Live Like You’re Already Retired

If you were currently retired, how would your life be different? What do you look forward to the most?

While you may not have all the freedoms now that you will have then, there’s a good chance you can start to implement some of those changes right now. Why wait for a “someday” that’s not guaranteed to start leading the life you want to live?

Below, you’ll find a number of tips that can not only help you craft a more ideal life before you’ve fully realized financial independence, but will also make the transition to retirement a more seamless one as you won’t be making numerous drastic changes all at once if you get the ball rolling now.

This Friday Feature was originally published by Jacob Schroeder, the Incognito Money Scribe.

 

live like you're already retired

 

The late poet Mary Oliver never worked an interesting job in her life, just as she wanted it. Her fear was that it would take away valuable time and energy from her true passion — writing poetry.

As she explained in an interview:

 

I was very careful never to take an interesting job. I took lots of jobs. But if you have an interesting job you get interested in it… Believe me, if anybody has a job and starts at 9, there’s no reason why they can’t get up at 4:30 or five and write for a couple of hours, and give their employers their second-best effort of the day – which is what I did. -Mary Oliver

 

I am not a full proponent of her idea. If you spend eight or more hours a day at a job, it helps to have at least some interest in what you do.

Still, Oliver makes a good point: There is no reason not to allocate more effort to the things that give us joy and less to the things that don’t.

It may sound trite. But honestly think about how well you do this?

I know I could do much better.

Recently, I struck up a conversation with the grandmother of a boy my sons were playing with at the park. She was a retired accountant who opened a mission for underprivileged children in one of Detroit’s most dangerous neighborhoods.

I thought to myself, I want to volunteer at a place like that… some day, when I have the time.

Most of us are guilty of waiting to do something until an ideal future arrives, which is never guaranteed to arrive.

 

In the financial industry, we mostly sell people on the idea of an ideal future that affords them total control over their time to do whatever they want. In other words, retirement. But why focus entirely on the future when we can live to some degree like that now?

There is a lot of research that shows what things unequivocally help retirees live a healthier, happier and more meaningful life (one of which is volunteering). Those same studies and surveys actually tell all of us how to live better lives right now. Because the benefits of those activities encompass all age groups. Essentially, if you want to lead a more fulfilling life, then do the things retirees are told to do to make the most of their remaining years.

As Oliver encourages: give yourself permission to put forth your best effort toward the things that provide happiness and meaning while half-assing the less important stuff in life.

It is something I certainly need to get better at, which is why I have begun to reframe life as if I were retired. That is, putting more intention behind the things I do, with less consideration of what other people and society thinks.

Here are the steps I am taking to try to do that.

Note: I understand that I speak from a place of privilege. When you have to work three jobs to put food on the table and don’t have healthcare, thinking about ways to make your time more meaningful is unhelpful. So, I recognize this is a parochial blog post, generally for those who have the luxury of mismanaging their work-life balance and for those who write to those same people.

 

Do the one thing known to make everyone happier: help others.

 

One of the top activities workers say they want to do in retirement is volunteer. For good reason. By helping others, you help yourself.

Of the 239 older adult volunteers surveyed by the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis: 79% said they feel better about themselves by volunteering; 95% said they have improved their lives; and 96% said they have been involved in meaningful activities.

There is no age requirement for generosity. As many people turn inward with materialistic and technological outlets for a sense of satisfaction, the real trick is to not think about yourself at all.

 

Keep learning.

 

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from an intoxicated member of a country club where I valeted in college. I was asked to pick him up from a gentleman’s club and drive him home. During the ride, he told me to never stay at a job where you’re not learning anything.

Because of the higher risk of cognitive decline, mental health becomes more important as we age. Hence, the many brain games and other activities geared toward older adults. But you’re better off the earlier you start making mental acuity a priority, and the best preventive step is to learn new skills.

Many psychological studies suggest the challenge of learning a new skill can enhance memory, strengthen the connections between parts of the brain and lower the risk of dementia. Learning a new language, for example, can help improve thinking skills and memory abilities regardless of what age you start.

 

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If your job isn’t your passion, make your hobbies your identity.

 

Work provides many perks, including a place to socialize, a sense of purpose and, of course, money and benefits. But for many people, like Oliver, their job is not their identity. Therefore, hobbies should be treated more seriously in society, not just as a way to pass the time.

That is why retirement is often thought of as an opportunity to do all those interesting things we wish we had more time to do while working.

The benefits of hobbies go far beyond simple enjoyment. Hobbies are associated with a variety of physical and psychological benefits, such as lower blood pressure, better fitness and reduced stress. One study even suggests the outdoor exposure and physicality of gardening increases longevity.

Art in particular doubles as a form of therapy, leading to lower stress, improved memory and better overall mental health.

As author Neil Gaiman said during his inspiring commencement speech:

 

“Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art.” -Neil Gaiman

 

Move around — a lot.

 

We all know exercise is important. Physical activity makes us physically and mentally healthier. Without the time constraints of a job, retirees often make exercising more of a priority, as it helps improve mobility and ward off health issues.

We could probably all move more each day. And that doesn’t mean two-hour gym sessions. The simple act of walking increases the supply of blood and oxygen to your muscles and organs, which helps you think and come up with new ideas. It explains why many famous writers were known as avid walkers.

 

Experience new places.

 

A common aesthetic of retirement marketing is of older adults traveling abroad — walking a cobblestone street, prancing on a white sandy beach, gazing over the railing of an ocean liner. Who doesn’t want to travel more?

Traveling somewhere new has been shown to boost emotional IQ, empathy and creativity in travelers. It doesn’t require a passport.

There are new places all around us to explore. Visit a new part of your city. Eat at a new restaurant. Hike a new trail.

 

Schedule consistent time with friends and relatives.

 

The majority of workers said they plan to spend more time with friends and family during their retirement years, according to an HSBC survey. Of course, distance along with work, kids, etc., are valid reasons why we don’t spend as much time with loved ones as we want.

But when you consider how essential socializing is in life, there is an incentive to find creative solutions for spending more time with friends and relatives.

Now that nearly all my friends have started families, we have adapted. Our time together is shorter but at greater frequency. Instead of a long night out, it is a half hour coffee break, a Sunday softball league, a quick run through a park.

 

Accept life’s hardships.

 

Nothing can insulate you from tragedy. It is a fact of life. The sooner you can accept it, the easier it is. It’s why older adults, having years of both good and bad experiences, tend to be happier.

As journalist John Leland writes in his book, Happiness Is a Choice You Make:

“Older people are more content, less anxious or fearful, less afraid of death, more likely to see the good side of things and accept the bad, than young adults.”

The happiness curve suggests that life hits its low point around age 50. Perhaps by aligning our mindsets to those in the later innings of life we can avoid that dip.

If you can go through the hard times with grace, then you can live a full life no matter how much time your money can buy.

 

 

What is one thing you can do before year’s end to better align your current life with your ideal one?

5 thoughts on “Live Like You’re Already Retired”

  1. I was passionate about my job but also loved my hobbies. They are the same pursuits in retirement I had when I was working, I just have more time for them. And I was already volunteering at the same places I do now, I just have more time to be a better volunteer. And I keep working a little though I’m trying to dial that back, because its kind of fun to get paid to be called an “expert”. I started running marathons while I was still working and we both still run and tennis and pickleball to stay fit. My wife and I share most of our hobbies but also do them with others, she’s several states away for a few days playing in her tennis team’s quest for a national title, they won state and are currently at sectionals. That’s an all woman road trip and they’ve been having a great time. I will head off with a bunch of guy friends in a few days for a football trip and multiple fine dining opportunities in New Orleans. My wife and I have been looking at a hiking adventure in Iceland and another in Switzerland as well. I think you need to build that great retirement while you are still working and then just expand on it as you move into retirement. At least it worked for us.

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  3. This does not seem to have anything to do with returement.

    What do you do if your job is fascinating, keeps you learning new things and helps people? Sounds like the prescription would be to keep working, rather than retire and try to find something else that has the same properties.

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  4. Yeah I try to live by this to some extent. I can’t go 100% retirement mode because my coworkers at work will miss me lol.

    But as far as my situation goes, I’m very not passionate about the 9-5 other than the money it provides. I currently find meaning and happiness from side projects and exercising.

    It’s funny you should mention picking up a new language because I’ll be traveling for the first time to Italy and am trying to pick up Italian the next 2-3 days before I go using the Michel Tomas method. Am very curious if it works as quickly and as effectively as people have claimed.

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  5. Couldn’t agree more. So important to structure your life sustainably in a way that not only makes you happier here and now but creates a self-perpetuating cycle that can get you across the finish line rather than burning out on the way. Thanks for sharing these tips!

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