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The Retiree’s Dilemma

John Yeigh

I’VE FOUND RETIREMENT to be a conundrum. We finally have the time to pursue any activity we want in a leisurely manner—spend time with family and friends, exercise, sleep, travel, read, binge watch TV, knock items off our bucket list. On the other hand, I now hear the constant ticking of life’s clock.

Tick tock, tick tock.

For the decades before retiring, life for my wife and me was pedal-to-the-metal with work, children, commuting and chores, though we also found time for some leisure activities. We were on life’s proverbial treadmill and fully embraced the rat race. We were also often stressed, short on sleep and behind on chores.

Yet we loved every minute of our fast-paced life. The best part: I was completely unaware of life’s ticking clock.

In the seven years since retiring, my wife and I have traveled, hiked extensively, and been there whenever our children needed a helping hand. We’ve reconnected with old friends. I’ve ramped up my jogging and biking, and tried out new things like fishing, wake-surfing and the requisite pickleball.

In addition, we now get more sleep and have more time for volunteer activities. My wife manages our VRBO endeavors, while I’ve written many articles and a book.    

On the surface, retirement seems so perfect: no commute, no work and the freedom to do the things we enjoy, while our adult children progress nicely. Busy is good. But during the down time, the ticking of that darn clock keeps sounding in my head.

That relentless clock has driven us to contemplate the time-value tradeoff of life’s many activities, with our remaining time becoming ever more precious. Family, friends, exercise, outdoor activities and vacations get an automatic pass. Always more, please. Activities important to our future lives—chores, financial planning, health maintenance and the like—also get priority.

On the other hand, we’re constantly questioning whether marginal activities are worth pursuing—and that includes writing blog posts like this one. In the no-go category falls much of TV, news, social media, politics, click-baited internet sites, thick books, long blog posts and princes seeking help with their inheritance. Experiences must do more than merely fill time.  

For example, we use a 75% Rotten Tomatoes hurdle before pressing play on TV shows and movies. Likewise, we typically seek reviews of around 4.5 stars from Amazon for books, AllTrails for hikes, Yelp for restaurants and Wine.com for vino.

Even if the reviews are good, we sometimes discard TV shows after 20 minutes and books after 20 pages. I have a file of abandoned blog posts that just weren’t worth my time to complete. We now regularly ditch outdoor activities if the weather is miserable and recently left a mediocre theater production early. If activities aren’t going well, we no longer tolerate them to completion but instead move on.   

Therein lies retirement’s conundrum: how to get the biggest bang out of our remaining time. Much has been written about finding purpose and engagement in our retirement activities. For most HumbleDollar readers, this probably looms larger than financial issues. The offsetting challenge is to undertake these activities at a comfortable and joyful retiree pace.   

My conclusion: Managing time’s tradeoffs—with an eye to muting that ticking clock—is the overriding retiree dilemma.

John Yeigh is an author, coach and youth sports advocate. His book “Win the Youth Sports Game” was published in 2021. John retired in 2017 from the oil industry, where he negotiated financial details for multi-billion-dollar international projects. Check out his earlier articles.

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