time jobs in places I wanted to visit. The opportunity to do so in my profession is immense. I quickly realized that retirement and work are like oil and vinegar to me: they don’t mix.
I thought about volunteering but, honest with myself, I resisted, knowing that I would feel hesitation and obligation, which is the antithesis of my idea of retirement. Of course, I can change my mind. I am certainly open to new activities, but I expect not to actively pursue them in the next few years. Right now, I have little structure in my life other than living my current adventure or planning the next one.
It’s been a smooth sailing period and it’s currently working for me. I hope to continue to live my retirement on my terms, with friends, family, writing, travel, and more exercise. More good food, but less.
Retirement strategies and priorities may very well be different for others. And that’s great. But for me, retreat time is my time and I intend to use it as such. This is the fifth lesson I learned. Retirement is, after all, my permanent summer vacation.