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Seven Key Lessons After 3 Years in Retirement

Author Greg Davis

In two months, I will hit my 3-year mark of retirement.

I officially retired at the age of sixty-one in the summer of 2021 after a rewarding career of four decades. My wife and I sold our Champaign, Illinois, condominium in June 2021 and moved back to the East Coast during the summer to be closer to family and friends. 

The decisions I have made since have given me a new perspective on what matters most in my new phase of life.  In today’s post, I’ll share 6 key lessons I learned in my three years of retirement


1. Stay Positive

I am enjoying retirement immensely. But it’s not always easy growing old.  At age 64, there are more health issues to contend with. As you age, you lose more family members and friends. Then there is the stark reality that you or your spouse might have to live alone for some part of your retirement.

But The biggest thing I have learned so far is not to worry so much about stuff. Most of our worries are about something that we cannot control or influence in any way. I have developed a new mindset that allows my worry quotient to be much less, and I am much happier.


Per some research, I read a New York Times article by Melissa Kirsch where she asked her readers to submit the best changes to their routines in 2023. One reader responded: “Each week this year I wrote something that happened that I was grateful for on a slip of paper and put it into a jar.”

I love this idea as it is a wonderful way to try to stay positive when things are not going your way. If we write down some of the good things in our life that we tend to forget, we can revisit them during challenging times. We might also put the jar where we can see it, so it is a constant reminder of all the positive things in our life.


2. Continue Your Journey

Although I am retired, I still want to add value and feel valued. 

In addition to traveling and spending more time with my family, I plan to continue to serve on boards that mean a lot to me. 

After three years, retirement is going well for me as I accepted a board of director position on the HE&R Employee Support Fund (ESF) just before retirement. This fund provides immediate short-term financial assistance to eligible team members experiencing financial hardship. 

While I love being part of this ESF committee that has helped numerous employees since its 2003 inception, it also allows me the opportunity to reconnect with some of my favorite coworkers from my twenty-three years at Hershey.


3. Be Smart About Your Finances

A lot of people I know do not have an earning problem; they have a spending problem. I believe in saving more than I spend, preparing for a rainy day, and enjoying life along the way. While it doesn’t make sense to deny yourself and save to the point where you are not living, you do need to save, plan and work hard to build a nest egg. 

As my retirement approached in 2021 after a rewarding career, my wife and I collaborated with our financial advisor to determine our streams of income in retirement. As 2022 has taught us, inflation can have a major impact on our retirement needs. Higher prices combined with greater medical expenses in our older years make it critical to ensure our income and investments can support our longer lives. 

One of the initial challenges during the initial year of my retirement in 2022 was to watch the stock market suffer their worst year since 2008 as overall markets plunged 20%.  Sticky inflation and aggressive rate hikes from the Federal Reserve battered growth and technology stocks and weighed on investor sentiment throughout the year. Geopolitical concerns and volatile economic data also kept markets on edge.

As a newly minted retiree, it was challenging to watch our retirement portfolio drop by over $350k in our first year of retirement (UGH)! The good news is that by sticking with our long-range plan in collaboration with our financial advisor, we were able to recoup over half of these losses with the positive returns experienced last year in 2023.


4. Take Charge of Your Health

Prioritize your health now, because if you don’t, you may never enjoy your retirement. Like it or not, your body changes as you get older, and it requires extra attention. Be proactive about doctor’s visits and diagnostic tests. Eat well and get regular exercise.

I try to walk often in my new city of Philadelphia or throw in a bike ride along the riverfront on nice days. I lift weights with my wife at least two times a week. I try to stretch for 20 minutes two to three times a week as I feel much better physically and mentally. Picking up the popular game of pickleball is on our horizon.

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5. It’s Okay to Say No

I simply avoid negative people and things I do not want to do. I am making less Zoom calls and I have stopped doing online presentations, which I find a bit impersonal. I spoke in several live classrooms within the past year and absolutely loved it! I want to make real connections with inspiring people.


6. Friends Matter

I dedicated my first full year of retirement in 2022 to fulfilling a bucket list item; writing a book. Through my book, I have reconnected with several friends from my childhood and prior coworkers at both Hershey & University of Illinois. 

While challenging at first, moving to a big city can make the process of making friends difficult. Now I have gained more local friends thanks to starting a chess club in my condominium building. 

We plan to join a pickleball club within the next year which will give me new friends that I will see on a more regular basis. As you get older, an active social life makes a dramatic difference in your state of mind.


7. Don’t Forget to GIVE BACK!

The freedom that comes with FIRE means we have a lot more flexibility. Sure, there are a lot of details that still need to be considered. However, we do not have to report to anyone, and we do not need fancy possessions anymore. Freedom is good, my friends… freedom is really good.

As discussed in a previous article, my wife assists with local social service agencies in Philadelphia, like Broad Street Ministries, which helps to improve the quality of life for our homeless neighbors in need. She works three days a week and finds the “giving back” aspect of this work to be extremely satisfying.

While I stay busy sharing the life lessons from my recently published book in podcasts and classroom talks, I also am fortunate to be writing weekly personal finance articles for the amazing readers of the Physician on Fire (POF) website. By sharing my life lessons with others through my book, podcasts and articles, I am giving back to society to help others learn from my 60+ years of life experiences.


Final Thoughts

Early retirement is not the finish line. Life doesn’t simply stop when you no longer need to work. Life’s responsibilities are still there and always will be.

There will always be difficulties, tears of joy and sorrow, and plenty of things that do not work out the way you want them to. However, not needing to work again if you choose is a huge blessing. The additional time it presents, along with not being anchored down to a J-O-B, provides some much-needed freedom in life.

Being able to choose how each day will be spent might be the ultimate of all lessons learned.

What lessons have you learned in your retirement?


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9 thoughts on “Seven Key Lessons After 3 Years in Retirement”

  1. You are welcome German as it’s great to hear that you’re already five years into a successful retirement! The icing on the cake is that your worries are decreasing as time passes. Thanks for taking the time to read and enjoy my seven lessons!

  2. Subscribe to get more great content like this, an awesome spreadsheet, and more!
  3. I ´ve identified and valued the 7 reflections of the article. I am 5+ years into a self initiated retirement in a late 2018. I´ve prioritized continuing with the journey and family and friends which has made my worries less and less with each passing day. Many thanks for quality of the sharing!!

  4. Totally agree!
    Sounds like how the word “burnout” makes it seem we are not up to the job, when it is actually the extra admin stuff added to our lives that is the problem abd not us, and then relabeling it as “moral injury”

  5. Why all blogs and bloggers are using “give back” words? It makes you feel in debt and guilty for your money, time and retirement. Like you took something from the society (that you were not supposed to take) and now you “must give it back”. You should enjoy your retirement guilt free and DONATE your time, your experience, and you money to any one you wish. DONATE, but DO NOT GIVE BACK that you earned (not took).

    • Totally agree!
      Sounds like how the word “burnout” makes it seem we are not up to the job, when it is actually the extra admin stuff added to our lives that is the problem abd not us, and then relabeling it as “moral injury”

      • Interesting point Siahus as I agree that there is a negative connotation with the word “burnout”. For me, the additional duties placed on my shoulders caused extreme levels of stress in 2010-2011. Other life factors like the death of a close friend led me to another career path in Academia with significantly reduced stress!

    • Valid point Alan as I would agree that “donating” your precious time, experience & possibly money is a better term for our contributions to society while in retirement. Regardless of the terminology, hopefully we can agree that helping others in a selfless manner brings the greatest joy to all of us!

  6. I couldn’t help but notice a few life coincidences with yours: I’m 65, attended medical school at Hershey 1980-1984 and lived near U of Illinois Champaign for a decade and 3 children attended that University . Plus, I grew up in Philadelphia ( went to Cheltenham High School) and still visit family there.

    The main difference is that I worry all of the time about my investments! If I weren’t still working I think I’d be glued to CNBC full time.

    • WOW – that’s an interesting parallel Drbob as we loved our 7 years of living in Champaign while pursuing my passion for teaching at the University of Illinois from 2014-2021. We are now in our 3rd year of living in Philly & enjoying the walk ability of this city & it’s amazing restaurant scene!

      While 2022 was a bit unnerving with the challenging stock market, I’ve now learned to work closely with our financial advisor to ensure we’re well positioned for long term success.
      Wishing you less worry & good health in the future!


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