Retiring to Something

Its become kind of cliche among those that write about and discuss retirement, “You shouldn’t retire from something, but to something”, or some variation on that theme.  It addresses a common issue among new retirees and those close to retirement.  They are so looking forward to retiring from their job, the stress, the hassle, the commute, whatever, that they forget to plan for their actual retirement.  to have something waiting for them after they leave work.

It’s not that these folks forget to plan, they don’t think they need to plan.  They assume that getting out of the toxic work environment alone will make them whole.  Well, it won’t.  Retirement is not an end in itself or some kind of shelter in which we can hide from everything bad in our lives.  Retirement is a new way of life and there must be something substantial.

Remember when you were a teenager.  You wanted out of high school so badly, but not just to get out for the sake of getting out.  You wanted to move on, become an adult, control your own destiny.  You wanted out of high school because you had bigger plans.  You were going on to college, into the military or you had a sweet job lined up.  You wanted to build a new life.

Why is retirement and retiring any different?  We all know what happened to those kids that failed to plan when they were in high school.  Most were not very successful.  Sure some got lucky, but luck is no substitute for planning.  It’s likely if you’re reading this you know that already.  You’ve been planning to retiring for years, putting away money, making investment decisions, running calculations.

But that’s not the end of it.  Just like when you graduated high school, financing your college education was only half the battle.  You had to pick a major, decide what career you wanted to pursue, try to figure out what you wanted to do with the “rest of your life.”  Same with retirement and retiring. You need to figure out what to do with the rest of your life, literally this time.

Traditionally, you could get away with no planning.  When you retired with a pension at 65 and you only expected to live a few more years and you were beat down and broken from a lifetime of labor, who needed to plan?  Today, many of us plan to retire younger and expect to live longer, not to mention many of us don’t work in conditions like our grandparents did.  People just don’t die of black lung from working in a cubicle.

Planning for a potentially long retirement is essential to enjoying our “golden” years.  We need to retire to something.  Something that makes us happy, brings us fulfillment and keeps us engaged.  It can be something serious like charity work or volunteering.  It can be educational like travel or taking classes.  It can be just plain fun like playing golf or going fishing.  It can be whatever you want it to be.

But make no mistake, without something to fill your time, to keep your mind and body sharp and to give you the satisfaction and fulfillment we all need, three or four decades of retirement will seem more like a prison sentence than a reprieve from our working life.  You thought the days in your cubicle dragged by slowly, wait until you spend your days shuttered in your home in front of the TV.  For a while its pleasant, but after a while it’s depressing and lonely.

If you’re planning to retire, especially if you are planning to retire young, put as much effort into planning what you will do in retirement as you do financing your retirement.  If you are already retired and finding it unfulfilling, you need to find something to do.  There is no shortage of ideas on this blog, the others in my list of retirement blogs and forums, the internet or the book store.  If you want a good book to start, I recommend Ernie Zelinski’s “How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free.

You likely won’t hear stuff like this from your broker or “retirement planner”, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.  In fact, I think its more important that the financial side.  You can live on a pittance and be quite happy, but all the money in the world won’t buy you peace of mind or fulfillment.  Don’t just retire from something, retire to something.  It’ the key to enjoying the retirement you’ve planned for a looked forward to all these years.

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