Ready to Retire

Richard Quinn

IF THERE WAS ANYONE who should have been emotionally unprepared to retire, it was me. In the years immediately before, I was at the top of my career. I’d been promoted to vice president. I had virtual total control over my job. I was recognized by nearly every employee because of my extensive employee benefits communications and the fact that I’d negotiated benefits for decades. I was among the few who routinely met with the company’s chairman. In short, I enjoyed my job, typically working from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

But when the chairman retired, the overall corporate environment changed. I knew it was time to go. A good pension, 401(k) and Social Security took care of financial security.

The thing is, I never gave a moment’s thought to what I’d do with my time after I retired. That was a bit ironic, given that I conducted retirement planning sessions for employees and admonished them to think about their life after work.

Surveys show that nearly a quarter of retirees don’t like their life in retirement because they feel isolated and a loss of direction. Thinking about what you’ll do with your time in retirement is important. But I suspect people who end up unhappy aren’t inclined to plan.

Some of the things that keep retirees busy and engaged cost money, but others are free or low cost. Chances are you aren’t going to start doing things you didn’t do before retirement or didn’t have any interest in.

If you’ve never fished, you probably won’t be booking a fishing trip to Alaska. If, as in my case, you aren’t the do-it-yourself type, renovating the bathroom won’t be a good retirement project. On the other hand, I know retirees who greatly enjoy long-term hobbies, even starting money-making ventures.

Have you ever visited a McDonald’s or a coffee shop in the morning and noticed a group of older folks chatting? For some, that simple daily routine is enjoyable and allows them to stay connected. Volunteering is another opportunity enjoyed by many retirees. It fills their days, and provides a sense of self-worth and recognition. Former President Jimmy Carter, who is often seen helping others, is an excellent role model for retirees. There are even volunteering vacations.

Others move to places like The Villages in Florida, where they find endless activities—and people. If you’ve never been a joiner or tend toward introvert, you probably won’t change upon retirement. Your activities in retirement may be affected by your relocation plans. Starting over can create opportunities for new friends and activities, but also challenges. After all, you are starting over.

Great expectations may not work out. I know a retiree who spent $100,000 on a grand RV, planning to see the country. But the cost of operating the RV and the difficulty of driving it soon led to its sale.

I took up drawing again after ignoring it for 50 years. I even took a few lessons. While working, I enjoyed preparing employee benefit communications. I was able to transfer that interest to my own blog and later to HumbleDollar. I also joined several Facebook groups for employees and retirees of my former employer. It’s more than a decade since I retired, but I’m still asked questions.

I started playing golf at age 57, but—other than employer-sponsored outings—I didn’t play much. When I retired, I lost contact with former associates who played. But after moving to our condo, I made new friends. We have a group that plays twice a week. Travel also keeps me busy, as do our grandchildren, especially on weekends.

The days are filled or, if I choose, they aren’t. I may “waste” time some mornings watching Hazel or Dennis the Menace—shows that brings back memories. I don’t think a detailed plan for retired life is necessary, though it’s still something worth thinking about in advance. For me, it all worked out, and I suspect that’s the case for most retirees.

Richard Quinn blogs at Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. Follow him on Twitter @QuinnsComments and check out his earlier articles.

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