Retirement Success?

When I retired, I had no idea what I was retiring “to”.  I knew what I was leaving, but had not put any thought into what everyday life would be like without working. (Most “experts” will tell you this is not the best way to retire!) I expected to work part-time, as I was an early retiree and everyone expected me to have a second career. I expected we would be snowbirds; I was not planning on being a full-time Floridian (with an amazing waterfront home). I expected to travel a lot as that is what retirees do, not acknowledging my hubby hates to travel. I began a number of things that didn’t work out; it took time to figure it all out.

What I’ve learned in the process?

  • I’ve learned to slow down, to appreciate quiet time, and to rejoice when a conversation doesn’t need to end because someone is rushing to the next thing. I enjoy my morning journaling, my slow shelling beach walks, doing the daily crossword, and watching the sun reflect on the water or lightening flash in the sky.
  • I’ve learned to dig deep to find my authentic self. I’m still working on stopping the listening to the perceived expectations and undoing the social imprinting.
  • I’ve learned to be positive!  This is a big deal as I was definitely a highly critical pessimist. Practicing gratitude, taking time to savor the moments, and learning to accept what is have all helped here.
  • I’ve learned everyone’s retirement lifestyle is different and all are OK.   Figuring out what you need is critical.  How much structure, travel, part time work, volunteer work, etc. are all personal choices. Sometimes it can be challenging to walk your own path (that social imprinting and perceived expectations!).
  • I’ve learned you need to work on filling your “need gaps” that leaving full time work created.  Whether it’s social connections, time management, sense of achievement, or sense of identity, if you have a need gap, it will not just magically be filled.  This is not easy work and I struggled with post-career connections, identity, and sense of achievement.

Twice in the last few days, I’ve been asked, “What do you do all day?”  Once was someone who claimed to have “failed retirement” and was back working; she couldn’t imagine life without working and her question was a bit patronizing.  Another was someone approaching retirement and really interested in figuring it all out. 

My answer: “My days are delightfully full.” I finally have a semblance of an exercise routine in my life. I take time every morning to journal – a combination of self-care, gratitude, and creativity. I enjoy blogging – writing and reading and commenting. I’ve got various projects I dabble in – I’m having fun with crafting at the moment, but gardening, cooking, and a study area (something that engages my interest) are elements that also fill my days.  I’ve joined a few clubs, enjoy exploring our new area with regular experiences planned, shop off hours (no lines!), and have regular lunch & walking dates with long conversations.

I don’t feel rushed. I’m not bored. I sleep well and am probably the healthiest I have ever been.

I definitely didn’t have this life back on the day I retired!  I took the time, getting to know myself, trying different things, and creating the retirement lifestyle that’s right for me. No, I certainly don’t feel like I failed retirement nor should be looked down at for not working!

So my advice for those contemplating entering retirement for the first time (or even a second time), slow down, try some things out, and focus on your needs and interests. You too can “succeed” at retirement!

Picture Credit: a double rainbow after the storm the other evening.

25 thoughts on “Retirement Success?

  1. Success is relative. I know that my husband is looking to retire soon and he is thrilled by the idea of doing his own thing. Only hoping he figures out what his own thing is before he retires.

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    1. Merely an FYI, I had no plan when I retired as it was 2 years before I expected to retire. (Downsizing does that.) It took me awhile to figure things out and I’m glad I had the time to think through before committing to anything. (Actually I still don’t commit to much!) I spent a lot of time in Reflecting what I wanted life to look like, who I was (authentically vs societally driven) — I even wrote a book outlining the design approach and tools I used to design my retirement lifestyle! Still selling on Amazon 🙂

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      1. Pat, interesting how you ended up being an author. My husband’s story is the opposite of yours. He was going to retire 2 years ago, then the pandemic happened and he was cajoled into sticking around longer. He’s more than ready to move on.

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  2. Hi Pat, I love this post. I still have two kids of school age, but my husband and I have ‘retired’ from his business. We are in the early stages of finding the ‘gaps’ that need filling, slowing down from the constant rat race of needing to portray success or busyness. Social conditioning does take time to unpick and reframe. I look forward to reading more of your insights on retirement.

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    1. Thanks for joining in the conversation. It’s fascinating to know someone with school-age kids is interested in my insights on retirement…. and won’t be waiting to learn all of this until in their 60’s!

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  3. I’d give myself a passing grade in my 10th yr of retirement. I’m still not over the slow mornings when I linger over coffee while reading and planning the day. Yes, I still have a loose plan with lists but nothing rigid. I don’t attempt to do it all just the next thing. I’ve become more of myself in retirement and my love of my home/homemaking has been reinforced. My work community has been replaced by my local community. I realized that I used work as an excuse not to do things socially or task-wise. My mission statement is to look after myself and my home and there’s always something to do. Boredom is not in my vocabulary. Pandemic restrictions shifted my energies from committee work and hosting house concerts to a more dialed down life. Life evolves with new foci. I’m an advocate for my aged mother who is now in a lodge and I’ve been managing her property for the past 3 yrs. Physical activities take longer as do the recovery periods. I may be entering the slow-go stage of my life. I also ponder my next move as I continue to age. Yes, life is full and never boring.

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    1. I love your phrase about “becoming more myself” in retirement. I’d thought about using the word “becoming” as a WOTY a couple of times, but then the word seemed to be everywhere. But it’s true, I am becoming more me. I’m also working on the local community (given our move here just 14 months ago). It’s lovely to hear someone else has similar “success”!

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  4. Hi Pat, your retirement posts have helped me so much since I retired in April. I was feeling a lot of the same social imprinting issues and didn’t recognize what it was until I started reading your blogs, so Thank You for that! I haven’t yet filled my ‘needs gaps’ but now I know what they are and I’m ‘working’ on it. Some of the things I love most about retirement are not feeling rushed to do things and having a choice of what I want to do in any given moment. The freedom is exhilarating!!

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind comments. You are absolutely right about that sense of freedom! You can create as much structure as you want, plan things on your timing, not feel rushed. It does take some work to fill the gaps though; sometimes I’m surprised when people think it’ll just happen!

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  5. A great post Pat. First, I really appreciated your comment about what the experts say since I was surprised by how much changed about me and how much of a process building my life became, and, after reading more of how to adjust, I felt I’d really messed up without having made a set plan before retiring. Nevertheless, we need to do the work of transition. For me, explaining my need to replace feelings of fulfillment and contribution I had while working has become a challenge to some of my retired friends who don’t feel the same way, but it’s simply a further example of how we all need to fill those gaps!

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    1. I do believe different people have different needs in all the areas that work fulfilled – identity, time management, utility, connection, compensation. I do believe some folks transition to retirement more “easily” if they have less need-gaps to deal with! My hubby certainly had much fewer gaps!. And some people don’t realize they need to put in the “work” to fill the gaps. Accepting that we are all different is something I still work on in retirement… what’s right for me might not be right for you. But knowing you need to fill gaps, I firmly believe you’ll find the opportunities that are right for you to do that.

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  6. A great post Pat. First, I really appreciated your comment about what the experts say since I was surprised by how much changed about me and how much of a process building my life became, and, after reading more of how to adjust, I felt I’d really messed up without having made a set plan before retiring. Nevertheless, we need to do the work of transition. For me, explaining my need to replace feelings of fulfillment and contribution I had while working has become a challenge to some of my retired friends who don’t feel the same way, but it’s simply a further example of how we all need to fill those gaps! Thanks for a great post

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  7. Hi Pat – I appreciate all your retirement wisdom, it has certainly helped me in the past yr. I, too, love that I can finally be my authentic self. The past few yrs robbed me of that security in the ever demanding need of corporate followers. Undoing social imprinting, as you so graciously stated, is both hard and satisfying. Thanks! Linda

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    1. Hi Linda! I’ve been learning more and more about social imprinting this year – it’s been my area of “study”, you could say. It’s shocking at times to realize how much imprinting there is on our lives and to dig deep to true beliefs. I’m certainly not there totally, and still do way too much Compare & Despair (“they are obviously doing it better than me”… whatever it is!). But I can say I am getting more and more secure in who I am everyday. I hope your retirement journey allows you to do the same.

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  8. Excellent post and I agree with and can relate to everything you said! I retired two years ago and am still working out a few kinks, but overall, I am very happy with my life. I was one of those who thought my days should be as full as when I worked but have come to realize how much I am enjoying the flexibility of a schedule. I am trying new things, meeting new people and I am as busy as I choose to be. I am so grateful and feel blessed to experience this stage of life!!

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    1. I love the line “busy as I choose to be”! I think when we were working full time, busy was not a choice as time to do non-work things was so limited. I’ve tried to not use the word “busy” anymore as I think it brings in some negative connotations of that lack of time frantic lifestyle. My days are full – even if some of that time is quiet downtime!

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  9. Pat, this is such an insightful post and demonstrates that you have fully embraced all that retirement can be. It is sad that some people never get it.

    I remember the condescending remarks I used to get when I chose to be a ‘stay-at-home mom.’ Those individuals clearly missed the point. It was the same with early retirement. People told us we would never last and would go back to work in a year. We retired in ’06 and never looked back.

    Not one of us steps into a life of bliss on day one of retirement. It is an evolution that requires self-knowledge, through genuine internal work. What seems satisfying today may not ‘fit’ next month or next year. We accept that, adapt to what’s next, and move forward. I have a dear friend who calls retirement the ‘five-year plan.’ Each year when we catch up I ask about the 5-year plan and he always replies – ‘it’s coming along.’

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    1. Suzanne – I love the “it’s sad some people never get it” line!

      Your comment about a five-year plan reminded me of one I did when I was working…after 1 year, it was a 4-year plan, then a 3-year plan. I started trying to get management to think about a new plan at the 4 year mark, since the original one took us a year to create (management alignment really!). It took me 2 years to get another 5 year plan in place! LOL. I did some five-year thinking originally in my early retirement days…I have not really done much long range thinking more recently though. I do more of a yearly view now, as I agree with you that what’s “fitting” now might not fit in a few years.

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  10. Hey Pat, I agree with so much that you have written. I think my favorite thing I have learned to do is slow down and appreciate things like a lunch with a friend that can turn into happy hour because we can. Or taking on projects like putting up under cabinet lights and actually enjoying it instead of feeling I have more important things to do. The hardest (and I still work on this on) is a day that I don’t have much of anything planned. I still haven’t gotten used to the idea of reading all day, or for me maybe just finding some interesting movies to watch. I don’t actually have very many of those as most of my days have a few things planned in them and I am getting better at those that are less scheduled. I definitely spend a good bit of time on me for me and at first I felt guilty for that but not anymore! I love it. I work out and I dance. I would dance everyday if I could figure out how to do it without it being so expensive.
    Anyway, I think it takes time and a little patience to figure it out. In the beginning of retirement, I might have even thought, “oh, I don’t have time to read this blog much less respond” but again I have learned to relax and enjoy.
    Retirement is truly lovely. And we deserve!

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    1. Candyse, I think there is actually a “learning curve” on learning how to relax and enjoy and savor the moments. I still struggle with days on end of nothing planned, but having a couple of ‘back up’ things to do – craft things, books in my new study area – has helped. It’s good to hear you’re back so positive on dancing! Someday I will get to see you dance in competition!

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  11. Hi Pat – there’s some great advice here. I think slowing down and taking time to figure out what resonates with you is the most important. A lot of people seem to feel they need to justify being retired by being just as busy as when they were working. I think it’s more of a balance of busy and slow (and even slower atm with my hip problem). I love that my time is my own and I get to choose rather than juggling everything to fit into the days of the week. Retirement is the best reward for all those decades of working and saving and preparation – and I’m grateful for it every single day. 🙂

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    1. Leanne, It’s so hard to communicate that slowing down is not only okay, but good! Being busy was such a badge of honor for so many years, and still is with so many people. But like you, I am grateful for every day and being able to slow down and savor the moments of each one.

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