December 21, 2012

Real Retirement: An Inside Glimpse




There has been so many scary articles and blog posts written about having a satisfying retirement I am kind of surprised it is even a topic anyone reads about
anymore. After all, if the brightest and best experts say we will all work until we are 80, or that the majority will never be able to retire, then why read the thoughts of someone like me who is apparently swimming upstream against the current of history?


The answer is simple: the "experts" have been consistently wrong for quite awhile.  Let's start with the dot.com bust. Companies with no profits, no marketing, and hardly any employees were worth more than the GNP of most countries. Wrong. How about that huge Y2K scare? Did the computer age come to an end? Hardly. Or, how about the investment gurus who claimed housing and stock prices were on a perpetual upward trend with the Dow hitting 30,000 soon. Not so much.

I could cite many more obvious examples when the common wisdom and the expert opinions were dead wrong. I can also apply the last eleven years of retirement, 31 months of experience in writing this blog, almost 7,000 comments and well over 420,000 views to the same question and get a very different answer.

About 16 months ago I wrote Retirement living: What is the real truth that attempted to dispel some of the myths and half-truths surrounding retirement. Since then, some things have changed enough to revisit that post and see if I need to freshen some of the ideas.


...If you believe all that is written I think you will come to the conclusion that living a retirement lifestyle that is happy and fulfilling takes some planning, some adjustments, and some creativity on your part. But, doesn't life before retirement require the same stuff? Too many web sites, blogs, and magazines attempt to tell you this part of your life is fraught with troubles and pitfalls. You are facing a daunting journey that only the strong survive. The message is almost: Retirement, only the beginning of your problems.

  • Still the message we get too often. And, still not true.


Let me give you a few glimpses of what retirement is really like. I've been on this journey for over 11 years so I have probably faced several of the questions and issues that concern you. I have gone through the death of a parent. I have survived the collapse of my business. I have downsized, then downsized again. I am being screwed on a regular basis by our health care system to the tune of 33% of my yearly income going to insurance companies, labs, doctors, and big pharma.

Yet, even with all that, this phase of my life has been the most fulfilling, exciting, growth-filled, and satisfying of any part of my 63 years on earth so far. I have freedoms I could have only dreamed about while working and traveling 100,000 miles a year. My creative life has caught fire. I have written two books and host this blog. I have a marriage that is so much better than before I retired. I am financially weathering everything the world can throw at me, and still jetting off to Hawaii for a three week vacation. To cap it all off, the October issue of Money Magazine is profiling my retirement in as someone who is leading a satisfying retirement in spite of all the doom and gloom that bombards us every single day.


  • Insurance up 17% again for 2013 but we are still in good shape. We took that Hawaii trip and the Money Magazine article appeared as promised.


Retirement is not what it was for your parents or grandparents. That is absolutely true. The world and how it operates have likely changed forever. But, the exciting news is that so have we. I don't know a single retirement age man or woman who wants to spend 5 hours a day, every day, on a golf course, or sitting in an easy chair watching TV. I don't know anyone anticipating retirement who believe that their welfare is so secured by their former employer or the government that they will have zero financial worries in the future.

Retirement is an outdated word that can't possibly capture all of the opportunities and options you face. It implies you will no longer work. That is probably not true. Many of us want to keep working in some form. Retirement implies your active days are over. Not true, unless you choose to live like that. I contend your most active days, both physically and mentally, can lie ahead.

Retirement implies you will slowly fade away or become a burden to others. That can happen, and it does to too many of us. But, for most, that isn't necessarily your fate. Even if it is, that is years in the future. Why wouldn't you push yourself to live fully until you can't? Why worry about what may happen in the future, or let that worry confine you now? Plan for your future needs and try to lessen the impact on your loved ones. But, for heavens sake, don't let it paralyze you now.

  • If I could come up with a word to accurately replace 'retirement' I would. That word continues to carry negative connotations too often.  This phase of life is not about fading away, it is about expanding and growing.


My health is better today than it was 10 years ago. I weigh less and have more energy. I've dropped a few inches in waist size. I Look forward to the gym instead of fear it. My relationships are much better. The stress my lifestyle imposed on my family when I was traveling continuously for almost 20 years should have been enough to tear my family apart. Due to the patience and forgiveness my wife possessed we made it through that phase. Now, things are so much better because we have time for each other. Sure there are arguments. There are days when each of us would rather the other person took a long walk off a short pier. But, rather than linger and fester like during my working days, we blow up, figure it out, patch it up, and move on. That can't happen when one partner is gone 200 days a year.

  • I don't look forward to the gym. Honestly, I make excuses why I can't go much too often. But, the rest of it is still quite true.


I found my passion. I was a man with no hobbies and no real interests outside of my work. I dabbled in things, but mainly to fill the time. Retirement has given me the time and opportunities to try different things. The pieces finally fell into place about 5 years ago. Writing and volunteering with a prison ministry organization give me what I have been lacking: a passion and a real purpose. The day isn't long enough for all I want to accomplish. I never felt that way (in a positive sense) while working.

  • Still very true. Add to that a strengthening of  my spiritual life and filling my day productively is no problem.

The ending I wrote in September 2011 still applies: Retirement is very much what you make it. Of course your finances, family situation, health, and other factors will impact you. But, again I stress, they affected you before retirement, too. This is your time. This is your opportunity. This is your life. Build it and live it full throttle.

43 comments:

  1. Your "real retirement" is so successful because you continue to grow and learn about yourself and then apply that to your life. Thanks for being so generous to share that with all of us.

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    1. Thank you for your unwavering support, Susan. The journey I have been on doesn't strike me as anything special or unique, it is just me living my life. But the fact that folks find something here to inspire them or help them with a problem is humbling.

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  2. I (55) became obsessed with your first point and went back to work full time. What did I learn? My husband continued his retirement journey becoming more fulfilled then me. He (62) looks and feels better then he did 15 years ago.
    Today is my last day of full time work. We have two more grandchildren on their way. Our son will deploy. My mother needs a visit. I am back to having the freedom to help. physical presence is more important than a job. I did set aside my entire salary- proving again that we can live on his pension. I have stopped reading the heavy finance blogs.
    Worry is not worth it. Tomorrow could be your last day. Enjoy, embrace stillness and contribute when you can. A satisfying elder path indeed.

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    1. Very nicely said, Janette. I saw a video last night on gratitude. It make the point that we live on a beautiful planet and have amazing gifts of sight and smell and sound. We can make others feel better with just a smile. WE have no idea if today is the last day of our life so we are obligated to squeeze every bit of experience and love from it we can.

      Congratulations on your re-retirement today. Now get out their with your husband and live it up.

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    2. Janette, you said it so beautifully...reason will prevail and we can live on what we have. I am sure that you are like me in that you know how to do that.

      b+

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  3. "If I could come up with a word to accurately replace 'retirement' I would. That word continues to carry negative connotations too often. This phase of life is not about fading away, it is about expanding and growing."

    How about "Financially Independent" or FI?

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    1. Well, Financially Independent beats Fiscal Cliff.

      Realignment is more accurate than retirement but sounds too much like something you do to your tires.

      Still a work in progress.

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  4. You're an inspiration to us all .... and I mean it, Bob. Like you, I "retired" in my early 50s, and so far it's been the happiest, best ten years of my life, for all the reasons you mentioned. Now, I just hope the next ten years, as I enter my 70s, continue to be as rewarding and productive. Meanwhile, I too try to get enough exercise -- yes, occasionally the gym, but also dancing with B and a new interest in table tennis -- to keep the old body in working condition.

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    1. Table tennis? Interesting. I can see how a few quick games of Ping Pong could get you moving. Have you ever seen a professional wallop that ball at 100 mph? Amazing sight.

      Thanks, Tom. I know a little about your background and career. Your compliment means a lot coming from someone who has done what you have done.

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  5. Well said, Bob, well said. The key point I zeroed in on was that while retirement has its share of problems and concerns and pitfalls, did anyone have a pre-retirement life that was free from all three? Of course not. Retirement is another phase to one's life, and you work through it and enjoy it. And continuing Christmas wishes to you, Betty and all your loyal readers.

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    1. I'm not sure why everyone focuses on retirement as being so totally different from any other phase of life. Problems and opportunities exist from birth to death.

      Best Christmas wishes to you, Chuck, and all your family. Enjoy the season.

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  6. I think you hit the two big keys perfectly. You're staying engaged and making yourself useful in ways you choose. What could be better? That path has worked pretty well for me for the past 18 years. I'm planning a few changes for 2013 that should be improvements, but if they aren't there are plenty of other choices ahead.

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    1. Dick, I have enjoyed your partcipation on the blog this past several months. I'm glad you found a place to read and comment.

      I have been checking out your blog, gabbygeezer, too. I've just added vit to my blog roll on the right sidebar. Keep up the good work.

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  7. Bob, good blog as always. My husband and I like to think of our retirement as our "refreshment". We are refreshed and renewed. New things, new places, renewed interests. We are glad to not be working and focus more on family and one another. p.s. The weather in Arizona also helps!

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    1. Refreshment is certainly a more positive word than retirement. And, yes, even our "chilly" 63 degrees today isn't bad.

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  8. Thank you for this one Bob. It is so true that "retirement" is a word that needs replacing. And I am like you in that nothing seems to sound or feel right.

    I also agree with what you imply...this part of our life is something we grow and mature into. Like any other stage of life, it takes a lot of learning and work but, in the end, we are much better off than we were in any stage that came before. I rejoice in that each and every day.

    Best Holiday Wishes to Everyone!

    b+

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    1. Have a wonderful holiday season and safe journeys to Tucson next month. Linda Myers, aka Bag Lady in Waiting, and her husband will be in Tucson from January-March. We need a blogger party!

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    2. Yes, we do! We will be in Tucson on January 4, weather permitting, and leave for home on March 1. I hope the time will go very, very slowly!

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    3. Let's plan on a get together for sometime in February! A meal together would be great fun. I'd love to hear about Art's experiences in writing his book.

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  9. My retirement experience has been similar to Bob's, mostly positive. However, there are challenges, and they require preparation in advance. Obviously, financial planning is key to a fulfilling retirement. But I want to call to the attention of baby boomers and anyone planning retirement or recently retired that emotional planning is important too. Going from a full time job to no job may seem ideal, but it is an enormous and difficult adjustment. Too many retire people end up feeling useless, with no purpose. Many suffer from episodic depression as a result, making what could be the best time of their lives, the worst time. Prepare yourself by finding a passion to pursue during retirement.

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    1. Thanks, Boyd. Your points are all very important and I'm glad we are sharing a positive experience. You are quite right that the emotional side of retirement is too often overlooked. There is a tremendous adjustment that must be navigated.

      Note: Boyd is the author of the book Retirement: A Memoir and Guide and several other books about retirement and travel.

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  10. I loved this column especially because I retired three months ago and yes I am living within a budget but that doesn't mean austerity. I travel, not 5 star like before but I find that the travel I do now lets me see the indigenous nature of the place I am in. I get to stay slower, longer but cheaper so it works very well. I dine out at the same places that I used to go to, in my home town and I live very well. When my kids left, I downsized to a beautiful townhome which requires less work and less cost. I am encouraged by your words here as you walk the path ahead of me. thank you!

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    1. Welcome to the fabulous journey we call retirement, though it is anything but retiring.

      As Betty and I moved through retirement, like you, we shifted from the upper end trips to ones that allow us to really interact with the people and get a feel for places. It is much more enjoyable at this stage of life.

      Even after living in Phoenix for 27 years we discover new, hidden gems that are fun to explore. With time at our disposal moving more slowly is very satisfying.

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  11. How about "re-engagement"? As in, "My re-engagement will start June 1."
    Jeff in OK

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    1. My wife wonders if that means I'll re-peat my marriage vows!

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  12. When I go to the gym, I take my time and enjoy the experience.

    What I've come to learn is that for most, they're scheduling an hour for exercise, so it becomes a gruelling "Let's get the most out it".

    For me, I might first hit the dry sauna to warm up, then go do some stretching, then possibly a run followed by some weights. Then for a swim and back into the wet and dry saunas.

    I was in the jacuzzi and it stopped bubbling and I was just enjoying the quiet and peace of being in the warm water. The "help" came walking by and looked at me like I was weird for not having the jets running.

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    1. You have a very nice routine. I don't know why it is but when I get to the gym I look for excuses to leave early. Why? I don't have someplace else I have to be. Strange.

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  13. Obviously retirement means different things to different people. To me it was re-purposing my life. Prior to retirement it was about making money and obtaining some financial security. Now that I have a choice it is about altruism and following the examples of Jesus. I much prefer this part to the last. It is where I was meant to be all along.

    Redefining retirement will always be difficult because it just means different things to different people.

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    1. While working would you have had the time to maintain several excellent blogs and produce a deatiled history of the Christian faith like you are doing? Probably not.

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  14. I knew when I retired I wanted to be useful. I found my passion in mediation. I'm very busy most days and love it. How on earth did I ever have time to go to work?

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    1. I am just getting over a 4 day bout of stomach flu and feel normal for the first time all week. I miss being busy!

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  15. May you have a Merry Christmas Bob.
    You are doing what is traditionally the thing that older people have done for eons.
    Learn, share and discuss wisdom while loving your family.
    It is a good thing to be a "rabbi" :>)

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    1. Rabbi, as in teacher? Thanks, Janette. I'll accept that as a very nice compliment.

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  16. Is it terrible that so far my retirement has focused on trying to have as wonderful of a time as possible? I am actively working on being a more loving, empathetic human, which I think is coming through in the manner in which I interact which those that I meet along the way.

    I'm not sure at what point we'll slow down, but for now, I'm thoroughly enjoying being in the fast lane of life. Have I mentioned how much we're enjoying our early retirement? :-)

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    1. You are "spreading the gospel" of being happy and content every time you interact with someone during your travels. Lord know our world needs all the smiles and joy we can muster. You and Mike keep spreading the message of retirement as a tremendous part of life.

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  17. "To retire or not to retire" - that has been my question of late. And I just wanted to drop you a line to let you know that I have recently discovered your column, am enjoying reading past posts, and you do not know how helpful your insights and information has been in helping me mull over my decision.

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    1. Great! Drop my a private e-mail if you have any specific concerns or questions.

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  18. Bob, well said.
    I too would like to see a replacement word for 'retirement'. I have come up with several but not the clincher.
    After one year in "retirement", I have learned two things: 1) be constantly aware of opportunities; you never know what could walk thru your door, 2) leave your comfort zone; it might just rejuvenate and remind you that challenges can keep your spirit alive.
    Happy Holidays to your family. And hoping you are feeling well today.
    Bill Nigh

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    1. I am feeling much better, Bill. Thanks for asking. Your two points about retirement are right on.

      I am spending this last week of the year to refocus on my plans for this blog and my upcoming projects. I may even try out a new design!

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  19. Thanks for the great post. I am 56 and retired last year. I do work part time teaching Spanish. I love your blog and learn so much from it. I also love that I am really not in a hurry. Sometimes I let people go ahead of me and I say "Go ahead of me...... I don't mind because I am not in a hurry." They are always grateful and surprised.

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    1. Sorry, Anna, for just seeing your comment. My only excuse is it was Christmas Eve and I was probably wrapping presents!

      "Paying it forward" or "random acts of kindness" are tremendous gifts because they often cause the recipient to continue what you started. Good for you!

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  20. I have been starting to"test my comfort zone"your blog has been encouraging. I'm retired at 48 my husband isn't retiring for 3 years so I have to find "thing to do". The gym or church sound like great places to start. Thank You

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    1. You and hubby are getting a great start on an early and satisfying retirement! Finding your passions and what keeps you excited about your life will take awhile and they tend to change over time. My favorite hobby of 6 years ago is something I spend virtually no time with at the moment. But, who knows, maybe sometime I'll get back into it. That's the great thing about retirement...you can keep trying out different things as your needs and interests evolve.

      Welcome!

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