November 17, 2015

Update: So, You're Retired: What Do You Do All Day?

A post I wrote a little over five years ago remains the most-read one on this blog. In that time, almost 36,000 folks have clicked the link to take a peak inside the life of a retiree. Fresh comments are still left on a regular basis by someone who just discovered that post and wants to be part of the discussion. I love to see that; it means what has been written is still relevant.

So, You're Retired: What Do You Do All Day was written just a few months after I starting blogging. If I wrote that post today it would be quite different. In the five years that have slipped by I have changed my attitudes and understanding of a satisfying retirement. I have a better understanding of what leaves me feeling fulfilled. I have a much clearer picture of what is meaningful.  I have a better handle on the concerns that have turned out to be not important or worth the worry.

The path to my satisfying journey is available in previous posts available in the archives. I invite you to take some time to see if anything resonates with you and your needs. And, I do encourage you to email me if you have a specific concern or problem that you'd like my thoughts on. 

What I'd like to do with this "reboot" version is to take a quick sample at what the last few years of some national studies and authors have written about retirees and their use of time. Then, I ask you to comment on how well what has been described matches your day. I will bet there will be some very interesting and important differences!

One nationally respected source lists these three top "activities:"

  • Reading
  • Resting
  • Watching TV
A little farther down the list are:
  • Sleep
  • Shopping
  • Chores
  • Volunteer work
What seems to be missing are some rather important activities for retirees. Even though the number one concern of the vast majority of us is the state of our health, this list does not indicate that physical exercise or staying active is even in the top ten. Finding an activity or hobby to become passionate about is also missing. Spiritual development is something that many retired folks find is much more important in their lives; it isn't noted.


Another author was a bit more thorough. Financial concerns and management take up parts of a typical day. Working on relationships may not seem like it needs to be on a list of what retirees do during the day, but the author (and I) would certainly suggest it is vital. Nothing can make a 24 hour day a miserable experience than being with another person, all day, every day, and being unhappy or argumentative.

One writer used a phrase I understand, but I have a problem with because he is probably right more often than not: "Retirement takes place at the margins." He is implying that a typical retired person lives a life not that different from his or her working years, except in some of the spare time that now exists. Watching TV, eating, sleeping, doing household chores, shopping......a day after retirement looks like a day before.

Certainly, there are basic activities and duties we all must perform regardless of our employment status. I do agree that there are a lot of retired folks who fill their time with just more of the same. But, the comments left on hundreds of blog posts over the last 5+years, the research I conducted for my last book, my relationship with other retirees, and my personal experience tells me that a retirement that "takes place on the margins" is a wasted retirement. 

If the only way to tell if someone is retired is the the lack of regular paychecks or a daily commute, then that is a sad. For many of us, retirement will last almost as long as the years spent employed. If we are careful to watch our money we are not likely to "run out." If we take care of our bodies and minds by staying active and engaged, we will have productive decades ahead of us.

If we find a passion, nourish our relationships, give some part of ourselves to others, and understand that there is something greater than us watching over us, a satisfying journey through retirement is not only possible, but likely. 

Each day is a day full of possibilities and promise. What do you do with that time?



30 comments:

  1. It is interesting to me that what I do with my time has evolved, in a good way! It took me a while to adjust to having the day as my own, and I can remember early on being very concerned about what tasks I accomplished during any given day.

    Fast forward to today. My focus is on experiences rather than tasks. I imagine this is true for a lot of retirees. Recognizing possible future limitations due to health, I recognize that now is the time to explore to the fullest all that life has to offer us.

    My days almost always include some physical challenge for myself. I find this extremely rewarding. It is something I look forward to every day. It lifts my spirits and gives me a great mindset for the rest of the day. It is my daily socialization with the outside world, and, weather permitting, allows me to commune with nature while challenging myself physically.

    My volunteer activities at this point in my life are driven my family needs, helping those who are frail, infirm, or with mental challenges. Being perfectly honest, these commitments are difficult for me, but I know it is the right thing to do.

    Expanding on opportunities for adventure includes travel. The memories created by traveling and the experience of different cultures, ideas and people continues to enhance our lives and provide new perspectives.

    I don't find too much time for "resting" or watching TV during the day. But that is the beauty of retirement; you can choose to fill your days with whatever you wish.

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    1. You describe a nice balance, Carole, even if some of the things you are doing at this time in your life are tough or not always pleasant. Humans are not created to simply sit on the beach and sip drinks while watching the waves, though that makes for a very nice recharge experience!

      Like you, I am attempting to increase my experiences vs. tasks. This year has been an interesting blend of both, with the death of my dad, a move, a heart attack, and a tremendous time at Disneyland with the grandkids and family. It has helped bring more into focus the ticking clock that exists for all of us.

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  2. I had to smile at the author's "Retirement takes place at the margins' comment." If he is implying that we become more of who we already were outside of work, than I would say he is correct, but in our case, and in the case of many other retirees we know, I would add 'and then some!'

    The only thing standing between retirement and a deeply fulfilling life are the choices made by the individual retiree. Choose poorly, and yes, I would imagine life can become flat fairly quickly. Choose wisely, however, and it can become the most exciting and satisfying time of one's life.

    The one thing that seems to be overlooked by many retirees is that a satisfying retirement, just like a satisfying career, takes a significant amount of time and energy. Energy begets energy, and conversely passivity begets passivity. It's up to us to decide which way we wish to proceed.

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    1. To all readers: Tamara is one-half of whom I affectionately call, "The Energizer Couple." She and her husband definitely don't live retirement on the margins. They are continuously wall-to-wall and pushing the edges.

      You comment, Tamara, about the time and energy that must be invested into maximizing time and energy is dead on. Just like increasing the weight one lifts at the gym results in the ability to lift more weight, a retired life can only grow when energy, both physical and mental, is spent when moving toward a goal.

      See you guys in less than two months in Palm Springs!

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  3. I remember reading on the U. S. News Retirement website that what retirees SAY they like to do is travel, volunteer and visit family. But what they actually spend most of their time doing is relaxing, or as you say, reading, resting and watching TV. But I think that includes all the truly elderly who don't have very many options left to them. So to me it just underscores how important it is for us "younger" retirees to do something meaningful -- whether it's traveling, volunteering, raising grandchildren, or whatever -- while we still have the energy and the opportunity.

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    1. Two nights ago I was looking for the photo that is at the top of this post. That process gave me the chance to look at hundreds (maybe thousands!) of photos of our past four years of RV trips and travel in general. Betty and I look very happy in virtually all those pictures. I was reminded of how breaking the bonds of normal day-to-day life can be so joyful.

      You are so right: doing what we want and what we can while we still can is so important.

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  4. How funny that I decided to check on your blog today. Today I turn 58 which starts my clock's countdown to semi retirement at 62. I've been thinking about how many hours I'd like to work each week, and have figured that 24 hours in any combination would suit me. I'll always read and still plan to attend concerts and plays. I can see now where retirement probably won't change that much unless there is something that one really wants to do. Isn't that the whole point...to live life as it comes and on your own terms. I'm excited to have made it this far, And I sure hope you're still blogging when I finally say goodbye to my fulltime work life. Maybe that's your challenge blog until you turn 70!

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    1. Four more years? Who knows. That is the great thing about retirement: I can do what I want when I want (at least most of the time!).

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  5. Enjoyed the read and comments. I'm 61 and planned on retiring at the end of the year. My company asked if I would consinder hanging around a few more months while they look for a replacement. I agreed to stay until April - June time frame but no later. I felt this would give me a little more time to finalize/plan things out. Does your readers have any comments concerning things I may want to check/recheck or look into/do prior to leaving the working world? last chance. Steve

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    1. Besides lots of the older posts on this blog and my book, fellow blogger Tom Sightings has published a new book that is an excellent overview of all stages of retirement. It is titled, You Only Retire Once, and is available through Amazon.

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    2. I read several retirement books (though not Tom Sightings' You Only Retire Once) and thought Dave Bernard's “I Want To Retire!” to be one of the best.

      - David

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    3. I think the primer on how to create a wonderful life in retirement is 'The Joy of Not Working' by Ernie Zelinsky. It's excellent, and will give you guidance on how to go about creating an exciting-to-you next chapter of life.

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  6. One thing I spend a fair amount of time doing is taking free online courses, most often through Coursera, but sometimes EdX. I just started a new one last week on "The History of Modern Israel: From an Idea to a State." The other day a fellow online student introduced me to another player in the free online course business, FutureLearn.com. I got an email today announcing a "Successful Aging" course coming up in February. Here is the link:

    http://tinyurl.com/oeofjst

    http://tinyurl.com/oeofjst

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    1. It must be really good since you listed it twice! Just kidding. I will certainly take a look. I like on-line courses and have completed several.

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    2. :) I noticed that, but unlike Facebook, I don't think there is a way to edit a post here!

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    3. Thank you for this link! It's fabulous; I've started a course and will take others I'm sure. I have taken before from Coursera but they are not aligned with my interests any longer so this is a great gift :)

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  7. Reading would probably be at the top of the list for me in terms of waking hours -- but I'm probably spending fewer hours reading than I did in my academic career. What I am reading has also changed. I wouldn't classify reading as a non-meaningful activity. My reading is more diversified now than it was when I was working. I do more reading purely for pleasure; I can read a novel when the mood strikes me rather than waiting to fir it in during a school vacation.Part of what gives my life meaning is learning and growing, and reading is an important vehicle for my learning and growth (along with taking and teaching courses at the local Senior College). I do more challenging reading in areas outside my expertise than I did when I was working, some of it for research and some of it just out of intellectual curiosity. My reading is often closely tied to the time I spend writing on most days. I also spend significant time in physical activity. I walk 2-3 miles 6 days a week, and I spend 6-8 hours a week doing heavy outside chores (in the past six months: laying 220 square feet of concrete pavers, creating four new flower beds, gardening, and stacking four cords of firewood). I try to make sure that each day has a mix of intellectual and physical activity, purposeful activity and time to just be in the moment, maintaining a healthy balance that I found difficult when I was working at a very demanding job. -Jean

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    1. You and I should start a book club, Jean. I love to read and always have at least 4 or 5 books on the coffee table. They are a mix of murder mysteries and all sorts of non-fiction topics. I just finished Ted Koppel's scary look at cyber attacks and am now reading a book on the French's attitude towards sensuality and living life to satisfy all the senses. I started it before the Paris attacks but find it even more interesting now.

      I like your mix of physical and mental tasks.

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  8. Besides the reading, walking the dogs, volunteering as a Ski Patroller, wood shop projects, playing guitar, gym time, backpacking, traveling, grand parenting,loving and being loved by my wife, dinner with neighbor's, poker with my men's group, I do find the time to pause several times a day and shake my head in wonder at how marvelous and precious this amazing opportunity called retirement is.

    True, bill paying, doctor appointments, car maintenance, house cleaning, laundry, shopping and cooking still take a chunk of time, but spaced out at a leisurely pace, they end up as things my wife and I can work on together.

    I've followed your writing from day one and continue to enjoy it. Keep up the good work, and be well.

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    1. Thank you for your loyalty and support over the past 5+ years.

      Retirement does deserve a head shake now and then; it is an amazing time of life.

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  9. That is such a common question in retirement. I do many of the same things I did before retirement. I often said that those things I did before 8am and after 5pm I would do between 8-5 in retirement. I've always believed in service and volunteerism, education, maintaining my physical well-being and spiritual growth, tending to my home and family. Retirement offers me time to do those things in a much more mindful way. Tasks can get wrapped up much more efficiently instead of them being spread out over snippets of time before or after work. I say yes more and no less often because I don't have to hurry home to get to bed so I can get up the next day and go to work. I can extend my volunteer hours to the local community club and expand my volunteer efforts to organizations like Habitat for Humanity. I think that's what the author means re: retirement takes place at the margins. Retirement isn't the end goal but part of the big picture on this journey of life.

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    1. Retirement isn't the end goal but just part of the journey...absolutely, Mona. Too often folks face retirement with dread or worry. But, with even the minimum planning and foresight, it can be a magical time.

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  10. Could not agree with you more that exercise should be near the top of any retiree's list. Personally I have taken ER as a chance to get back into very regular exercise, although I was probably ahead of most of the population beforehand. Now, though, I have the time to get serious about running and try to be competitive at the Senior Games at the state level, and with some luck and perseverance, at the national level. And if not, I'll be the better for it regardless. I do not believe I could be doing as much as I am if I was still sitting on planes and in meetings; in fact I know I could not.

    Retirees have to push themselves both mentally and physically to exercise. Unless one has a debilitating disease or ailment, there is absolutely not excuse to not.

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    1. I have dropped nearly 10 pounds since my heart episode in August while on vacation in Portland. That leaves me 5 more to go for my personal goal. Between the elimination of junk food from my diet and increased exercise, the weight loss hasn't been that difficult, though slower than I anticipated!

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  11. Interesting. I had pretty much decided to blog three times a week instead of two, and make one of them on any given day a "this day in retirement" just because I get emails all the time about the "but what do you DO?" factor. I don't as such object to the "in the margins" phrase because as another blogger said, I'm doing the stuff now that I had to put off for after work or on the weekends. In my case reading is of course up there front and center, lol. As is sewing, volunteering, going to the movies, travel and who knows what else. I do wish I exercised more than I do and am trying to get that into some kind of schedule-when at home I actually do that at the end of the day.

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    1. That would be an interesting blog topic on a regular basis because the question is so universal.

      Several comments have given me a different perspective on the "margins" comment. I have interpreted it to mean the same day-to-day life while working continues into retirement, except for some stuff on the edges of one's day that you are now free to do. But, that may not be what the author meant. In any case, a good discussion.

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  12. This morning after breakfast and coffee, I took my classic Honda motorcycle out for an invigorating ride. With no time constraints, I rode to one of my favorite places for coffee, paired with the delicious traditional donuts you remember growing up with. The ride there was exhilarating to say the least. When you ride a motorcycle all your extremities are engaged as well as your senses. You are "doing" and not just passively observing. I was layered up (clothing wise) so the cool, brisk fall air just re-energized my senses rather than dull them. With no enclosed box surrounding me, I was truly exposed to the road and the cars around me.

    Upon arriving at the donut shop, I placed my order for coffee and a glazed twist. Does it get any better? This was a moment to savor the fresh roast coffee and that decadent sugar goodness! Yum, you can join me anytime.

    After safely arriving home, I went downstairs where I have an actual drumset set up and played along with some engaging worship songs. Again, as a drummer all the extremities are moving as one. Truly a blessing for one who's a member of club medicare.

    And then, I sat down to respond to Bob's topic of the week.

    Sure, there will always be days of getting the mundane things done. But, being retired it's on your schedule. I have made a pact to myself I will each day do something for someone else, get daily exercise by walking our dog, Henry, and something fun like go for a motorcycle ride. These are activities you can't just "Free-Style" while you're in the workplace.

    We all have passions of what we wish to do with our time. You also have time to discover them if you don't have one. The days come and go. How you spend your time will "time-stamp" those special moments. So... what are you waiting for? "The clock is ticking," as Bob shared with us. We should make the most of each day, there are no guarantees about tomorrow. Amen

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    1. Betty and I are about to buy a few bikes, but the kind you pedal. There are so many places to explore in our new neighborhood that I am really looking forward to it.

      Today we made time for a picnic at a fantastic nearby park. It has lakes, waterfalls, a railroad and small amusement rides for children. Hundreds of ducks and geese kept Bailey, our dog, on high alert while we had our sandwiches and chips....a perfect lunchtime break.

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  13. After I eat my way through Thanksgiving and Christmas, I'll be preparing for a very adventurous an interesting year ahead. I will start out by participating in Longview's annual "freeze your fanny" bicycle ride in February. Then I will start preparing for the Great River bicycle ride mapped out by Adventure Cyclist from Muscatine,Iowa to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a 1400 mile solo self-contained bicycle ride in April/May. In June i'll head for the Hells Canyon area of Oregon/Washington for a week of dual sport motorcycle riding. In July, my son-in-law, daughter, granddaughter and her boyfriend and I will participate in the annual bicycle ride across Iowa (RAGBRAI) with 8500 of our closest (similar to Facebook) friends. Shortly after, my brother is treating my sister and I to a two-week excursion in Europe with a week cruise on the Danube River. In November, my daughter is treating me to a one-week Royal Caribbean cruise out of Galveston. During that cruise I will be celebrating my 80th year. Following the cruise, we will all get together at my house for Thanksgiving and if all has gone well over the year I will have a lot to be thankful for.

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    1. I didn't have that kind of energy when I was 30, much less 80! Absolutely awe-inspiring. Good for you.

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