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A Year Of Retirement

It’s been about a year since Mike and I retired, and it’s been a year full of new experiences and of course, many lessons.

We’ve learned a lot about what retirement should be, but also about what it shouldn’t.

I used to think that once we had pulled the retirement pin, we would just waltz gracefully off into the wonderful land of free time, doing whatever we wanted, no planning required.

Retirement was the big goal, and I hadn’t given a lot of thought to what would come after that. We would just do whatever we wanted. Like one big long vacation.

But it hasn’t quite been so. It’s been a huge adjustment. At times I’ve even felt more than a little aimless. Not because I’m not enjoying myself, but because for the first time in the last decade, it feels as though I don’t have a clear direction or goal.

We’ve essentially gotten to where we wanted to be, and failed to set any concrete goals for what exactly we wanted to achieve next. And it’s not because I didn’t think about setting new goals, I just told myself more than a few times that I was just going to take it easy and enjoy retirement for a year, maybe two. Enjoy the freedom, take a break!

But as it turns out, my personality is not well suited to just taking it easy, not for extended periods of time anyway. I suspect most people who are actively pursuing FF are similar in that regard.

At my old job I distinctly recall watching my fair share of people head off into retirement, and admittedly I felt a lot of envy. But more often than not a few months would go by and I would see those same people back, working part time or under a temporary contract. And it wasn’t because they needed the money. I would always shake my head and wonder what on earth were they thinking? They had earned their retirement and their pensions the long and hard way, and yet here they were, back for more.

I get it now.

It’s difficult to go from having nearly half your waking hours structured for you, in a forum in which you can feel productive and useful, even essential, to then waking up in the morning with no one to answer to and no where you have to be.

Through school and jobs most of us have spent our lives being conditioned for the former environment, so suddenly being accountable to only ourselves (and our loved ones) can be a challenge for even the most self-disciplined.

And if on top of that you have failed to nurture your own individual passions and hobbies throughout your working years, and/or neglected your relationships in favor of driving your career, retirement has the very real possibility of feeling both empty and purposeless.

While I now have a better understanding of what brought those people back to work, I certainly won’t be following in their footsteps. But I do recognize just how important it is to continue to set goals, learn, challenge myself, and find alternate avenues to generate a continued sense of accomplishment.

I have definitely found some ample sources of value and enjoyment;

I love being a full time mom. Without a doubt it’s the best “job” I’ve ever had, and while I don’t feel a sense of accomplishment per se (I’ll reserve that feeling for when Mike and I have successfully raised two well functioning young men!), I do feel an overwhelming sense of happiness, enjoyment and pride being around to help our boys grow up.

As an unforseen bonus of retirement, I’ve also become much better in the kitchen! Although Mike would never call me a bad cook (because he wants to eat dinner again without having to make it himself), I can admit that cooking has never been my forte. My parents and siblings can also attest to this. They ate more than their fair share of my teenage concoctions. But in the past year I’ve been able to make incremental steps in improving this skill, and I’ve enjoyed doing it. I’m pretty sure Mike and the boys have enjoyed it as well.

And of course I have found an outlet to express some creativity, and find a sense of productivity and accomplishment right here on this blog. Writing about our experiences and lessons has not only helped distill the key aspects of what got us to this point, cementing the process in our own minds, hopefully it’s also helping to inspire others to pursue their aspirations for Financial Freedom. (This post marks the year anniversary of the blog!)

I do know that while I enjoy and value all of these things, I have yet to find that certain something outside the home to round it all out. That something I can really dig into. Somewhat of a work replacement to direct my energy towards, and maintain some of the skills I both enjoyed and honed for years in my career. Although I’m still not sure what exactly that thing is going to be for me, I do know that after a year of not having “it”, its an important part of leading a fulfilled life, at least for me.

But even in the absence of that outside passion or hobby, this past year has been pretty amazing. We’ve done a bunch of traveling, spent more time with family than we’ve ever been able to in the past, and most importantly we’ve spent a ton of quality time with our boys.

Not having to set my alarm clock, or drive during rush hour has also been pretty great.

Retired or not, we still have a young family and because they have activities and school etc there are still plenty of commitments to keep the old schedule bustling and full. But it is definitely a much more enjoyable way to be “busy” than we’ve ever experienced before.

Having the time to walk to activities and the grocery store, instead of driving (racing) all over the place has, for me, been one of the simplest yet most enjoyable changes of all.

Oh and of course I did buy us a pair of rocking chairs for our front patio. Excellent investment, I can see why they are a staple for retirees’. They get a lot of use.

While we’ve still got some kinks to work out in order to fully complete this transition into retired life, I certainly wouldn’t change it for the world. But after a full year of it, here’s my advice to anyone nearing their goal of retirement:

1 – Don’t Retire. At least not in the traditional sense! Transition from your job, to doing something you love. Whether that something provides a monetary incentive or not will be irrelevant, because if you truly love it, that won’t matter. So whether it’s a hobby, volunteering, building your own business, or exploring a career you’ve always wanted to try your hand at, make sure you have something in “retirement” that provides you a forum to set goals, invest effort, and garner a sense of productivity, and accomplishment.

We all need to obtain value from what we are doing, but we also need to feel valued and purposeful ourselves. Doing something that you love goes a long way in achieving both.

2 – Set New Goals. Even before you retire, sit down and identify a new set of goals for post-Financial Freedom. They may no longer be financially based or driven, but likely they will be about all the things you wanted to be Financially Free for in the first place. Certain experiences, investing time with your family, helping others, but don’t just assume you’ll meet all those expectations of FF without setting goals. You’ve worked so hard to get there, you want make sure you have a clear direction for where you want your retired path to take you.

While it’s nice to take a vacation periodically, living one long aimless vacation is no fun at all.

3 – Be Careful Who You Tell. This is somewhat obvious, but it deserves to be highlighted. Telling people you’re retired seems to give some the sense that they can now monopolize all of YOUR time, to allow THEM to have more free time. And in general, people’s expectations of your time go way, way up. I’ve had to explain a few times this year that I did not work my butt off to retire so that I could provide free daycare services for people I barely know (I didn’t even do it to provide free daycare to the people I do know!).

But there does seem to be a going assumption that because you are retired you must have nothing better to do with your time, (when really this whole thing is about regaining time!). So definitely get ready to protect your time by setting firm boundaries, and sticking to ’em!

Overall, had I given more thought to what came after the big goal of Financial Freedom, I undoubtedly could have prepared myself much better for this transition. But, as it always seems in life, fumbling through the process and figuring things out as we went has provided a multitude of lessons and generated much self-reflection.

I’m looking forward to the next year of retirement, along with the many lessons that will inevitably come as we continue our journey in what still feels like this foreign territory of Financial Freedom.

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