I retired a few weeks after I turned 67. I am fortunate enough to have a decent government pension and generous medical benefits. (My experience signing up for Medicare and in caring for elderly relatives suggests that the broader coverage and efficient administration is superior to private health care options, such that “Medicare for All” would make sense, if we could afford it.). I loved my job, yet I felt it was about time to turn the page. I am not much of a relaxer, and a terrible golfer, so I need to keep busy. That could take the form of part-time work, travel, volunteering, and writing (as here). But, as others warned me, it’s an adjustment.
Advice from Retirees
The best advice I got was  don’t stop shaving;  don’t stop bathing; and  don’t sleep until noon. Done. Or not done. Get out everyday and see folks and do things. Even if it’s just a Shingles vaccination or a visit to the Pension Office or a run in the woods. I joked to my wife that my days would be spent in the local coffee shop in the morning, the YMCA at midday, and the local bar in the afternoon. I haven’t done those things. I flew off to Florida to see my newest grandson the morning after my last day of work. I came back and then drove to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for the annual fishing trip with four old friends (the timing of retirement to coincide with the annual October trip was no accident). Now I’m giving this site the attention it deserves.
I’d love to hear from other retirees. Admittedly I’m a neophyte with much to learn. Yeah, already had the mystery of what day of the week it was, since they all look the same now. But there is a calendar app for that. When someone wants to schedule something, it’s still fun to joke that I have no plans. But amazingly my calendar is filling up fast. Because it’s harder to say no to things during the day that I could never fit in when I was working. I wonder if that is the experience that others have had.
Objectively, the way we typically handle retirement, similar to the way we handle vacation or time off, is unrealistic and defies common sense. Typical U.S. firms work employees hard, seeking productivity, and skimp on time off, as compared to the rest of the world. Those businesses pay for that shortsighted attitude in absence, delinquency, stress-related illness, and discontent leading to turnover. I pushed back by reserving time for family vacations, after-school soccer and baseball and football games, teacher conferences, and the occasional mental health day. It never hurt my career. Plus I championed a policy at work to allow flexibility for employees to work from home on an occasional basis, something that canoe achieved with no loss of productivity; just a decrease in stress.
For me, like most, retirement is a bit like stepping off a cliff (I hope with a glider or parachute) – going from full-time responsibility to no responsibility beyond cooking and cleaning and laundry. How could I be an essential cog in a busy office with considerable responsibility one day, and no job the next day? Of course, I didn’t suddenly become incompetent or worthless. Indeed, I have the nagging feeling that my skills are being wasted now. I was raised to believe that “from those to whom more is given, more is expected”, and suddenly I am having a hard time paying anything forward. A logical approach to aging would be to cut back gradually from five work days a week to four, then three, two, one, and full retirement, over a period of years. I have a friend who is a dentist who did exactly that, in the course of selling his practice. But for most of us, collecting a pension involves tax and legal bars to “double-dipping”. There is a disincentive to continue working part-time, which is a shame. Particularly when the extra income could come in handy some day.
On the other hand, I can now extend a visit abroad to a month or more, renting an efficiency apartment monthly rather than a hotel room nightly, at considerable savings. With wifi, I can stay in touch with family, and even work from abroad. I look forward to getting to know a foreign place by living like a local, shopping for groceries, learning the language, riding the bus. My wife and I have been fortunate to spend weeks in South Africa, New Zealand, and Costa Rica in recent years. Wonderful; but it was hard to leave, and hard to move around so often. We were only just scratching the surface. Especially when compared to the expatriates we would meet, who had made the ultimate decision to move abroad. None seemed to regret it, even the seeming isolation from family and friends. Apparently those you left behind love to visit, when they have a place to stay. So part of traveling for us will be auditioning other countries and towns as a possible place to resettle. One lesson from travels thus far is how interconnected we are, answering emails and forwarding photos from the lodge in Kruger National Park, chatting with my Mother while staring out at the Pacific in Costa Rica, solving a problem at work from a hostel on the South Island of New Zealand. Small adjustments are necessary, such as realizing that NFL games start at 7:00 am Sunday morning in Hawai’i (and the sports bars are open for business).
Best of Both Worlds
Our goal is to show that a couple can travel all over the world, while keeping in touch, sharing, and working remotely. Most “desk” jobs can now be done from just about any “desk” that has a high-speed Internet connection. It could be a dining room table in Argentina, or a picnic table in Portugal, or a countertop in Australia. For some the constant exposure of being connected is a curse. For those far away in distant lands, that easy link to home is a lifeline that makes travel possible. I was overseas in South Africa when a bed opened for my Mother in an assisted living facility. She was on a waiting list, and we had a contingency plan in place. My sons back home were able to oversee her transportation and help her move in, with limited guidance from me. With the time difference, I took a call at 4:00 in the morning, confirming that she was safe and sound. Naturally I would have wanted to be there; but honestly I could orchestrate the entire thing from 10,000 miles away, including a heartfelt call, clear as a bell. We should use these amazing technological tools for good, without letting them overwhelm us.
At this point, I am only half a month into this retirement adventure. Only this week have I been home long enough to settle into a routine. I’m keeping busy. I like it that my time is my own; but I can see how that blessing could be a curse, if the time is wasted. Thus far my task list seems never-ending, to the point I wonder how I managed to accomplish anything at home, while working full-time. I’ve spent time on future financial projections, something that was always rushed and decidedly half-assed before. More time to read, to listen to podcasts and new music, to shop more carefully and thoughtfully for food to cook with more care and time. Projects around the house that demand hours and even days. Going to the gym at off-peak times. Corresponding with friends and volunteering in the community. And yeah, extra time on a gorgeous Fall day for a long walk in the woods, maybe with my headphones and a curated playlist. In some ways, where I left off, only 43 years ago, when I took my first full-time job.