October 18, 2017

Retirement: Feeling Fulfilled Is a Personal Path

A month ago I had a post about working after retirement.  Then, there was one about volunteering. There have been posts about financial investing after retirement, moving, developing your passions....kind of a laundry list of topics that retirees have said are important.

But, still stuck in my mind was a comment from earlier in the summer from a reader that took me to task for what may have been a bit of a contrarian view. He wrote that being busy, traveling, volunteering, or engaging with others isn't really the only way to took at retirement. His point was that not everyone wants to do those things to feel fulfilled. Not every satisfying retirement journey involves all sorts of activities. 

His comment wasn't health-related. It was not that he can't do these things, it's that he chooses not to. His view is that he worked hard all his life to get to a point where he could stop, disengage, unconnect. Being alone with his thoughts, reading when he wanted to, sitting on a park bench, watching TV that entertained him...whatever made him happy was how he chooses to go through his retirement journey.

While I would not be happy that way, if it were the same every day,  that doesn't make me right and him wrong. It makes us different. Fulfillment is a very personal path, and in retirement even more so. Most of the distractions that come with work and extra responsibilities are gone. The path forward is of your making.

I have some close friends who preach the importance of mindfulness. Focusing on what is happening in the present and being very aware of your surroundings is the core of this way of living. While not necessary, meditation or yoga are often cited as examples of engaging in mindfulness. Trying to quiet and focus our minds on the now is the goal. I assume this approach would urge a simpler lifestyle, one that isn't packed with activities and commitments.

Another path to retirement fulfillment could be the concept of minimalism. This doesn't have to mean minimal belongings and living in a tiny house, though it could. At its heart, minimalism requires each possession we have and each life decision we make work to improve how we define a quality life. We attempt to minimize distractions caused by things and maintaining those things. 

Some of my friends are snowbirds. Others travel more than I would want, but that choice satisfies them. Another couple just fulfilled a twenty year dream to live within sight of the ocean. I know some folks who are fighting constant health problems. They are happy to make it through each day without a doctor's appointment and be able to function.

The bottom line is the fellow who left the comment was right: our fulfillment is something each of us sees through a different lens. The only person we should judge in this regard is ourselves. If we are feeling good about our retirement, happy with where we are, and not hurting others, that should be enough. If that means being involved, active, and busy, then great. If it means stepping back from the world and all its noise, then OK.

How do you feel? How much activity and involvement do you require to feel satisfied? Has that changed over the years? Does a porch swing and a good book sound just about perfect nowadays?



38 comments:

  1. There's always something next for us, but I agree it is a personal choice. I love the ideas and examples you set out here. In my experience two things can keep folks stuck and unfulfilled.
    The first is being unable to choose which idea is right for them, for now. The second problem is being unable to just start on their idea of what's next.
    Neither are reasons to stay stuck. There are many resources and supports available. Just start searching now. One discovery will lead to another, and they can be on their way!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Inertia or fear of "failure," whatever that means in retirement, are two major roadblocks in finding the personal path we are all searching for. As you note, it is easy to get stuck in the familiar, even if that isn't particularly pleasing to us.

      Delete
  2. I find it's a mix that works best for us, busy times interspersed with down time -- sort of an ebb and flow to activity. While it's nice to have things on the go it can get out of control and you end up rushing from one thing to another, just like at work! Travel was one thing I wanted time for in retirement, and that can be very busy as we excitedly take in all that other places and cultures have to offer, but slowing down to smell the roses is also one of the reasons I retired. For us balance is the key.
    - David

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, David. Betty and I go through active phases, both together and separately, and then feel the physical and mental need to pull in our wings for awhile. That leads to another burst of something when the time is right. Personally, I have to continually remind myself this stage of life isn't a race, but a controlled stroll. If I go too fast, I miss that "rose smelling" you mention that is so important.

      Delete
  3. I think part of this is "the grass is greener" type thing. We see or read about how satisfying others retirements are and think that their solutions are the answer for us when in reality each person needs to find their own joy in life. One size does not fit all and we need to realize that fact.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are absolutely right, RJ. Humans are hard-wired for improvement in our condition. The problem is figuring out what "improvement" means on an individual level.

      Delete
  4. When I retired just over a month ago, I envisioned doing next to nothing for some time, perhaps into next spring. I am one who has never really had a problem with doing nothing. However, I am already starting to feel a bit of an itch to get some structure and variety in my life. I agree with the comment above about having a nice mix of activity and downtime. And I could draw a parallel to many of today's children, whose parents seem to feel the need to schedule every minute of their free time with teams, lessons and activities. Nothing wrong with kids and retirees taking a break from busyness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So true. I see what younger children do today and I shudder. Time for contemplation, diving deeply into a subject or passion, or simply listening and watching others, is almost gone from a typical child's day. Every moment has to be "productive." I remember lots of time to just be outside playing, or inside talking with a parent or brother, quietly relaxing after school, or napping! Young bodies need breaks.

      As to your situation, that is the normal development. Blessed inactivity and relaxation run head first into the human desire to be productive and grow. It is all about the balance.

      Delete
  5. Hi Bob! I completely agree that we are all different and what one person sees as fulfilling doesn't necessarily work for another. That's why I personally call the process "rightsizing" because it has to fit us each individually. I frequently write about how taking the more frugal and minimal approach to retirement and positive aging can be very rewarding, but I realize that doesn't suit everyone else the same. Satisfaction for one person doesn't always mean satisfaction for another so by providing ideas and different ways to look at retirement and aging we help each other find what is "right" for us. Thanks for pointing that out! ~Kathy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think an important service bloggers like you, Kathy, provide is presenting options. Without judgement, a review of what could (not should) be part of the retirement journey is important.

      As the reader's comment who prompted this post said quite strongly, not all of us want to move off the porch swing. Is that so wrong? Absolutely not.

      Delete
  6. I lean toward the side of the contrarian, but so much retirement literature stresses being engaged and active, taking on a second job, or volunteering for this and that. The opposite is seen as mentally unhealthy or downright laziness or loafing. Less literature focuses on simply "being." So personally I have to work at shucking off both society's dictates about retirement and my own internalization of those dictates to find my own equilbrium between engagement and downright DIS-engagement. Cynically I think, "Of course, powers that be would love it if every senior volunteered X hours of free time to their organization, to do grunt work they don't want to pay to have done." On the other hand, I recognize that some seniors fill a volunteering niche that is both personally enriching and enriching to society. As for myself though, I put on my balance sheet that when younger, from my 20s to my 50s I volunteered incessantly, and now I want to re-direct my remaining energies more to self interest. Also, I really value the insights of the Myers-Briggs inventory which I took many years ago, and now have re-taken several times in abbreviated form. Results show that I am very high on the "I" or intravert side, which doesn't mean that I don't like being around people, but does mean that my make-up requires a very high degree of re-fueling by being alone. Some people stoke themselves up by being around others and crave that. I simply do not. If anyone is interested, a free, self scorable abbreviated, but still accurate version of the Myers-Briggs is at: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp. A fine book on the subject is --Please Understand Me--.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My thanks for an excellent summary of the choice of many of our retired compatriots. You are right, there is a social bias against too much "me" time. It does not take into consideration previous phases of one's life nor the importance to mental and physical health of pulling back.

      One of the many blessings of retirement is we are more free make these individual choices. We only have to develop enough backbone to swim a bit against the tide.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for this. While not yet retired (a few more years), doing all kinds of volunteering does not appeal to me. I've never been a very good volunteer - I'm more of a situational volunteer - helping out those I personally know who need assistance in one way or another. I, too, am an introvert and possibly that is some of it. I have plenty of hobbies and friends, so when I am retired I see myself concentrating on those things, along with my family.

      Delete
    3. Hello Jeannine--I don't know if you'll see my comment, but I like what you said about situational volunteering. It is possible, I find, to live each day in a fairly constant "voluntarily helpful" frame of mind, addressing situations that arise on the spot or just doing small things that call out for being done. For example, I'm the litter control agent for my cul-de-sac and street. Before weekly trash pick-up, I do a walk about and pick it up. I also get to work on mental and emotional equilbrium by trying to not be irked at having to pick up trash which my neighbors have generated.

      Delete
    4. Situational volunteering...I haven't thought of that phrase before, but it really is an excellent way to describe a very helpful type of involvement that could impact a lot of people. Betty and I do that when we prepare meals for someone who needs help in our small group at church, or take them to a doctor's appointment. I just had never thought of it in that way.

      Thanks, Jeannine, and B.E.

      Delete
  7. We prefer/need a mix for sure, as others have already stated. The one thing/area where that would not necessarily be the case, however, is our post-work morning routine, i.e., our now-retired routine. We really enjoy a slow start to our day, which seems to be getting increasing in hours by the year!

    Perhaps as a result of living pretty fast-paced lives once we get started on our day, including a growing amount of evening commitments and activities, we both increasingly relish our slow starts. What once was a single hour to wake up slowly prior to getting started on our days, has now grown to three, sometimes even four hours. Keeping in mind we tend to rise rather early, normally between 5 and 6 AM, we relish this block of personal time. Generally we sit together for an hour drinking coffee and quietly reading, then move upstairs to our individual offices to continue whatever tasks we have going on. Sometime around hour four we'll each give an audible sigh before turning our attentions outward to the world persistently calling our names.

    I think it's the internal balance we each need/desire currently, in order to offset the demands the rest of our day generally delivers, even if all the demands are perceived to be positive.

    It will be interesting to observe how and if this continues to change in the years ahead.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I will remember your morning routine when we visit next year. Betty and I take about 90 minutes reading the paper and slowly beginning the day, but we have dogs to walk so waiting too long makes them nervous! If I have a new post, I clear about 30 minutes to respond to the first group of comments before showering and getting serious about the day.

      The internal balance is the key to how we allocate our time. And, I certainly believe it shifts over time.

      Delete
  8. I was one who started with a pretty active retirement life-full time college at one point, lots more travel than I do now and so on. Having been one of those who has drastically slowed down my retirement life and outside commitments not counting working out. I've embraced more at home time (not necessarily do nothing). I no longer, for example, feel guilt about watching TV in the day time. I work out daily, I spend one morning and one evening a week volunteering, and one afternoon a week knitting and happy hour-ing. Not to say I dont do a great deal of other things spur of the moment, but if I have two or three days at home relaxing, reading, watching TV and so on, I no longer feel guilty-and I rarely make lists, if ever. I am of the mindset that there is very little that HAS to be done on a daily and weekly basis, and I am also a "do the things I want first" and fit in those have to's when I darned well feel like it kind of person.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is the type of internal balance that Tamara was referring to above and how it changes over time. I watched TV a few days ago at lunch time and it felt oddly wrong! But, we enjoyed the show while eating and talking, so why did I feel that way? Conditioning of my past, I guess.

      I have been a list maker all my life and continue to be that way. But, and this is an important but, I am much more likely to move something to another day or another weekend and not feel like I am cheating.

      Delete
  9. I haven't read the other comments but I agree. After over 34 years working as a social worker I am at a point where I don't really have any interest in volunteering. Perhaps the demands of my job left me feeling burned out, and I may change my mind in the future. Who knows?

    At this point, only 7 months into retirement, I am enjoyed basically doing what I want at my own pace. Keeping house, occasionally taking care of the grandkids, and my biggest retirement task to date, a new puppy, which keeps me pretty busy.

    But at this time, I am content with my life and feel completely satisfied without the need to volunteer to feel fulfilled.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If your lifestyle leaves you feeling completely satisfied then it is the right one for you, right now. 7 months into retirement is still when most folks are simply enjoying the freedom and ability to do what you want when you want. Stick with it as long as it feels right.

      Delete
  10. Nice Post this morning Bob. As I sit here responding to you over a cup of my morning java, I feel no need to rush and go plan my "next thing" I must get done today, right now. That's what a Satisfying Retirement is for me. For others, They may have an agenda of travel to "rack up the miles." and that's cool too.

    The majority of us on reading your blog have or will soon leave the "work world" behind. For each person, It will be a time of freedom from schedules and a time of transition of "figuring things out." Just like our first job, regardless of whether you stayed in the same profession or made job changes. There were always adjustments you made along the way with some "miss-steps." That's just part of the learning curve.

    The one common denominator that we all share is, we are more conscious of this season of life and we only have so many trips around the sun. So, make the most of each day and enjoy each "moment' whatever that means to you. We are all unique.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have nothing to add to your perfect summary of the best approach to retirement: one we uniquely craft for ourselves. Sometimes when we hit a rough patch we tend to forget all of life has rough periods. Why would retirement be any different?

      Thanks, Russ. You are spot on.

      Delete
  11. Funny your topic should be exactly what my spouse and I were just discussing: what is MY idea of a fulfilling retirement? I have been retired for a year and a half from an extremely busy overworked toxic environment. Most of my time now is VERY low key: reading, blogging, emailing, gardening, babysitting our grandson. I tried to keep up the energy and pace at home that I put into work. That lasted just over a year and then I had a breakdown from exhaustion. It's been a long hard haul back to being able just get out of bed in the morning, to not have four or five naps a day, going to bed at 7 at night which added to my husband's burden of having to not only continue to work fulltime but also do the cooking and shopping because I couldn't get out of the house. I recently thought I was healthy enough to try to work a part time job and was rather quite excited about it until my hubby reminded me that some days I can't even work an hour in the yard without having to come indoors for a rest. He said we certainly aren't rich but we aren't suffering between what he makes and my pension which is about half my former take home pay so I needen't feel I have to work to bring money into the household. He said he's proud that we have managed to get to where we are at our age (not yet 60) and he encourages me to stay at home and sit all day if I want to. He said I've earned it. So for now, I shall spend my retirement days lounging like I used to dream of doing on those extremely stressful days that I was at work, dreaming of not commuting two to three hours a day (especially in winter), longing for the day that I was not tied to ungrateful people and a job that was sucking the life out of me but sleeping past 6 in the morning, savouring a huge cup of hot chocolate or three, reading three books at a time, gardening, babysitting a day or two a week. No, I am not as busy as some people that's for sure. I had truly thought many years ago that my retirement life would involve doing so many things that I just couldn't do while working fulltime and raising our children. I had grand thoughts of reorganizing our gardens, painting and upgrading the house, spending more time with my elderly mother and friends, volunteering at half a dozen different places that hold special places in my heart and taking all sorts of educational classes. Fast forward a couple of decades and my ideas and reality collided and reality won. I don't think I'm envious of retirees who manage to squeeze in some activity every minute of their waking hours. I just know that right now, for the moment, I have a low key low energy retirement which is working just fine for me. Maybe that will change once my health returns, if it does. I still have ideas of volunteering, maybe taking some classes, maybe even working a few hours a week. Just not right now. Thanks again for your posts!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am very pleased you took the time to leave your thoughts. Your decision is exactly what this post is all about: what is right for you isn't what is right for someone else at this stage of their life. Our personal path to happiness is just that: personal. Fulfillment is measured is all sorts of different ways.

      I must say your husband is quite a guy. He deserves an extra hug for being sensitive to your needs and abilities at this time. Thank him for me.

      Delete
  12. Nice relevant post; and interesting comments. I'd just like to add that what we find fulfilling may change over time . . . what we want to do when we're 65 may be much different from what we think is important when we're 80. Retirement can cover a lot of years. But bottom line: the great thing about retirement is that now you can finally do what's important to you, not what's important to your boss!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Tom. Yes, I agree about change over time. My daily schedule today is much different than it was at 52 and I assume will adjust again as I enter my 70's and 80's. And, yes, keeping the "boss" happy is important!

      Delete
  13. Satisfaction in retirement is so subjective. Boring to one may be busy to another. It's the freedom of retirement. Bob, you responded to Tom Sightings - keeping the "boss" happy is important. We are each our own boss! In retirement, we can honestly say - you're not the boss of me! Prior to retirement, people asked what I would do. I often responded that those things I did before 8AM and after 5PM, I would do between 8 & 5. The truth is, I get those things done between 10 & 5 because I'm relishing the luxury of a slow morning. I like to start the day with reading and writing over the first cup of coffee and puttering until I'm ready to move forward. I've had a run of 8 days with commitments out of the house and am looking forward to a few days rejuvenating and tending to things at home. It's about balance for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it all about maintaining the balance that is right for us at each stage of retirement. You are one of several folks who have written about a slow start to the morning. THere is one day of the week when we have to be up and ready earlier than normal. Luckily, the other six can be taken at our own pace. It is delightful.

      Delete
  14. Like others, I took some downtime to recover from the world of work. :-) After doing nothing but what pleased and relaxed me for a while, I decided to volunteer, but it took almost two years. During that time I sometimes felt a little stressed by the inaction, so I had to learn to just be. Massage and meditation both helped.

    We get a slow start here, too, unless one of us has an appointment or a volunteer activity. The dog does demand a walk by about 8, so one of us has to get outside for him, which we consider a good thing. And we both really like the social interaction of our volunteer activities.

    We have been doing some travel, but honestly, we can both feel ourselves enjoying the craziness less. Maybe it's the abject misery that air travel has become, or maybe the crowds that now seem to be everywhere. We most enjoy places with hiking trails, wilderness and quiet more and more as we get older. I expect that finally morphs into not wanting to go too far, but we'll keep going for now. I do see my mom getting slower and staying closer to home the older she gets, and I expect I will too.

    --Hope

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Friends ask if I miss the RV and our ability to just go. The answer is, no. I am enjoying not being gone for weeks, or even months at a time. A few short trips keep us content.

      Our dog (and often my daughter's dog, too) are taken to a local park around 9 in the morning. They really enjoy the running they can do, while Betty and I enjoy the cooler feel of mornings and having the time to be with the dogs.

      Delete
  15. One reason that I retired early was that my work situation was so stressful with such long hours that I ended up with burnout and other health issues. So, since retiring, I have been relishing having free unstructured time. I have been avoiding taking on any regular time commitments. I sleep nine hours a night! Like others have mentioned, I have a slow start in the morning, sitting around sipping coffee, doing my online language lessons, reading, and blogging. I imagine that in time, I will begin to add more structure and commitments, as I have always been a busy bee. But for now, for the first time since I was a preschooler, I am learning to just be.

    Jude

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I try to keep any volunteer activities to afternoon hours for the same reason: I don't want to feel rushed in the morning. Now that the weather has finally started to cool off, enjoying morning coffee and lunch on the back patio are special times I don't want to miss.

      I hope the person who left me the comment that prompted this post feels some vindication from the number of retirees who also enjoy a minimum of commitments, and feel absolutely no guilt about it at all.

      Delete
  16. I am a (very happily) single woman who has lived alone for most of my adult life. I have lots of friends and activities that I'm involved with, but I also have high needs for solitude. I am very purposeful in reserving time for myself -- mostly in the mornings when I don't answer the phone or interact with other people in any way. Generally, my mornings include time outside connecting with the natural world (I live in a rural area), time for reading, and time for writing. In addition to my solitary mornings, I try to keep at least two days a week free of the need to socialize with others. My level of solitariness would feel isolating for many people, but for me it's essential to happiness and my feelings of fulfillment. -Jean

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Except for the pull I feel to respond to blog comments first thing in the morning, I also try to avoid the computer and other "tasks" during the first few hours of waking up. For the longest time if I didn't accomplish something meaningful before lunch I felt I had already wasted the day...how silly. I am getting better.

      Delete
  17. Just like BEFORE retirement, what creates fulfillment seems to change over time. We did a lot of hanging around the woods, hiking and living in the mountains the first year. Then Ken felt the urge to work part time. We moved back to the Valley-- so for a while moving seemed to be our "hobby!!!" As we settled in again, I was fulfilled by volunteering a lot at theBotanical garden, playing cards with friends, doing crafts. We did a few cruises then a big European trip.Now, we don't feel like traveling a lot, just short trips here and there,I am back at real estate--working a schedule I enjoy that makes it fun for me, Ken continues to do some healing work two days a week. We spend time volunteering at Paz de Christo, still meet with friends and neighbors for games, church pot lucks, etc.. I got VERY busy with updating my real estate skills this past 2 months-- many many classes! And I felt the balance of life go out the window, but am scaling back now.. I accepted a chance to teach a youth class at our Unitarian church in the new year. I don't like driving so far on 2 freeways so am only doing Botanical Garden here and there.. seems we just go with the flow and change it up as we want to-- and that,I think, is what defines "retirement" in this day and age.. We also appreciate the small pleasures of Life, such as the library dates,reading,painting, playing music.. more than we thought-- it isn't just the BIG STUFF you read about like tons of travel , that appeal.. the freedom to make all these choices is awesome.. we retired from our other way of life, but we still enjoy working some..and playing a LOT!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have certainly tried many different approaches to retirement lifestyles, and that's great. Each thing you did taught you a little more about what pleases you and what doesn't. Knowing you, I'm pretty sure you aren't done experimenting yet!

      Delete
  18. Ive been retired since May 2013, and I am still getting questions about what I do “to fill the day.” This always catches me off guard, and I find myself trying to justify my activities, or lack of them. I usually just quote that the old adage about not knowing how I had enough time to work now that I don’t.
    My wife and I both enjoy our loose schedules. We have dogs, as you earlier commented, and this gives structure to the morning, and we both have church activities together and separately. Grocery stores, gym, etc. round out our weeks. But really beyond this, every day is different. What a blessing!
    OKJeff

    ReplyDelete

Inappropriate comments will be deleted