Thursday, July 14, 2011

So I am retiring: now what?

One of the purposes of my blog is to share with others what I am doing during retirement.  Such a discussion includes its planning, implementing, and experiencing.  In addition to sharing what I am now doing regarding travel and other interest along with my photographs and related stories, I want to share with you this journey.  Here is the first installment of a series of articles about my journey into retirement.

So I am retiring: now what?

An awakening came when I was in the steam sauna at the Playacar Palace Resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico.  I was in my early 60s, still working hard at my job, and taking a couple of vacations each year.  I usually traveled with my wife for a week either to a resort in Mexico or the Caribbean or an occasional trip somewhere in the U.S. or Europe.  In the Spa an unexpected conversation with a stranger started me thinking about retirement.
Throughout most of my working career, I was a successful project manager.  I was driven to succeed in accomplishing high profile and important projects.  Those projects energized me so much that I was always excited about getting up each morning and facing the challenges of the day.  Those management skills now have helped me focus on my most important project--my retirement.  This series of articles is meant to share some thoughts about retirement, and set forth a process of discovery that evolved for figuring out my own retirement strategy.

A Call to Action – well sort of

That particular trip, I spent some mornings with my wife at the resort’s sun-drenched tropical golf course and spa.  After an early round of golf, we’d sit by the pool.  I would swim several vigorous laps, followed by time in the lounge chair watching the golfers, reading an entertaining book, or taking pictures of the beautiful landscape.  By late morning, as the heat intensified, I would go up to the spa to and enjoy the rejuvenating, healing qualities of the sauna, whirlpools, and a massage.

Usually, at that hour, I was alone in the sauna.  That day, as I entered the sauna and all I could see initially was the dense hot steam hanging in the air.  When I gingerly located the bench, I saw a form in the mist, where I usually sat. 

            “Good morning,’ the voice said to me as I found a place on the cedar bench.
            “Good morning,” I said in return.  Slowly my eyes became accustomed to the misty light.
            “How are you doing?” I said.  I now could see about ten feet from me a slender gray haired man who looked at least ten years older than I did.
            “I am fine.  I’m Fred.  Have you been at the resort long?”
            “Hi, I’m John and I’ve been here for a couple of days now.  What about you?”
            “I’ve been here one day.  This is a short trip.  I leave Wednesday to get back to my business.  Are you staying a whole week?”
            “Yes, we will be leaving next Saturday,” I said.
            “This place is the real deal,” Fred offered.  “I wish I had taken vacations like this more often.  But, you know how it goes, when you work hard all the time, sometimes you just can’t get away.”

            “Can I relate to that,” I said.  “I remember foolishly canceling some trips due to work.  However, I’ll soon be retiring and hope to take these kinds of trips more often.”

            “I never retired,” Fred said.  “I figured I couldn’t.  You know, I’m seventy-three years old and still working fifty or more hours a week.  I have no real hobbies.  Everything is about working.  I am not sure I would know what to do with myself if I stopped working.”  He sighed.

            “Well, Fred, I going to think about it, because I don’t really want to work forever.  I guess I need to figure out how to keep myself occupied. ” I spoke the words, but had now idea what they meant.

            We didn’t talk about retirement further, but we continued to chat.  Then Fred got up, grabbed his towel, and left the sauna after wishing me well.  From that moment on, I became more aware than ever of the need to think about retirement.

            At first, caught up in work, I didn’t do much about it immediately, although I thought it about it at times.  Gradually the idea of retirement crept back into my day-to-day thoughts.  That conversation with Fred in the sauna became even more vivid to me as I thought about how short life was and that we needed to make the most of every moment we had.  That conversation was my wake up call to think more about retirement.

I knew I didn’t want to keep working at my profession and that I didn’t want to be like many retired folks who end up dong little or nothing constructive.  I wanted to do exciting and meaningful things.  Therefore, over the course of the next several months my plan evolved.  Now, I regularly think about what that seventy-three-year-old man said as I tell myself repeatedly, “I am not going to let that happen to me.”

I started asking myself some questions that prompted me to think more intensely about retirement.  Here are some of the questions.  How much longer do I want to work?  Is work all I have to keep me going each day?  What spurs me to wake up enthusiastic and truly be motivated each day?  Those questions led to others.  What are my hobbies?  Am I involved in my community, any causes, or any organizations?  Do I volunteer? 

The questions went on and on as I thought about retirement with increased intensity.  I started to delve into figuring out what I wanted in life.  It prompted me to search for answers to what is it that I most like to do and what excites me even if it was about something that I had only dreamed of doing.  I began to pay more attention to what my friends and associates did.  It led me to think about my fears, such as; was I afraid that I wouldn’t be occupied or that I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do. 

Developing a plan was not easy.  I frequently had doubts and anxiety, but I kept at it.  Rather than developing a “bucket list,” which brought to mind an end, I created an “ideas funnel” to help me generate ideas for the future.  I began priortizing my interests, desires, and goals.  I wasn’t even sure I clearly knew what I wanted to do, but I was soon surprised at how many possibilities ended up in the funnel.  Before long, I was excited about retirement.  I could hardly wait.

As I started contemplating ideas, I thought about my current and past interests.  While priming the funnel, I signed up for events and activities that I thought might be good candidates.  This way I could sample some before committing to them.  Possibilities included the gym, golf, music, reading, travel, photography, writing, blogging, website development, volunteer work, and much more.

The upcoming article in the series will be the "Evolving Plan."


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