Sooner or later, retirees reach the point where they ask the same question Robert Redford’s character asked at the end of the 1972 classic movie The Candidate: “What do we do now?”
Think about it. After a lifetime of anticipation, of viewing everything in terms of saving, not spending, the new retiree suddenly makes a u-turn. Life now consists of spending, not saving.
At first, this seems fun. Like a sugar rush. Eventually, and often more quickly than expected, the rush subsides. A sudden emptiness haunts.
Retirees now find themselves repeating the last line of Senator-Elect Bill McKay – Robert Redford’s question – “What do we do now?”
Relax, all is not lost (see “3 Ways Retirees Adjust Their Lives Once They Discover Their Pre-Retirement Assumptions are Mistaken,” FiduciaryNews.com, October 9, 2018).
The mechanical things – those would be the fiscal and physical matters – have well-recognized templates and available advice to help. But life is not mechanical. We are not merely moist robots. We need something greater. Something deeper. Something more meaningful.
OK, I see I’m losing some of you. Rest assured, this essay is not headed down the road of philosophy. Rather, it’s more practical.
A purpose-driven retirement need not reflect a spiritual purpose. It might simply be the recognition of knowing what one likes and pursuing it.
If you like travel, you travel. It you like socializing, you socialize. If you like working, you work.
Wait! What? Work? During retirement?
Well, yes. And no.
I’m not talking about the kind of work people often refer to as “second careers.”
A second career implies doing everything you did in your first career, and all the stress involved in attempting to ascend some sort of (second) career ladder. Who wants that during their retirement?
Rather than “work” as we’ve come to define it, think “activity.” And by activity, I mean hobby. Maybe retirees get paid for this activity, maybe they don’t. The point is, they’re doing something. Anything.
Why is this important? Remember what the typical employee does during the course of their working life. The alarm rings in the morning and the day begins with a mental “to-do” list of what needs to be accomplished at work today. That regularity acts as an impetus. It gives people a reason to wake up. And waking up is generally considered a good thing.
We can categorize post-retirement “activities” into three general categories.
Where retirees place themselves depends both on their personalities and the size of their retirement savings. In all cases, the similarity between all three is the social element – you’re doing these activities with other people. Here they are in no particular order:
1. Leisure activities – These include everything from exotic travel and visiting distant friends to shuffleboard and tennis. As implied by the heading, these kinds of activities generally cost money. You’re either paying the cruise line, the tour guide, or the retirement community. That being said, there are low-cost leisure pursuits ranging from simple day-trips to the neighborhood bowling league to stamp collecting. The one thing all these have in common is relaxing fun. OK, maybe not too relaxing if you’re highly competitive in nature, but you get the idea.
2. Volunteer activities – These involve donating your time and energy for a non-profit cause. The cause may be one of advocacy (e.g., “save the whales”) or one of avocation (e.g., a historical society). What sets apart volunteer activities from leisure activities is the modus operandi. While the need for fun prompts involvement in leisure activities, the objective to “do something for the community” drives you to volunteer. The best thing about volunteering is that it doesn’t cost money. Anyone can afford to volunteer.
3. A paying gig – Sometimes retirees need a few extra bucks, sometimes they need the comfort of a routine or being a part of system, and sometimes they just need to be with people. For all these reasons and more, a paying gig might be an appropriate post-retirement activity. Of course, if you’ve been an entrepreneur all your life, you’re always tinkering with one business or another. Only, in retirement, its more of a hobby than a vocation. The beauty of these activities is, not only don’t they cost money, they actually generate revenue. That could be important (for psychological reasons) even for people who otherwise don’t need the money.
Eventually, after retirement’s initial excitement fades, many retirees will ask Bill McKay’s question. Now you know the answer to it.