OK, You’re Finally Retired. Now what?

Let’s assume you’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time, perhaps with anticipation, perhaps with dread. You have at long last retired, whether it was something you wanted to do or something you had to do for some reason. Let’s also assume you’re not yet in your later decades and you’re not ill. In that case, Now the question is how do you plan to live them? What are you going to do with all that time?

It’s a daunting question and probably one you wish you had asked sooner. When you begin to sort through possibilities, you may feel overwhelmed at first, but take a deep breath and consider the following suggestions:

  1. Keep on doing whatever you’ve been doing up until now but for less money, as a consultant or freelancer, or as a hobby or avocation because there is nothing else you can imagine doing. That was the approach I took. I never planned to retire, so in a sense, I didn’t. I had been a writer for fifty years, and I just continued to be one. Sometimes, I made money; sometimes, I didn’t. But I didn’t care. What mattered was to keep on writing in whatever form that took. This is still working for me after five years as a retiree.
  2. Start a second or third career. If you have come to the end of this phase of your working life but are still full of energy and ideas, taking up golf or Pickleball as a full-time venture may have little appeal. If that’s the case, now is the time to do a little brainstorming, either on your own or with someone who knows how to ask good questions. This could be the time to explore the career path you never took and see where it might lead you. What have you always wanted to do but never had the nerve, the time, or the training to do it? Maybe you know exactly what that is because deep down you have never fully abandoned the idea. On the other hand, maybe you’re stumped and need to do some creative thinking. That usually starts with questions—the kind of questions that make you think. If you’re going to take this approach to uncover a possible next career, it’s a good idea to do it with at least one other person. It’s hard to brainstorm alone.
  3. Mentor up-and-coming younger workers in your field of expertise. Teach them the skills you’ve developed and honed over the years. These skills may be specific to a certain specialty, such as economics or engineering, journalism or graphic design, but not all of them can be taught in a classroom. Students may grasp the nuts and bolts of their subject matter but not always the more subtle aspects, which can only be mastered through years by what I call seat-of-the-pants learning. You can only learn by doing. To become an editor, you have to edit—​correct mistakes, improve and polish writing, fix​ grammar and punctuation, ​and where necessary, prepare the manuscript for publication.
  4. Find a job doing something you’ll enjoy. First, it’s important to know the difference between a job and a career. A job is regular employment for which you receive a paycheck. A career is a commitment to a particular profession for a significant period of your life. Chances are you have just retired from a career and are ready for something with a little less pressure. Second, you should think about what you like to do. It doesn’t matter how small or off the wall it is. Almost anything you think of will have a host of jobs—full-time or part-time—associated with it. Do you like to read? How about a job in a bookstore or a library? Is your passion arts and crafts? Consider a job at Michaels or some other craft store. Or learn more about a particular craft by working at a shop that specializes in it, such as knitting or woodworking or tailoring.
  5. Explore a completely different field than the one you know well. This will allow you to pursue areas of interest you’ve always meant to try or haven’t even known about before. There are many ways to think about retirement—as a well-deserved time of rest from a lifetime of work, as one long period of sport and play, and as a chance to travel the world at last. I suggest that you also view it as an adventure—a time to try new things, to test your limits. There are careers out there just waiting for you to try them out.
  6. Go back to school to pursue a degree in your field or a different one. If you loved school once, chances are, you’ll love it again, perhaps even more now that you have gained some life experience. If you never earned the degree you were working toward, now is the time to finish that important item on your to-do list. If graduate school was always in your dreams, don’t assume you are too old. The first thing you’ll notice is the huge range of ages among your fellow students. Adult learning has finally come into its own. If this is something you have long considered doing, hop on board.
  7. Take classes in whatever interests you. Not all education has to lead to a diploma or a degree. There is an abundance of continuing education classes in every imaginable subject to choose from. They are taught at colleges and universities, high schools, and community centers. With many of them, you can earn continuing education units (CEUs). A CEU is a credit equal to ten hours of participation in an accredited program designed for those who need certificates or licenses to practice their professions. But there are also hundreds of classes that teach skills, increase your knowledge, and widen your horizons. I have taught classes like these in writing for many years at the community college in my hometown. They were a wonderful experience for my adult learning students and for me.
  8. Volunteer for a cause you believe in. It has taken a lifetime to become the person you are now. Along the way, you have accumulated valuable experience, knowledge, and expertise in a broad range of subjects. You have contributed your knowledge to your employer or to a business you built on your own. Now that you stepped away from your career, you still have every bit of that practical knowledge, plus the wisdom that comes with age. There are countless individuals, nonprofit organizations, and businesses that could benefit from what you could teach them. All you have to do is find a cause you care about deeply and share what you know. It’s a way to “pay it forward.”
  9. Babysit for your grandchildren. This is not as far-fetched as it may seem. You won’t make any money taking care of your grandkids, but you will reap the rewards in many other ways. If being involved with your children’s children is something that appeals to you, by all means, give it a try. If you think you won’t know how to take care of young children, just remember that you did it once, and you probably did a pretty good job. If you are concerned that you won’t have the requisite energy for the job, it’s not necessary to run yourself ragged. With your firm, gentle touch, you set the perimeters. Believe me, your tiny charges will live within them.
  10. Travel to places you’ve always wanted to see. Traveling to faraway lands—especially Europe—is the in thing right now. Many of my friends are hopping on planes or boarding ships to finally cross these destinations off their bucket lists. They are eating their way through Italy, discovering the beauties of Scandinavia, and taking amazing photographs on safari in Africa. These trips don’t have to cost $1 million if you have a good travel agent and plan well. Think about what you want to experience and what memories you want to bring home with you. Then, start reading about each of the places you might want to visit. Do your homework before you sign up for anything.
  11. Become a couch potato. I’m sure there are many reasons to choose this option for your retirement. It’s relaxing. You can do it at home on your own time. It doesn’t take any special training. There have been plenty of studies of how retired people spend their time. Many of them spend hours and hours watching TV and sitting in front of a computer screen. What’s wrong with that? Well, for starters, research has linked sitting for long periods with several health concerns. They include obesity and a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and unhealthy cholesterol levels — that make up metabolic syndrome. Even if you exercise for one hour a day and then spend most of your hours at the computer and then later in front of the TV, you are leading a mostly inactive life. If you want to live long and well, you surely need to pry yourself off the couch and the computer chair and get moving.