To avoid ennui and find meaning, there are five aspects of living, which I call pillars, that you need to focus on in your approach to a successful retirement. These pillars are:
Staying mindful of these five pillars goes a very long way toward a successful retirement because you are attending to the essential needs that keep you physically and mentally healthy. Most important, they challenge you to improve yourself as you move forward in life. The DESIGNED RETIREMENTS™ approach helps you to develop goals and objectives that will allow you to realize your dreams and desires. You will see how each step to accomplishing those goals and objectives serves as the bricks and mortar that support a rewarding retirement.
As previously discussed, the Financial pillar is critical since it determines the lifestyle you will have in retirement. Having met with your financial advisor, you have a good grasp of your financial status, as well as any changes you may need to make to ensure ongoing financial stability. You know how much you can spend, and on what, in your retirement. This will dictate how much you can spend on nonessentials, such as leisure and social activities. If you spend too much in these areas without full understanding of the tradeoffs, you will adversely impact your financial pillar, which could have significant repercussions. Also, given your financial review, you know whether or not you will need to work in retirement. If you do have to work, you will know how much time you will need to put in. Including work in your plan will be addressed later in the book, but for now, knowing how many days or hours you must work, plus commute time, if necessary, should be factored in to your plan.
Working for Social or Other Reasons
You may also want to work for the social interaction it provides or just work part-time to stay involved mentally and physically. If so, you should consider the type of work you would like to do, whether in the same line of work you were engaged in or perhaps applying your experience and skills to another area. You should also consider the time commitment if you decide to work part-time or engage as a consultant. The money you make from this work would not be for living purposes, but simply additional money to be used as you desire. It may all go to your spouse, grandkids, charity, or your best friend! We will address this under Brainstorm, but for now, unless it’s required financially, consider work as an optional part of your social pillar and not a requirement.
It’s also very important to consider how your retirement goals will impact your financial plans. For example, your planned trip to China may have to wait a few years until you accumulate sufficient funds. Bankrolling your trip while adversely impacting your current financials is not a wise move. When completing your retirement matrix, which we will develop later, it is important to consider any goal’s impact on your financial status. Therefore, when developing your goals, if there is any cost impact, please note it accordingly, so you do not find yourself weakening one pillar, to the detriment of any other.
The Physical pillar is critical to a successful retirement since everything you want to do rests on it. As discussed previously, you’ve had your medical checkup and you know your limits, if any. So, it is time to develop an exercise plan with your doctor to maintain good health and enjoy your retirement knowing your physical limitations — and potentials. Pick out the time of day you find most convenient and do the physical activity your doctor recommends. For some, this may be tennis; for others, walking or golf. And since it is so important to maintain your strength in retirement, some time with Nautilus machines or free weights is also helpful, if okayed by your doctor.
But the key to this pillar is the checkup. We all have our physical limitations and potential, and understanding them is key to a successful lifestyle. For some, the best choice is a walk around the block; for others, it’s that rigorous hike up the mountain. We are all individuals and different in many ways. Do not risk physical injury! The adverse impact on your retirement lifestyle would be significant. Know yourself, listen to your body, and act accordingly.
We are social animals, and no less so in retirement. Maintaining a network of old and/or new friends and acquaintances is important to a lively retirement and helps stimulate new avenues of adventure, since others may introduce you to pursuits that are new to you. Family is of course important as you age and maintaining warm relations with your family can bring years of enjoyment. This is always a tender balance to strike since you do not want to appear meddlesome, but also want to be a continuing part of your family members’ growth as they age and life changes. You have a lot to offer and can help in many ways. An issue, of course, can be distance, and how to best bridge this gap. For starters, there should always be sensitivity to when you may be overstaying your welcome. On the other hand, you may be more needed than you realize, and not calling or visiting may be taken wrongly. Therefore, it’s always best to discuss this matter to make sure you have a mutual understanding.
You may also want to consider clubs, organizations of interest, or local involvement. All of these venues will provide numerous opportunities to interact with others and meet new people. You and your spouse/significant other should address this jointly since there may be opportunities for both of you in the same organization, or you may want to be involved in separate areas due to differing interests. But the key point is that there is a plethora of opportunities, and you just have to take that first step and seek them out.
Social interaction offers the mental refreshment of discussion and just plain old good times. It meets so many needs in retirement and should be continually developed. Social interaction has provided so many benefits in the past, and in retirement, given your time to reflect and enjoy others’ company, this can be greatly magnified.
This pillar is concerned with keeping yourself mentally challenged by continuously learning, or continuing to develop your sense of inquiry by revisiting prior disciplines which you may not have previously had time to pursue. For example, you may have found physics a most interesting field, but for whatever reason, you could not pursue it and now you would like to make up for lost time by taking some courses. For others, it may be simply doing the crossword puzzle or Sudoku every day to satisfy their sense of challenge and need for accomplishment. It may also include getting involved in local politics so you can effect some change in your community. This is just one of the many stimulating opportunities in retirement, since it enables you to expand your universe and keep your sense of inquiry alive and well. Adult education courses may also be considered for broadening your horizons. Keeping yourself mentally active through inquiry and learning is essential in life and even more so in retirement.
Consider getting outside your comfort zone! Explore some area that you have never seriously considered but that may provide some intellectual or physical challenge! For example, I have never appreciated modern art, but rather enjoyed the safe and easy-on-the-eyes art of the past. I was amazed at the ability to recreate a scene and imbue it with meaning, but modern art just seemed beyond my ability to comprehend. Then I took an art course, which was historical in nature and demonstrated how art has evolved over the years. I am still not comfortable with modern art, and prefer the “easier” style, but at least I have an understanding.
So, consider moving outside of familiar territory and start exploring! It’s well worth the trip, and you may learn some new life lessons along the way.
You may also want to consider volunteering, since you probably have a need to give back or just want to help. There are so many organizations, local and national, that can use your help. Some people join the Red Cross, for example, or help at “Meals on Wheels.” It’s up to you. Again, it’s that first step, well considered, that strengthens this pillar and helps others who are not as fortunate or simply need help.
Lastly, you may want to consider work as part of this pillar. If you want to work at a non-profit, for example, or to simply work at a local store to meet new people, that’s fine. Nothing wrong with additional income. You may even learn a new skill as a barista! But make sure this is the way you want to use your time and that it doesn’t crowd out other endeavors. This is a deep pillar since it allows you to expand, confront, and challenge yourself to new heights, or simply relish your current interests. Do not miss the opportunity to learn and grow in areas of new or old interest.
Some may look at this category and completely ignore it, and that’s fine, since it is your prerogative. Others, however, will recognize that nurturing their spiritual side is important, regardless of age. You may wish to explore it more deeply through your religion or other spiritual practices, such as meditation. This category is very personal and will of course mean different things to different people. However, it cannot be ignored as the driving force in most people’s lives. It needs to be recognized as an integral aspect of your life and should be nurtured. If there is a void in your life, and you believe it is spiritual, look at it, and be receptive to whatever comes to you. You would not be alone in this regard – even Mother Teresa experienced a lengthy “dark night of the soul” — so seek assistance and you will find others are there to help.
For myself, this section is quite personal, since I sincerely do believe there is a spiritual side to life, but I am uncomfortable with the religion I was raised in as it strikes me as dogmatic and noninclusive. The older I grew, the more I realized this, and religion for me became a daily observance of life in all its beauty and challenges. Meditation, prayer, reflection, and solitude put me in touch with my spiritual side without having to be concerned about the “rules” of engagement. Any goals or objectives that you list in this pillar should be personal and meant to help you cope with, and appreciate, the surprises and eventualities of daily living. It is a very rich aspect of life, and your goals should reflect your desire to grow in this pillar of retirement. Reflect on your own personal journey and how rich it has been. You have more journeying ahead, so make sure you have the spiritual assistance to deepen you as you develop your goals and objectives.
A particularly rich text in this area is Creating a Spiritual Retirement by Molly Srode. She focuses on the spiritual side of retirement and provides some excellent insights. I have used it myself and highly recommend it.