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Retirement is Nothing Like I Thought It Would Be

When we decide to retire, we jump off into the unknown.

Sure, we’ve developed a plan. We’ve saved and accumulated resources. We’ve figured out how we’ll spend our days and our money. And hopefully we have our health.

But it’s also true that once you pull the trigger on retirement, there are some things you only come to know from experience. And while you can imagine what things will be like on the other side of your last day at your 9-5, reality may not match your expectations.

The Retirement Manifesto discusses this phenomenon in this guest post.




Retirement is nothing like I thought it would be.

That’s a true statement in my fourth year of retirement, as is the following:


Retirement is exactly as I thought it would be.

An interesting dichotomy, and one to which I dedicate this post.
Retirement, as it turns out, is a little of both.
Allow me to explain…


Retirement Is Nothing Like I Thought It Would Be

It’s impossible to really know what retirement is going to be like until you experience it.  We dream about it in those final few years of work.  We think about what we want our lives to be like in retirement.

But the truth is, try as we might, there’s simply no way to know.  Kind of like…

  • Getting married
  • Having kids
  • Starting a new job

There are certain things in life that you just can’t accurately imagine until they happen. Having been retired for 3 1/2 years, it seems enough (but not too much) time has passed for some reflection.  I owe this introspective look to Al Cam, who left the following comment on my recent post “How I Spent My Time in Retirement.”

how does retirement feel

I read Al’s comment before taking the dogs on their afternoon walk, and his question lingered in my mind:

“How does what you actually do in retirement…compare versus what you thought you would do…” 

I answered Al’s question in my mind as I was walking through the woods (it’s interesting how I do some of my best thinking during those daily walks) and the answer I came up with led to the opening two lines of this post.

  • Retirement is nothing like I thought it would be.
  • Retirement is exactly as I thought it would be.

Allow me to present each of those two realities in turn.


Retirement Is Nothing Like I Thought It Would Be


Had you asked me before I retired to describe my expectations of retirement, you’d have noticed some huge gaps between my expectations and my eventual reality.  Following are 5 specific areas where retirement is nothing like I thought it would be.


1. Buying a Second Home

Prior to retirement, I’d have said there was little chance we’d own a second home in retirement.  Been there, done that.  Our retirement cabin had been a second home for 7 years before we retired, which we used for weekend escapes and supplemental rental income.  It worked well for us then, but we were looking to simplify our lives and had no desire to manage a second home in retirement.  We love our life in the mountains and have no desire to live anywhere else.


                                                             Our second home – a small condo near our daughter in Alabama

Life has a way of throwing unexpected curveballs your way, and as I explained in Why We Just Bought A Second Home in Retirement, our daughter’s military husband was relocated from a base near Seattle to one in Southern Alabama, a mere 5 1/2 hour drive from our retirement cabin.  After evaluating our options, we purchased a small condo nearby and spend a week living there every month, cherishing time with our 3-year-old granddaughter.

Side note: we consider the purchase price as an “asset allocation” decision more so than a “spending” one, given we plan on selling the condo when our daughter moves on.  For now, the only incremental expense is the small upkeep of the condo, an expense we’re happy to spend to savor the additional time with family.


2. Being on a Board of Directors

A week before I retired, I received a phone call from a longtime friend who was the President of an international aluminum recycling company.  We’d interacted frequently over my years of work, and I suspected his call was a congratulatory call on my upcoming retirement.

I was wrong. 

Their company had just gone through a restructuring, and the new owners were looking for a recently retired aluminum “expert” (their words) to become a member of their new Board of Directors.  The other board members were financially strong but had little experience in the aluminum industry.

My wife and I talked about it, and I decided to accept the opportunity in spite of my “pre-retirement expectation” of saying goodbye to the aluminum business forever.  Since then, it’s been a minimal but enjoyable piece of work. I’m having a blast, with the only obligation being a quarterly board meeting (often online) to keep an eye on the strategic direction of the company.  It’s been a fascinating experience to work through the COVID situation and its impact on a global organization. I could dedicate an entire post to the reasoning and the experience, but suffice it to say money wasn’t a consideration and I’m extremely happy I accepted the opportunity.  It’s one of the only times I’ve broken one of my 10 Commandments of Retirement (Number IV, if you’re curious), and I’ve been grateful ever since.  The lesson I’ve learned?  Keep an open mind as opportunities develop and be very careful when doing your due diligence.

If something intrigues you for the right reasons, pursue it.  You can always change your mind later.


3. Co-Running A 501c3 Charity

My wife and I both knew we wanted to spend more time doing charity work in retirement.  What we never expected, however, was the reality that actually RUNNING a charity would become one of our Purposes in retirement.

Building and running Freedom For Fido has become a true source of joy in both our lives and our retirement is better as a result.  It’s become something that my wife and I love doing together, and it’s led to a great group of new friends,  volunteers, and supporters we call the “Fido Family.”

I’m proud to announce that we just completed our 50th free fence build, giving 133 dogs a better life in the process.  Here’s a post we shared on our Freedom For Fido Facebook page to celebrate the moment our 133rd dog tasted Freedom for the first time:

freedom for fido


4. Building a Workshop

Had you asked me prior to retirement, this one would have never made my list.

As I explained in The Treehouse Writing Studio and A Tour of My Woodworking Shop, I now have a writing studio and woodworking shop off the driveway at our retirement cabin.  The project was driven in large part by the growth of Freedom For Fido and has become a place I love to spend time in retirement.  A dedicated place to pursue my retirement passions, where I’m free to do podcast interviews without fear of the dogs barking, as well as pursue my new hobby of woodworking.  I’m enjoying building a lot of new things, and recently completed the following tabletop for our laundry room which I shared on my Instagram account:

things I never expected in retirement

I’ve found the pursuit of my new woodworking hobby an invigorating challenge, and very much in line with my 10 Commandments of Retirement (in particular, #2 – Pursue Passions, and #5 – Try New Things).  The investment in the workshop was also in line with my hope to Live Like No One Else, which was a philosophy we espouse as we move from lifelong savers to freeing ourselves to spend (within our means) in retirement.

They’ll likely lead you places you never anticipated.


5. Not Thinking (Much) About Money

As I mentioned in The 90/10 Rule of Retirement, I had heard from many retirees that they didn’t think much about money once they had retired, but I never expected it to be true for me.  Fortunately, this is one area where retirement is nothing like I thought it would be.

The reality is that I seldom think about money.  I find that a very strange thing to say, and certainly not something I expected.  It turns out that my retired friends were right when they told me that, if you do your planning correctly, you’ll find yourself thinking less about money and more about enjoying life after you’ve retired.

Do yourself a favor.  Spend quality time before you retire making sure you have a sound plan.

Your retirement years will be more enjoyable as a result.

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Retirement Is Exactly As I Thought It Would Be


Fortunately, there are many areas where my expectations of retirement line up well with the ultimate reality. It’s interesting to find that most of the alignment revolves around my philosophical approach to retirement, whereas most of my misalignment comes down to the tactical means by which that philosophy is manifested.  I’ll share some examples as I work through the five areas below where retirement is exactly as I thought it would be.


1. The Joy of Freedom

I had high expectations of how much I would enjoy the freedom from having other people tell me what to do with my time, and I’m pleased to report that the enjoyment aligns with, or exceeds, my expectations.  I never liked having “micro-managers” at work, and now I know why.  I prefer to do things my way, and retirement shifts 100% of my time to be self-driven.  With that freedom, obviously, comes the obligation of finding the right things to do with your time.  Turns out I enjoy that challenge, and my retirement years have been the best of my life to date.

For the example on this one, I point to my decision to join the Board of Directors.  With all of the leverage on my side, I was able to establish firm ground rules on my level of involvement prior to agreeing to the position.  As a result, I was at the hospital when our daughter gave birth to her child in spite of the fact that a Board Meeting was scheduled at the same time.  The Chairman and I had agreed that if I had a personal conflict with any of the meeting schedules, I was free to choose which I would attend.  #ProtectYourFreedom


2. Exercising The Mind

Free from the shackles of mandatory labor, I’m able to dedicate my mental energies to areas that bring me fulfillment, and I’ve embraced it with open arms.  It takes some time to shift your mind after decades of being told what to do.  It’s a “mental muscle” that’s out of shape, but mine has responded well to the challenge.

As an example for this one, the running of Freedom For Fido has given me countless opportunities to exercise my mind.  One of my roles is determining where and how we’ll run the fence line during our preliminary site visit with a new recipient.  With 50 fences completed, I’ve worked through some interesting puzzles in our mountainous region and I enjoy the challenge.  Moments after walking the property,  I can now “see” how a fence will most effectively weave across a variety of terrains.  I can see where the slope changes, where those posts need to go, where the fence would best run its course.  It’s rewarding when my vision comes to reality through the work of our volunteers.  I could add many examples of how retirement has led to new opportunities to exercise my mind, and it’s one of the areas of retirement I really enjoy.


3. The Benefit of Exercise

I always envisioned my retirement to be an active one, and the reality has matched that expectation.  From my scheduled morning classes at the gym to the variety of outdoor activities we pursue, the replacement of my previously sedentary lifestyle with one that has me moving all day has led to great results.

I feel better than I have in decades, both physically and mentally.  I seldom walk less than 10,000 steps per day and frequently hit double that recommended target.  I’ve found a nice balance between being active during the day and taking it easy in the evenings.  The evening relaxation is even more enjoyable when it follows a day full of physical activity.

I’m looking forward to my next landscaping project of building a railroad tie wall adjacent to my shop to level out a bit more of our hilly land.  It’s rewarding to be able to move those 200+ pound crossties around by myself at 58 years of age.

exercise in retirement
                                                                                       My current landscaping project

Plan on using some of your newfound time in retirement to focus on getting in the best shape possible.  I’ve made it a priority and expect to reap the benefits for years to come.

4. The Pursuit of Curiosity

I’ve written extensively about the role of curiosity in a successful retirement, and I’ve found it to be true in my own life.  As expected, I’m seeking out opportunities to try new things, to “take that first step,” to explore new areas of interest.  It’s a pursuit I hope to maintain for the rest of my life.

As an example, I’ll point to my new hobby of woodworking.  It all started when I produced this “How To Build A Doghouse” video (which has now been watched 9k times). My time in Tim’s workshop sparked my curiosity, and I took that first step.  Now, woodworking has become one of my new hobbies in retirement, and I enjoy pursuing my curiosity as I seek applications for my growing skills.

I mentioned that building the workshop was an example of where retirement is nothing like I thought it would be, but I’m pleased to realize that it all stems from my intentional pursuit of curiosity and lifelong learning.  I suspect retirement will continue to evolve in this manner, where using my freedom, mental energy and curiosity will continually lead me in directions I never expected.

It’s a fun way to live life.



5. An Attitude of Gratitude

I’ll close with this one, which was the first of my Ten Commandments of Retirement.  I made a conscious decision as I was approaching retirement to focus on my attitude.  I knew there would be a lot of things that were outside my control in the coming years, but my attitude wasn’t one of them.  With over 1,000 days of retirement behind me, I’m pleased to report that intentionally maintaining a positive attitude has become a key component of my retirement.  My life is better because of that decision.

For this example, I’ll use the purchase of our second home.  Sure, we could focus on the worry about maintaining a second residence, the additional expense, the disruption of our normal routine to spend a week in Alabama every month.  Or, we could intentionally focus on gratitude, and realize what an amazing blessing it is that our daughter is now within easy driving distance of our retirement cabin.  We are able to have an influence in those critical early years of our granddaughter.  We have the freedom to visit whenever we choose.  We always have a comfortable and convenient place to stay.

Most importantly, we are able to maintain our focus on family and legacy in these “golden years.”  How can we be anything but thankful for that opportunity, regardless of the additional financial cost?  In the words of that credit card commercial, “Priceless.”

Your attitude is within your control.  Decide what attitude you choose to adopt for your retirement years.  Your retirement, and your life, will be better for it.



Retirement is nothing like I thought it would be.

Retirement is exactly as I thought it would be.

An interesting dichotomy, indeed.
Retirement, as it turns out, is a little of both.
Your Turn:  If you’re retired, how has your retirement compared to your expectations?  If you’re still working, what expectations for your retirement are you most excited about?

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2 thoughts on “Retirement is Nothing Like I Thought It Would Be”

  1. Subscribe to get more great content like this, an awesome spreadsheet, and more!
  2. Thanks for featuring my guest post today, Doc. That certainly wasn’t something I expected to happen in retirement. Wink.


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