In late 2010 I wrote the following post that contains an image of retirement that I like. Since very few readers with me today were here over three years ago, I have pulled this from the archives to see if it resonates with you.
Here is how Dave ended that article: "I like Bob’s final comment and will borrow it as the close of this discussion: Your retirement will be like a blank canvas. You’ll buy all the paints and brushes but will have no idea what it will look like until you start applying the paint.”
At least for my experience, that seems like as valid a metaphor as any. We all begin our time after full time work unsure of what is going to happen. Sure, we made plans. Obviously, we have ideas about what a satisfying retirement will look like. We collect opinions from friends and family. We probably have read a few books. Hopefully, this blog has provided some helpful hints. But, here is an important point: none of us know what is going to develop until we start the journey.
To continue with the painting metaphor, the idea that our retirement begins like a blank canvas may be a new thought to you. Maybe you are convinced you have it all figured out. Step A will be followed by Step B. This will happen, and then the next thing on your retirement to-do list will occur.
Can I burst your bubble just a bit? Rarely does it work that way. Life has a nasty habit of messing with our plans. Things completely out of our control suddenly pop up in the path ahead of us. You are not going to know what your life really looks like until you are into it. Let's pick up a brush and see what happens.
At the center of the blank canvas put a few blobs of color, maybe a swirl or two, and a solid center. That represents the core of your retirement. That center is what you are depending upon to make this all work. Let that solid core stand for your financial base, your health insurance, housing, your key relationships, and your essential beliefs. Without that solid center, frankly, you probably don't have much of a chance at a satisfying retirement. The color swirls, bright blobs and dashes of color represent your initial experiences as you build a new lifestyle. There will be a sense of breaking free, of fewer boundaries. You will begin to appreciate the vivid colors that can become part of your day.
Then, as you add paint to the next portion of the canvas, realism becomes evident. Things are a bit more structured. You may feel free, but there is a world around you that has rules and regulations. You have relationships to maintain. Your health won't always be great. That investment you counted on suddenly looks more like a disposable paper cup. This part of the painting isn't as pretty or uplifting as the center, but it will be on your canvas.
The corners of the canvas may contain more bright colors or shapes you don't quite recognize. This is the part of your retirement where you are exploring new parts of yourself. You are trying on new hobbies or living patterns. Maybe you decide to simplify and downsize. or, maybe you decide to jump in an RV and explore the country for a year. A creative outlet you didn't realize you had begins to assert itself. The core at the center of the painting is still there. The harsher parts of reality don't disappear. But, on the outer edges of the canvas you are adding the stuff that makes your life exciting, rewarding, and uniquely yours.
Now stop for a moment at look at the canvas. That is what your life is now. What do you notice right away? There is still a lot of open space left. The canvas is still more than half empty. Why? Because every single day you have the chance to add something to your life. If you approach retirement as an adventure that is open to additions and recreations, the canvas will never be finished. Just like a good artist, you believe you can always add a dash here or a blob there to improve the painting, and your life.
What do you think? Can you visualize your retired life as a painting that continues to evolve? Maybe you think of a satisfying retirement as a piece of music that is always having notes added or subtracted, chords changed, or new instruments written in. No matter how you envision your retirement, I have one request: don't think of it as a checkbook. Finances are important but too many of us allow the financial side of things to scare or stifle our growth. Your retired life will be so much fuller if you avoid that trap.