May 29, 2014

Retirement Life Starts With a Blank Canvas


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.




A while ago Dave at his Retirement - Only the Beginning blog asked me to participate in a survey by answering some questions about my retirement experience. I gave him a few thoughts that he did use for his post, including one of my comments as his closing statement. I asked him if I could use it as a starting point for something I wanted to write and he graciously agreed.

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.


May 26, 2014

Simplicity: Does It Really Take 35 books?

A few weeks ago I made a comment that I have a few bookshelves full of books on simplicity and downsizing. I re-read many of them on a regular basis to remind me of my goal to remain as free as possible from things that don't add to the quality and enjoyment of my life.


Simplicity takes all this?

Rightly so, a reader noted it seems somewhat ironic to have lots of books on simplicity. I hadn't thought it in those terms, but he (was it you, Tom?) had pointed out a rather obvious fact: you don't cut back by accumulating books on cutting back.

I counted: I have 35 books in that category. Well, that is just silly. And, to the larger point of this post: we often do things that upon refection are unhelpful or counterproductive.

Let me offer a few examples. See if any resonate with you:

1. We too often hurt the very relationship we claim is most important to us.

2. We buy something because of an emotional response rather than true need or a well thought out purchase.

3. We don't take the time to eat well and exercise and then complain about how unfair it is that our bodies fail us as we age.

4. We don't like where or how we live but don't change even when we can.

5. We put off until tomorrow, knowing full well tomorrow isn't guaranteed to us.

I guess the answer to these contradictions is we are human. We make silly, dumb, even downright dangerous decisions at times. Our heart or hormones get in the way of our brain.

That reality isn't going to change. The best we can do is to regularly review what we are doing and where we are on our journey. Then, we leave things alone or make adjustments to get back on track.

The "appropriate" ending to this post would be that I gave away most of those 35 books. The actual ending is I haven't touched them and don't plan to. I still find value in them. But, I don't plan on adding to the collection. Is that a step in the right direction?


May 22, 2014

A Sedona Quickie

No, not THAT kind of quickie. This was a day trip from our home to the red rock beauty of Sedona to meet up with Mike and Tamara Reddy who were in the area during their 41 day trip through the southwest.

As you might remember from an earlier post, Betty and I joined them for a few days in Tucson as their RV trip began at the end of April. Now, their route took them north of us, but close enough to easily justify a two hour drive north for conversation, pizza, and wine by Oak Creek.

When Betty and I leave for our two and a half month jaunt in early July, one of our first stops will be in Kanab, Utah, just a stone's throw from Zion National Park. Guess who will be there just one week later? The Reddy's at the start of their 68 day trip through the Intermountain West!

One of the great things about RV travel (and blogging) are the friends you can make and reconnect with in some of the most beautiful locations in the country. This day trip to Sedona is a perfect example.

I thought you'd enjoy some pictures of one of the most dramatic places on earth.













The Four Amigos

Mike and Bob wandering off somewhere

Note: The wildfires that are still burning through Oak Creek Canyon as of today, Saturday, May 24,  have resulting in hundreds of homes and structures threatened and thousands evacuated. Close to 8,000 acres have been burned with the fire less than 10% contained. The only good news is the fire has been contained to the west side of the canyon and is burning away from Sedona.


Summer fires in Arizona, California, and virtually all western states are common occurrences and can change plans and lives in an instant. 


May 19, 2014

Retired and Not Satisfied

If you are a regular reader of Satisfying Retirement you know that I am pleased with how my retirement journey is progressing. After a few rough years of figuring out how to make the most of my freedom and opportunities,  the time since then has been some of the most productive, creative, and satisfying of my life.


If I judge the quality of retirement based on the majority of comments left after each post, I have to assume many readers of this blog are having a similar experience. Rough patches and challenges sure, but the overall experience has been a positive one.


However, to assume that condition is universal would be a mistake. Surely, there are readers of this blog who are not having a satisfying retirement. There are struggles with financial, health, relational, or time management problems. Not going to work leaves a void that has yet to be filled. Trying to fill the day with something more than TV and naps can be a struggle.


As we start the summer season, often we have extra time to slow down a bit and take a closer look at how our life is unfolding. I thought it would be helpful for all of us, no matter how our retirement is going, to solicit comments from folks who are not having a particularly satisfying retirement.


While each of us constructs a unique journey through this stage of life, some of the most helpful post of the last (almost) four years have been those that asked you for your feedback on what is going well.


This time, I'd like to hear from those who have some struggles after leaving work. If you are having a less than satisfying retirement remember you are not alone. In fact, by sharing those things that bother you, other comments and replays should help you feel better about your journey.


If you would prefer to leave your comment anonymously instead of adding your name, please do so. The goal of this post is simple: allow those who are not having a satisfactory retirement to tell us all why, and to allow others to support and encourage all of us.





May 15, 2014

Welcome Back An Old Friend

Just a few of the ham radios in my "shack"
One of the hobbies I became rather heavily involved in after retirement was ham, or amateur, radio. You probably have known a ham radio operator at some point, or seen the large antennas on someone's roof or backyard. You may assume that hobby has pretty much died out. After all, why would you spend thousands of dollars to buy all that equipment to talk with someone hundreds or thousands of miles away when cell phones or Skype are so easy and cheap?

At last count there are over 700,000 ham radio operators in the United States and close to three million worldwide. The number of licensed amateur operators has actually increased over the last several years since the requirement to learn Morse Code was eliminated from the license test. I had to learn code when I earned my license but passed that section by the skin of my teeth.


Of course, the big difference in using a radio instead of a cell phone is often you aren't trying to contact one specific person. Rather, you are just transmitting you call letters and waiting for someone to answer, or listening for other folks who you'd like to connect with. It is also a bit of a thrill to suddenly hear an operator in England or Japan respond to you. In times of emergencies (think Katrina) cell phones or landlines stop working. With a proper battery, ham operators are often the only ones left to help coordinate aid and emergency services.

For the period from 2004 through 2007 I was very active as a ham. In fact, for three of those years I served as the president of a local amateur radio club. I put antennas on my roof and in the backyard, bought several radios for my office, and even installed one in my car. It was fun to talk with other hams across town, across the country, even across the ocean.

Then, I stopped. Without going into the scientific details, it became increasingly difficult to contact people on the radio. These down periods often last up to a decade, so it becomes tough to maintain interest in something that works rather poorly for all that time.

I moved on to prison ministry, church small group leadership, and eventually blogging. While I kept the various transmitters and antennas, I didn't turn on the radios. A hobby that had captivated me disappeared from my life.

The down period I referred to had bottomed out a year or so ago and things on the radio bands were improving, though I hadn't paid any attention. Then, for some reason, about two months ago I turned one of the radios back on. Suddenly I was hearing voices from all over the world. In short order I jumped back onto the air. Within the space of a few weeks I talked with fellow hams in Australia, New Zealand, Wales, The Azores, Portugal, Japan, Germany, and Russia. For the first time in seven years I was enjoying the thrill of contact, the thrill that had enticed me into the hobby in the first place.

Is there a lesson broader than my restarting my long lost ham radio hobby? Yes, I think so. Retirement is a great time to revisit an interest or hobby that once enthralled you. Maybe you used to love model trains, or sketching or painting landscapes. Building simple wooden pieces of furniture or bookcases satisfied and calmed you. Did you once love to quilt, cook, or sew?

Did you collect stamps as a kid? Many of us did (including me) and found the colorful little pieces of gummed paper fascinating. Did you realize there are over 2 million stamp collectors just in the U.S.?

How about ....anything you once did you remember fondly at any time of your life? Now may be the perfect time to dust it off and try it again. Retirement gives you the time to indulge in something that once had a very special hold on you.


May 12, 2014

Toxic Thoughts

Baseball season is only into its second month and the Arizona Diamondbacks appear to have their dreams for 2014 already gone. With the worst start in team history, as I write this they are in last place, 10 games out of first. They began the season with a horrible losing streak that will be virtually impossible to overcome.


At this point, I assume their day-to-day goal is to simply try to stay positive. It would be easy to give up already, but being (overpaid)  professionals who are providing entertainment to those attending games, their job is to go out every day and play as if all those loses don't exist.


It occurred to me that the same attitude is crucial to those of us having a rough go of it in retirement. Like a losing baseball team, it would be easy to throw in the towel, to settle for the (bad) hand life has dealt us, and muddle through.


You know I'm not going to allow you to do that, right? Attitude is the magic elixir of a satisfying retirement. No matter what struggles you are having, they will not be easier to handle if you have a defeatist approach. Thinking about the dark cloud instead of its silver lining will only make your troubles harder to bear.


This is not a Pollyanna approach to the real pain or problems we may have to deal with. Plenty of studies have drawn a definite link between attitude and health, both mental and physical. Not dwelling on the wrong parts of your life actually has been shown to help you find solutions or deal with an issue more quickly and successfully.


Obviously, I am not referring to serious depression. That is a medical condition that must be addressed and controlled. I am talking about those toxic thoughts that that bog you down and color your daily life but can be attacked by a change in attitude and approach.


Most newly retired folks will have times of toxic thoughts: "I will run out of money, I miss my friends, I have nothing to do all day, my health plan stinks," and so on. This phase of retirement usually disappears as we get used to our new schedule and freedom and begin to build a lifestyle that is as satisfying and enriching as we can make it.


Even then, it is much too easy to allow some new obstacle to upset us or force us off our path. We begin to focus on the negatives or the limitations that change has imposed on us. Certainly, I am not denying that a sudden, major change in our health, marriage, financial status, or death of a loved one can throw a large wrench into our world. Life can change in the blink of an eye.


But you've known that for years. Nothing, I repeat, nothing we have today is guaranteed tomorrow. We have no control over the past, and not much more over the future. The only control we absolutely retain is the control over how we respond, how we react when life does its best to knock us off our block.


I have just finished reading a new book that was sent to me for a review. It is one of the Chicken for the Soul books; this one is built around Alzheimer's. You can find the full review here, but the message in each of the 101 essays is the same: the attitude that an Alzheimer suffer has makes all the difference in the world to the quality of his or her remaining time on earth.


If someone dying, or someone caring for that dying person from this horrible disease is able to tell us that toxic thoughts do no one any good, then I am hard pressed to see how I could have the gall to complain about whatever is bothering me.





May 8, 2014

Life Lessons From a Three Year Old


I first ran this post almost four years ago. My then-three year old grandson was the inspiration. He is now seven, and continues to teach me lessons in curiosity and creativity every day. See if you can learn something from him (and virtually all children we come in contact with)


The premise is simple: pay attention to what a child does to gain valuable insight into some basic rules for joyful living.  Here are a few life lessons, courtesy of my grandson.

You can wear the same shirt 2 days in a row.  Adults are often obsessed with cleanliness and freshness. Clothes washers get bigger and faster each year for a reason. If we wear something for even a few hours it is likely to go into the clothes hamper or off to the cleaners. Three year olds aren't concerned with such things. If the shirt covers me, keeps me warm, and isn't too big or small, what does a jelly stain matter?  Who cares that I wore it yesterday? In fact, I don't remember what I wore yesterday.

 I'd save a load of wash every Saturday if I followed his lead. The bigger lesson he is teaching is to not be overly concerned with little things that don't matter much. My grandson saves his focus for the important stuff: food, play time, naps, and his sisters. If something doesn't get in the way of his enjoyment of those four issues, then why worry?

The best toys are the simplest. Give almost any child a cardboard box and he or she will play with it for hours. It becomes a boat, a rocket ship, a train, a fort, the list is endless.

Yet, every Christmas billions of dollars are spend on fancy, high-tech, plastic toys that are forgotten much quicker than the big box in the corner. Complexity is something adults seem to relish, but not kids.

The solution to many problems is often the simplest. In fact, something called Occam's Razor is a well-known scientific principle. It says the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. While adults don't spend much time playing with toys, the belief that something must be expensive or complicated to be best is just not true. Finding my "cardboard box" might be better for me in the long run.

It is OK to create a mess occasionally. Children live in a world of messiness. They are at their creative best when things are strewn everywhere. They easily find connections and uses for all that stuff. While I have no proof, I would bet their minds are a bit messy, too. All sorts of random thoughts, impressions, and stimulations are continuously bouncing around in there. Over time an order is imposed and they learn to think like we do.

Maybe we'd be better off thinking like them, at least part of the time. I am at my peak of production when stacks of books, legal pads, and paper cover the desk. Sticky notes line the edges of the computer screen. It is when I stop creating that I put everything in piles, clean up the papers, and clear off the desktop. Order has returned. Creativity has stopped. I think I'd like to be messier more often.

At times you have to do something you don't want to do. Watch my grandson when it is time to go to bed, or turn off his Thomas & Friends video. Rebellion bubbles just under the surface. He is totally absorbed by some game or play activity, but it is time to stop and do something else. He may not be happy, but he does it. As I noted in last month's post, he knows where the power is. He respects his parents and does their bidding. Does that mean he is always happy about it? Not likely.

As an adult we know there are a lot of things we have to do we don't want to do. In fact, for many of us, that seems to make up most of our day. Unlike a child, we often forget that everything we want, when we want it, isn't going to happen. We get angry or stressed, rude or combative. We have clearly forgotten we don't make all the rules and there are consequences when we forget that.

Changes in routine can be very exciting. The grandkids have their first sleepover away from home in a few days, at our house. My grandson is beside himself with excitement. He was ready to start packing a week ago. His mom had to make a calendar so he could cross off the days until the big event. Both kids visit our home every week or two so that isn't the reason for the excitement. I'm guessing it is a change in where they will sleep and all the things that will be different from their regular schedule that have both of them on cloud 9. It will not be routine.

Change can be exciting whatever your age. This blog makes it quite clear that I view retirement as one of the most exciting and enjoyable times of my life. The routine of working for over 30 years gave way to a time where the only routine is the one I create. And, I am free to create a new routine whenever I want. Come to think of it I like sleepovers, too. In my case, a nice resort in Hawaii or a B & B in England  is probably more my speed than a sleeping bag in the living room. (note: if I were writing this day, I'd probably mention an RV

Love is all you need. With apologies to the Beatles, children are supposed to live in a world of love. I know that doesn't happen all the time and that is a tragedy. But, for youngsters like my grandkids their world is safe, secure, and makes sense because they are loved. They have no doubt that mommy and daddy will protect them and always be there for them. Their world view doesn't yet include hate or oppression or rancor. Their world is love.

The adult world is not so lucky. I'm not going to dwell on all the reasons  but  I doubt many would disagree with the belief that all of us would be a whole lot happier and  joyful if our world view was closer to that of a 3 year old. We know that love isn't all you need. But, the more of it you have in your life the more life you will have in you. 


May 5, 2014

Sailing The Mystery: A Book With A Lot To Teach Us



Sailing the Mystery is the story of Ed Merck, a 63 year old guy who is entering the third chapter of his life more than a little adrift: he is newly divorced, his son is off to college, and his business has been sold. Alone and wondering what is next, Ed begins a journey to self discovery aboard his 36 foot boat, the Kairos, up and down the East Coast.

Along the way he meets and sails with a woman who is at times, fiery and overflowing with passion and energy, and an instant later full of anger and spite. His internal struggle to figure out if this person is a fascinating, and important part of his story. He battles storms, mechanical breakdowns, self doubt, and a sense that he is only playing a role, not the true person he is destined to be.

I am not a sailor and have never been attracted much to boats, but I found Ed's story engrossing. He doesn't gloss over the tough stuff, all while asking the questions and fighting the demons we all battle with as we age.

I underlined several dozen sentences and paragraph that resonated with me as I read his tale. I'd like to share a few of those with you, along with my reaction:

Page 5 "I was somebody in my day, Now...I realize I have become a nobody." Many of us can relate to this feeling when we left a job that had defined us and our place in the world. The author spends many chapters taking us along on his journey to figure out what he is...apart from society's definitions.

Page 7 "Why not just harvest the low-hanging fruit of my life instead of uprooting it all now and jumping into a sea of change?"  Even though change is a part of life, too often we try to hold onto the status quo, even if we might be happier on another path. Ed finds it leaving the old life behind and starting all over indulging in the passion that is sailing.

Page 58 "Once I stop arguing with the way life is, I begin to discover many other delights." If we can just take that first step off the dock......

Page 82 "I have learned that attempting to hold on to anything is an illusion." Probably one of the more profound insights to this point in the book. The tighter we grip something the more we squeeze the life out of it, and us.

Page 196 "I could see then that arriving at my deathbed without having at least attempted the dream of long-distance sailing was unacceptable, even if I ended up not liking it. In my view, the only failure would be not having tried." His understanding that not trying something out of fear you won't like it is not the approach that will satisfy. Rather, trying is its own reward in the long run.

Page 198 "Today is a good day to die. If I died today all would be well." Can any of us ask any more of  our life than that? To have few regrets and much to remember, people to love, and a sense of self equals a life well lived.

I found much to like in this book. The author is open about his flaws and his discoveries, especially his blossoming spirituality. I can recommend Sailing the Mystery.  

If you are interested in hearing from Ed, click on this YouTube video




Check out his website, Sailing The Mystery, for more.
Note: I received a free copy of this book but no compensation for this review.


May 1, 2014

Faith and Retirement

I have wanted to write a bit more about spirituality and retirement for awhile and thought now was the time. As I noted in the post about having necessary retirement skills, I guess that it is natural considering that we have less road ahead of us than behind. Thoughts of what all this might mean and where we are headed become more frequent.

The turn toward faith or some form of spirituality doesn't necessarily mean organized religion. As our culture becomes more secular and more segmented, the number of people who claim to be religious remains high (somewhere around 80%), but attendance at church services seems to decline every year. The latest poll figures I could find report less than 20% attend services regularly. At the same time overall interest in spiritual approaches seems to be growing.

I have mentioned before that my religious faith is an important part of my life. To support the possibility that the importance of faith increases as we age, I will share just a bit of my story which points directly to this occurrence.

Raised in a Christian home, I dutifully went to Sunday School while my parents sang in the choir. That was the extent of the expression of faith in our household. Religion was kept in a neat little box that was taken down from the shelf on Sunday morning and put back by 11am for another week. Faith was just not something I ever thought about. My little league games and my paper route were much more real and important to me.

That "faith in name only" continued until my mid 50's, about 3 years after I stopped working. Then, something started to stir in me, something that was telling me I was missing something important. Long story short, a change to a different church suddenly made me painfully aware that I had been living a lie. Up to that point my faith was just a convenient, expected part of my life as a middle class American, but in no way real and in no way affecting how I lived my life.

At that point, it was as if a fire had been lit inside me. I realized all the years I had wasted thinking I was a believer in a very real God. I realized I knew nothing but wanted to know everything. An intense period of Bible studies, reading all I could get my hands on, small group membership, and a hunger to go to the service each Sunday to hear more began. It continues to this day.

Did this realization happen as I moved through my 50's and now into my mid 60's because I began to grasp my mortality? I don't know. Was my openness to the message due to a feeling of an incompleteness in the life I had led to that point? I don't know. Did God break through my shell of flawed humanness? I don't know.  What I do know is the faith that I found is real to me, and it happened a few years after I retired.

So, how do I explain my faith in a world that "worships" only what it can see, taste, touch, and control? I can't. That's sort of the point: if it could be proven then it wouldn't be faith.

I will be the first to admit I may be wrong. I may believe in something that isn't real. I may be just kidding myself so I can feel better about the fact that a human life is short and then ends with no one remembering you within a generation.

But, I choose to believe that my beliefs are real. I see too many evidences of my changed life and an incredibly complex world that could not have possibly been created by chance. Regular readers have often commented on the generally positive attitude of this blog and my encouragement for those beginning the retirement journey.

I choose to believe that my faith is what causes that attitude and that positive outlook. If you have been turned off by religion, find it odd to believe in something that can't be proven, and think I am way off the mark, I understand.

I was there less than ten years ago. Thank, God, I am not anymore.