Whether retirement is in your distant future or is knocking on the door, just around the corner, it’s useful to understand what life will be like when you’re not clocking in, badging in, doing rounds, or anything else.
Not just in terms of a few days off, or a month off – but what is life like when you’ve hung it up for good?
Let’s learn from someone already on the journey.
In today’s post, we’ll take a look at four lessons — one for each year — that one retiree has learned.
This post was originally published on The Retirement Manifesto.
Many folks wonder what retirement is “really” like. In my final years of work, I wondered about it a lot.
On June 8, 2018, I stopped wondering.
On that date, I crossed “The Starting Line” and entered an exciting new phase of life.
I’ve spent the past four years in retirement, and they’ve been the best years of my life. To capture my lessons from retirement (and, to help those who wonder what it’s really like), I’ve been writing a series of posts on various milestones in my retirement. Since my 4th anniversary of retirement is less than a week away, it seems a good time to add my thoughts on the longer-term lessons from retirement to the Retirement Reality Series.
The Retirement Reality Series:
- What The First Week Of Retirement Is Really Like
- The First 60 Days Of Retirement
- 6 Lessons From The First 6 Months Of Retirement
- The Biggest Lesson From My First Year Of Retirement
- Life After FIRE (18 months)
- What I’ve Learned From Two Years Of Retirement
- 4 Lessons From 4 Years of Retirement (today’s post)
The “retirement mystery” has been solved in my life. It’s no longer a curiosity. It’s my reality.
Looking back over the past 4 years, what have been the biggest lessons from retirement? That’s a big question, and today I’ll answer it. With the longer timeframe, my answers are different than they were earlier in retirement. Interesting, that, and an example of how retirement evolves through various phases.
My Biggest Lessons From Retirement
I’m glad that I’ve been capturing my thoughts as my retirement has evolved in the Retirement Reality Series. It’s been interesting to see how my perspective has changed as time has passed. As I wrote in my very first post, this blog “is the story of my journey, told in The Present before it becomes The Past.” Now that the early days of my retirement have become The Past, I’m thankful that I captured them while they were still in The Present.
My thoughts are different now. Time has a way of doing that. In my earliest days of retirement, the focus was on Freedom. The following quote from my first week captures this sentiment well:
Freedom to do whatever we want to do, whenever we want to do it. For the first time in our lives. Wow, that’s big. And THAT, in my mind, is what the first week of retirement is really like.
Looking back, that sense of newfound Freedom was certainly the highlight of early retirement. After decades of grinding it out at work, the handcuffs had been unlocked. It was an amazing feeling, but I don’t think that’s one of the biggest lessons from retirement. It is, rather, simply a reality of life without work.
As I finished my first year of retirement, I realized life goes on after you retire. By the two-year mark, I realized retirement is fluid, and you need to learn how to roll with it. The following quote from year two captures that mindset:
Retirement changes as the days go by, and it’s best to embrace the fluidity. Go with the flow, listen to your mind, and follow your instincts.
In my fourth year of retirement, the bigger question is what new insights have I gained now that my retirement has stabilized? What lessons from retirement am I applying in the quest to live the best life possible? What can others apply in their journey, with the goal being Helping People Achieve A Great Retirement (my byline)?
Whereas Freedom is a physical reality, and fluidity is the flow of life, my thoughts wander to more philosophical answers as I ponder my biggest lessons from retirement. And, thinking over the past 4 years, I realize that “my thoughts” is the right place to start:
1. Retirement (Like Life) Is What You Make It
I remember two relocations in particular from the ten relocations we endured during my working years. In one of the early ones, my wife and I weren’t too happy about the move. We weren’t excited about where we were going and weren’t looking forward to it. Predictably enough, we didn’t enjoy our 2 years in the location in question. We were looking for the experience to be a negative one, and it was.
Compare that to the next relocation, when we felt excited about where we were going. We were looking for the experience to be a positive one, and it was. We loved our time in that new city and learned an important lesson. From that point on, every time we got relocated we decided to be positive about the move. We couldn’t stop the change from happening, so we decided to look for the “good” and be intentional in avoiding thoughts of the “bad.”
From that point on, we enjoyed every place we lived.
Fortunately, we applied that same mindset to retirement. We intentionally decided in advance that we were going to enjoy this new phase in our lives. Did we have anxiety? Of course we did, but we chose to focus on the positives. Just like a mandated relocation, we couldn’t stop the change, so we chose to embrace it. Anxieties were “bad,” so we limited our mental time to the practical realities of what we could do to offset the risks (e.g., exercise more, keep some cash, etc.). We spent the majority of the time getting excited about the positives, about what our lives would become in retirement. I have no doubt that choosing to focus on the positives is one of the primary reasons our retirement has been successful. The same lesson applies to life.
Focus on the positives.
You’ll find what you’re looking for.
2. Your Life Has A Purpose. Your Job Is To Find It.
I hate to break it to you, but work doesn’t stop when you retire. Quite the contrary.
While the first 1-2 years of retirement can be fulfilling by simply relaxing and enjoying a well-earned break, the reality is that it gets old after a while. Based on my experience and others I’ve talked to, you’ll know the feeling when that time comes. As Stop Ironing Shirts wrote in this post, it happened to him 6-18 months after retirement. You’ll find yourself feeling a bit “adrift,” knowing there’s something more you’re meant to accomplish.
I believe that’s by design.
Each of us is meant to make a difference in our own way (perhaps, even, to make people cry). We have an intrinsic need to be doing something that matters with our time. Only you can determine what that is, and I’ll warn you that it takes a lot of work. Regardless, I strongly encourage you to listen when you start hearing that quiet voice.
Dedicating your time to discovering your Purpose is the best use of your time in retirement. If you’re lucky, you’ll find something. If you’re really lucky, you’ll find several somethings. Don’t be surprised if the “something” you find only lasts a few years. I’ve discovered that in my own retirement, and it’s one of the reasons I’m writing less. Enjoy the flexibility of moving between things that bring you a sense of purpose, and never stop seeking out new opportunities. Your Purpose will evolve, but it gets easier to find as you spend more time seeking it.
There are few things more rewarding in life than doing what you’re meant to do. It won’t be easy, and it doesn’t come naturally. Heck, I wrote a whole book about how to do it. In short:
Pursue it, and exercise that long-dormant muscle of creative seeking. You haven’t been free to explore since you were a child, so grasp it with both hands and never let it go.
Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to find that special something to do with your time in retirement.
Something that matters.
3. Focus On Others Over Self
By definition, our working years were primarily dedicated to ourselves. Each of us was focused on achieving results in our chosen careers, getting those assignments done, getting rewarded, and earning that raise. With our time being consumed by the need to earn a living, most of us didn’t have the luxury of focusing on the needs of others.
That all changes with retirement.
While we’ve earned our Freedom, there are countless others out there who are still held in bondage. Barely scraping by, dealing with a health issue, challenged with emotional problems, struggling with aging parents, worried about the next meal, feeling alone and helpless. Those people are all around you, and it hasn’t been your practice to take notice.
Start paying attention.
I’ve found the best path to a great retirement is to practice the art of focusing on others more than you do on yourself. If you start paying attention, you’ll quickly see the needs all around you. Use that as a starting point, and spend some time thinking about how you can make a difference in the lives of others.
Then, take that first step.
It’s where the greatest happiness is found.
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4. Retirement Can Be The Best Time of Your Life
Most of us have some anxiety about retirement, especially in our last few years of work. While it’s true that retirement increases the odds of depression by 40%, it doesn’t have to be that way. The fact that you’re reading a retirement blog is a great sign that you won’t be among those who suffer. You’re thinking about retirement, you’re planning for it, and you’re trying to learn as much as you can. The highest correlation found between those who had a good retirement and the steps they took leading up to it was how much time someone put into planning for their retirement. Put in a lot of time and your odds of a great retirement increase.
The inverse is also true.
From my experience, the thing I did “most right” was taking the time to really think about retirement in the 2-3 years before I crossed The Starting Line. Not just the financial stuff, but the stuff that really matters. Just scan through the 7 years of writing I’ve done on this blog and you’ll see what I was thinking, every step of the way.
If someone asks me for retirement advice, I give the same answer every time:
“Take as much time as possible to think about what you want your life to become in retirement, then make a plan to get there. Focus as much or more energy on the non-financial side as you do on the money issues. In time, you’ll find they’re more important. There’s no bigger step you can take to increase your odds of a successful retirement.”
As you’re taking that time to think about it, reflect on these lessons from retirement I’ve learned over these past 4 years. I won’t guarantee that they’ll work for you, but I strongly suspect that if you attempt to apply them, your life will be better as a result.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons from retirement over these past four years. If you read through the Retirement Reality Series, you’ll see the learnings have evolved as my journey progressed. That’s natural, I suspect, and I enjoyed challenging myself today to highlight my four most important lessons from retirement. It was also more difficult than I thought it would be.
There are no right or wrong answers in this personal “life quiz.” The important thing is to take some time to reflect as you walk your journey. Be introspective, and consider the things you’re learning along the way. Apply the things that make your life better, and discard the ones that don’t. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
If you’re really courageous, try sharing the lessons you’re learning with other people who care.
I just did.
Now, it’s your turn.
Your Turn: What lessons have you learned in life? In retirement? How have they changed with time? Let’s chat in the comments…