February 18, 2015

The One Thing They Never Tell You About Retirement

Just a quick review of the titles of some of the top selling books about retirement paint a picture of ease and contentment. If you were just starting to think about retirement, here is what you might find available:

*You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think
*How To Retire Happy Wild and Free
*The Joy of Retirement
*Barefoot Retirement
*Living a Satisfying Retirement ( a classic !)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with these books. I have read all of them, and written one of them. They contain valuable information and practical information about this transformational time of your life.

Unfortunately, there is one part of this stage of living that most retirement books tend to overlook or downplay: this is a journey without a reliable map.

As someone who spent most of his working life traveling around the United States, have been to Europe, Canada, and Mexico a few times, and traveled almost 15,000 miles in our RV, I depend on maps. Today it is more likely to be a GPS system on the dash rather than the folding type. But, I still do all my planning with paper maps and carry a full set on any trip Betty and I take.

Imagine my shock when I retired 14 years ago and realized that there were no easily accessible, easily transportable, easily understood maps for one of the most important trips of my life. I was about to embark on a journey without any idea how to get to where I wanted to be.


 travelersjoy.com
A few years later I finally understood why there are no maps for retirement: every trip is unique and no one really knows where he is headed. The journey has never been traveled before in exactly the way you will. Kind of scary? Yes. But, quite liberating when you understand that you can't really make a mistake.

A mistake requires a "correct" or acceptable way of doing something. If I slice the ball in golf, back my RV into a picnic table, or forget to pay the water bill I have made a mistake. If I spend all my retirement money in the first five years, I would suggest that is probably a mistake.

But, when you take awhile to figure out what you want to do with your time, decide that naps in the hammock are one of God's gifts to mankind, go back to work because you want to, or enjoy a 10 mile hike at 4 in the morning,  then you can't possibly make a mistake. There are no rules that you are breaking, no normal ways of behavior that you have bypassed.

OK, there is one "mistake" you can make in retirement: allow others to tell you how to live your life. They are in no position to suggest what you should do or how you should act, for the simple reason they are not you. Even the most well meaning advice-giver can't give you the perfect road map for you.

So, the one thing that they should tell us about retirement is this: collect all the information you can, talk with anyone with something to offer, read some good books, and then strike out on your own, unique path. The only "mistake" you can make it following someone else's path.


24 comments:

  1. In all honesty, there are some days that seem easier to navigate in retirement than others. But that's the way of life, regardless of our age. One thing I believe we should try to combat is fear. It sure doesn't take much to cause fear to rear its ugly head: losing a loved one, illness, unplanned expenses, broken relationships, and maybe the worst fear is losing our ability to care for ourselves. It seems like there's more pressure on us as we age because there's that underlying assumption that we've become wiser as the years have passed by. Truth be told, aging doesn't always bring wisdom with it. All you have to do is look around. Our friends who have always overspent funds, are still in the red; those who have been generous are still givers; and those who have lived a carefree/careless life are still trying to do so. All we can do is our best. Keep all the road maps of life handy, put one foot in front of the other, and refuse to let fear overcome our thinking.

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    1. I can always count on you, Pam, for some excellent insight and the ability to summarize an issue in a clear way.

      Fear was my constant companion during the first few years of retirement; I was looking for confirmation of my decisions and an obvious path forward and couldn't find it.....until I relaxed and found it right in front of me.

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  2. I love what Pam said. I am 57, living with a wonderful lady who is single, and 73. I am learning so much from her about life when you get "older." She says that most people are still figuring out what their life purpose is, and Pam you're right; I thought wisdom had kicked in by then, and everyone would be certain of why they are here. She is still searching for that "something" she wants to do now. She still works part-time, but is worried about the "what next." We are both helping one another on our journeys.

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    1. What an interesting part of your life journey is unfolding now, Sonia. I sense a follow up to your book, Freeways to Flip Flops.

      I would agree your friend is right: figuring out what's next is a question that bedevils us until the day we die. Age brings wisdom in so many areas, but also teaches us we don't know all the answers, or even all the questions a lot of the time.

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  3. I agree there needs to be an idea of how you want to spend your retirement, if you are lucky enough to actually have one. For me, I am enjoying the opportunity to experience the gifts God gave me and share them with others. If an income happens to become part of that I will be even happier. I've always felt when you worry about the money it gets in the way. I know that probably sounds ridiculous to you, Bob, but I do believe the saying, 'All I have is all I need.' It all works out in the end.
    b

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    1. From a financial and possession standpoint, I am very much in the "All I have is All I need" camp. But, in terms of my daily life and how I use my mind, it is more like "All I am doing is not all I can do."

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  4. I agree wholeheartedly. Most of us spend our lives doing what "needs to be done" or what others want us to do -- parents, teachers, spouses, bosses. Retirement is the time when, finally, we can do what we want, whether it's volunteering, or continuing to work; or playing golf or going fishing or knitting sweaters. Or the most important activity of all: helping to take care of grandchildren. My only word of caution: Not too much TV.

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    1. Netflix and Amazon Prime can become addictive. I may have pulled the cable TV out of our home, but streaming choices are just as time-sucking. I have to be very careful.

      Liberation from following someone else's map for our life is so important, and all too often, so rare.

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  5. Absolutely spot on, Bob. I have read all the books you listed and more, and enjoy them all. But they do not give anyone a blueprint for success in THEIR retirement. Only you can decide what is right for you. Some people change dramatically while, for good or for bad, others stay the same they always were throughout life. We all need to figure it out on our own.

    At this point I am enjoying some investing, working out, going out with Deb, and plotting out what I want to be doing in my "spare" time. Will be starting yoga on Friday since I want additional flexibility, and thought it would be something different. Putting together all my stuff for all the jobs I have listed to accomplish when the weather finally breaks will also fill up some of that excess time. Bottom line - don't care what others think I should be doing or how I should be acting, since I am doing what I want to do. The sooner people realize that for themselves, the sooner they will be living a satisfying retirement.

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    1. My next post will include a mention that I have been taking Tai Chi lessons for the past 6 weeks. That has been a totally different experience for me and does seem to lessen my need to go to a chiropractor as often. I am quite sure Tai Chi was not on on my "map" until very recently, but it just seemed like a road I wanted to explore.

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  6. One of the best post you've written and I've been reading your blog awhile now.

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    1. Thanks, Craig. Sometimes the right words just seem to flow onto the page. I am glad you found it meaningful.

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  7. Been following your blog for almost 8 months now and find it so interesting and checked full of good information, suggestions, tips. I also find the comments ad more insight as well. About to retire in 6 months so all of this is very helpful. I remain a faithful follower. Thanks for doing such a terrific job, we are indebted.

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    1. Thank you for your readership! Yes, I agree that the comments add real value to this blog. The ideas and insight are very important to us all. I find responding to each forces me to think about both the original post and the comment in a way that increases my awareness of the subject.

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  8. Thrilled you are still writing your blog! See, even your latest thoughts bring out many of your long time readers who are feeling the same as you! I am retired 10 years now and I am still scared about everything even though I have nothing to be scared about. Health is fine, wife's health is fine, we just got back from Florida ( perhaps too soon, 8 degrees here in DC.) I think my dentist wants a new car and wants us to pay for it, but all in all AOK. Please keep writing and giving us your thoughts!

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    1. Thanks, Jack. Maybe another week or two in Florida would feel good! While the east shivers or digs out we are having a warmer than normal late winter which means the streets are packed with snowbirds.

      I will keep writing until i run out of things to say, which my wife claims will be never!

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  9. So true. Some days it is like standing on the edge of a cliff with wings and other days it's like standing on the abyss. The only thing I can add is that whatever roads are on that map/gps change with time and there's no bossy lady to tell you to recalculate:)

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    1. Have you noticed that most GPS systems aren't completely reliable? You can be prompted to take a road that isn't the best way somewhere, or is unpaved, or routes you through the city instead of around it. Isn't that a lot like retirement? Someone else suggesting the best route?

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  10. It's true, we don't have a user manual for retirement, and I think a lot of us kind of blunder along for a while until we figure out our own way. I definitely agree that we should read everything we can find and prepare for the pitfalls we will encounter, put on our best adaptive gear, and keep going.

    You sound kind of peeved. Did something happen that ticked you off and led to this post?
    Rin

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    1. Peeved? No, not at all. This post is just me being me. I do have a "rant" post next week about people treating retired folks as only able to handle the most basic information. But, this post is strictly a wake-up call to anyone just beginning their retirement journey who has been led to believe there is a plan to follow that will lead to success. There IS such a plan, but it is of our own design.

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  11. This post weaves nicely into the one before. There seems to be an overwhelming thought that in order to be "happy" in retirement one needs to be "busy" with friends or activities or charities or something. Last year it came to me that my family was my priority and enjoying them comes at the "lost opportunity" of other things. Guess what, once I figured it out, life became so much better.
    My road map now includes: reading books that have sat for years, chatting and playing with grandchildren and children, and doing other things when the feeling arises. I used to compare my road map with others and worry I would not be "fulfilled" or I was "letting others down". You let me in on your mother's secret of not worrying, and it has eased the burden of not traveling another's map. I can say that I am happy with my journey. If my road turns, I am sure I will figure out how to negotiate the corner.
    Thanks for writing another inspiring post.

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    1. I am following a map that seems to have a few different side roads. Overall, my word for the year, move, has prompted me to take on some activities that I have found invigorating. I will detail some of them in the post that you will see starting on Saturday.

      At the same time I have found the reaction to this post to be supportive of my need for solitude and my personality that is more introvert than not. Again, it is my map and I will follow where it leads.

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  12. I finally retired on January 1st of 2015, so I am a real retirement novice. I am finding my way very slowly, and still just getting used to the idea that I am NOT simply on vacation and will be due back in the office every Monday. The thing I am enjoying the most right now is the luxury of having absolutely no deadlines. I know that the novelty will eventually wear off. It is reassuring to know that there is no particular rush to establish my personal "retirement routine", and that all of this is a completely normal process. I am eagerly anticipating whatever turns my retirement journey takes.

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    1. Welcome to the club, Don. There is no rush and everything you do will be unique to you. Enjoy!

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