Time to Explore

Anika Hedstrom

JOHN GOODENOUGH was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2019. At 97 years old, he was the oldest Nobel laureate in history. This didn’t happen by accident. At age 57, when most folks are looking to scale back their careers, Goodenough pressed ahead, co-inventing the lithium-ion rechargeable battery, which today powers pacemakers, digital cameras, smartphones, electric wheelchairs and more.

Americans are healthier and living longer than at any time in history. If Goodenough had taken “retirement” to heart and scaled back or completely stopped pursuing his life’s passion, we’d all be worse off. Folks like him are helping to redefine retirement not as a time to withdraw or, as some might say, head out to pasture, but as a chance to make the most of a new, less structured chapter in our life.

The challenge we each face: To discard passive notions of retirement and instead view this as a time of opportunity. Here are four steps that’ll help you discover what you’re passionate about, so you get the most out of your retirement.

1. Start now. Ideally, this period of exploration should begin long before retirement. Try to think about a life that’s less driven by financial constraints and, instead, more focused on your unique abilities and your personal satisfaction. In the years running up to retirement, assess and reassess those interests and capabilities.

Feeling stuck? Try Yale University’s most popular class ever, The Science of Wellbeing. Available through Coursera, it focuses on increasing personal happiness and building better habits to live a more fulfilled life.

2. Embrace boredom. Schedule time to do nothing. To consume nothing. To pause and just be.

If this concept seems foreign to you, start with a “Shultz hour.” George Shultz, former U.S. secretary of state, often carved out an hour each week for quiet reflection. His wife and the president were the only two people allowed to interrupt these hours. Eliminate distractions—no meetings, no phone calls, no social media, no technology. Quiet reflection creates focus, helping us to direct our thoughts to what matters most.

By taking time to ponder bigger questions and make sense of our life, we can discover our core values, those fundamental beliefs that guide our behavior. These beliefs underlie how we conduct ourselves and the standards we hold ourselves to. Yours may include notions like service, autonomy, balance, fidelity or joy.

During your Shultz hour, here are some questions to consider: How are you using money to improve your life? What do you do that makes you feel alive? How will you measure your life?

3. Create a one pager. Drawing on these periods of self-reflection, use the information, observations, learnings and revelations you gather to form a plan. Think of it as a business plan for your life. A good plan is written, specific, and provides purpose and guidance. It also allows for flexibility. It doesn’t need to be some monumental document. A simple one-page summary is preferable.

Begin with a blank piece of paper. Divide it into thirds. The first part includes your core values. Try to keep this list to no more than five values.

The second part is where you state your purpose—a one- or two-sentence personal mission statement. Business and leadership guru Simon Sinek refers to a strong mission statement as your “why,” the purpose, cause or belief that inspires and fuels you. Clearly defining your why gives you a filter, so you make choices that fit with what you care about most.

The final part is where you specify how you’ll put your core values and mission statement into action. How will you spend your time? Perhaps you want to volunteer one day a week, read one nonfiction book a month and take that European trip you’ve always dreamed of. The thread connecting all these activities are your values and purpose.

4. Play. Researchers at the Stanford Center on Longevity believe older adults are happier than their younger counterparts. What drives this? Stress and anxiety tend to decrease with age, while our freedom over our daily life increases.

Now that you have an idea of how you intend to spend your time, it’s time to experiment. Have fun. Try new things. The retirement activities that you initially identified may be tweaked, ramped up or dialed down. Your goals and plan will change and evolve, though you’ll likely find that your “why” rarely does.

Anika Hedstrom, MBA, CFP, is a personal finance expert and advisor. Her previous articles include Going SoftMake the Connection and Effort Counts Twice. Anika writes on motivational and behavioral aspects of financial planning, and has been featured in USA Today, MarketWatch, Huffington Post, Business Insider and NPR. Always up for adventure, Anika can be found exploring new countries, whitewater rafting and chasing after her twins. Follow her on Twitter @AnikaHedstrom.

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