April 2, 2013 — Congratulations, you are getting ready to retire. You’ve done the hard part – spent a life time getting out of bed and getting into work, took care of your family, and saved for this day. But have you thought about what happens if retirement turns out to be too easy for you (as in, not enough to do)? This article is designed to stimulate your thinking and get you started planning now, so that when your retirement finally comes you are set up for a happy transition from the working life.
In our experience the busiest people are usually the happiest. Call us old-fashioned, but we think human beings are hard-wired for some kind of purpose. Your job probably gave you that, and now it is history. We strongly recommend not retiring without a clear idea of what you are going to do to stay busy and engaged with life. Perhaps some people can manage a fulfilling retirement with only an idea “to do some projects” or “take a few trips”, but this approach doesn’t work for many. Without some kind of structure to your days you run the risk of becoming bored (or boring), depressed, or worse – turning into a grumpy old man or woman. If you have ever had to sit next to a person whose only interests were their medical complaints and gossip, you know what we mean!
Here are some of our top ideas for how to fill your new found freedom with fun, stimulation, and purpose. We would love to hear your ideas too; please use the Comments section at the end to share your thoughts.
1. Get a job. That might seem to be more than a little ironic, to leave the workforce only to come back into it. But for one reason, you might need the money. For another, retiring is often a great opportunity to start a new, totally unrelated career. We’ve written in the past about these so called encore careers, which many people find liberating and fulfilling. We have also profiled a dozen baby boomers on their interesting post-retirement careers – it’s fun to read about all the different ways they have found to enjoy their retirements.
2. Volunteer. This is an obvious route that many retirees find rewarding. From mentoring children, to helping a small business on a project, assisting at the library or hospital, trading work for free space at a national park, helping a local volunteer group, or even going into the Peace Corps – there are countless opportunities.
Some boomers don’t know where to start looking for a volunteer job. Our suggestion is to think in terms of what you would like to do and which organizations you would like to help; then contact those outfits and tell them you would like to help. In these days of cutbacks it is the rare non-profit or government body that couldn’t use an extra set of hands. Several of the post retirement careers we profiled in #1 above were volunteer jobs, and interesting ones at that. Those articles also have helpful links for finding volunteer gigs. See also the “Work and Volunteering” category in our Blog.
3. Take up a sport. As just one example, golfers don’t have to worry about what to do with their time – they’re too busy playing, practicing, and reliving their rounds afterwards. A lot of folks didn’t have the time to practice a sport during their working years. They often feel at a disadvantage trying to learn something that others have spent years perfecting (or at least trying to perfect). That shouldn’t stop you though – we have seen so many folks who have come to sports late in life and get so much pleasure (and other benefits, like fitness) from their new activities – whether it is fishing, boating, pickleball, tennis, bocce, biking, or water aerobics. Our best advice is this however – if you take up a difficult sport like golf or tennis – take some lessons! It is almost unheard of for even the most gifted athlete to develop good technique without a qualified professional. We believe in lessons – they can make the sport so much more enjoyable for those of us who don’t have what it takes to be shortstop for the New York Yankees. Many clubs or facilities have learn to play sessions – explore those!
4. Get a hobby. The best advice we have heard on hobbies is to start one while you are still working. That will give you time to explore different alternatives as well as you give you something to start on day 1 of your retirement. Whether it is quilting, bridge, mahjong, scrapbooking, knitting, raising orchids, gardening,woodworking, painting, crossword puzzles/sudoku, music, philately…whatever – start looking now for something that you can get excited about. It will give you something to look forward to as well as the chance to interact with others about something interesting.
5. Start a business. In this sphere you are only limited by your imagination, interests, and finances. People need someone to take care of their pets, watch their empty houses, drive them to the airport, fix their computers and bicycles. Tourist destinations need tour guides. Perhaps you have always had an idea for a product or service – now is the time to test it out. Our only cautions: do something you like, beware investing too much of your capital, and try to get good advice from someone whose business judgement you trust.
Travel. By this we don’t mean taking a big trip or 2 and then forgetting about it. We are talking about people whose passion is travel. They save and plan for several big trips a year. They scheme for ways to exchange homes or work for extended stays in nice places. Or they buy or rent a camper and travel for long periods on a budget. When they are on the trip they savor the experience – when they are not they enjoy planning for the next. The Huffington Post has a terrific article outlining 7 Travel trends for retirees including: Glamping (more luxurious and creature comfortable), Voluntourism, Gap Years, International House Sitting, and Learning Vacations Abroad.
7. Take a bridge (gap) year. It used to be this was the plan for young people who needed an adjustment between high school and college, or college and their first job. But more and more folks are planning for a bridge year right after their retirement starts. They have many advantages, chief among them a chance to decompress after a hectic working career and gain perspective about how to optimize retirement. Perhaps you have always wanted to travel around the world, work for a relief organization, learn Italian in Rome, build a website, or learn how to repair clocks – this is your chance!
8. How about camp for adults. Camp isn’t just for kids anymore. There are camps for just about every kind of activity. Want to learn how to drive a car on the ice – there’s a Skip Barber camp for that. There’s golf camp, science camp, food and wine camps, cooking camps, sports camps, music camps, art camps, writing camps, adventure camps, etc. See this Wall St. Journal article for more.
9. Go south for the winter. Lets say you are fortunate enough not to have to work and you also live in a cold climate. Unless you enjoy cold weather, just why are you spending your winters shoveling snow and hunkered around the fireplace? Why not explore warmer climes for the winter months. There are plenty of inexpensive places to stay for a month or so, or rent your own RV. You’ll meet people, have some stimulating experiences, explore different parts of the country, and perhaps find a better, less expensive place to live. Oh, and you’ll also stay warmer!
10. Make some friends whose ages are different than yours. This is one of the favorite pieces of advice we heard from someone, not sure whom. Older people have different perspectives to offer. Younger folks have a different vocabulary and usually more energy. In the process of exploring the different, you’ll be keeping yourself younger and more interesting too.
Bonus: Make a commitment to connect with people. Perhaps their is a Men over 60 breakfast group. Or a Lions Club, or your old work colleagues. Make a pledge that you are going to get out and talk with people on a regular basis. It will keep you young.
Comments: Please share your thoughts and experiences about how to make the most of your retirement in the Comments section below.