So, what happens after you declare yourself retired? Maybe you finished 20 years of active duty in a blaze of glory with a farewell dinner, a retirement ceremony with full honors, and dozens of family and relatives. Perhaps you did the same in the Reserves/National Guard along with friends from the civilian office. Or you could have left the military long ago and your retirement is the capstone of a successful bridge career.
However, you got here, everyone is starting over. You may be permanently finished with the workplace or you could just be taking a breather. Maybe you’ll be reconnecting with other work or volunteering. While you’re considering your options, this is a time to restart your life and re-examine all your habits.
What Happens After You Retire?
One of the first things you can change during retirement is your sense of time. You’re accustomed to seeing the future as the next mission, tomorrow’s sortie, the next deployment, 30 days of leave, or the next tour. You could still do that, but now you don’t have to! This is your chance to develop a new perspective: “the rest of your life”. It’s a gradual shift that may take a few months to develop.
One of early retirement’s pioneers, Paul Terhorst, advises taking “the two-year test“. When he was first considering ER, he thought about what he would do if he only had two years left to live. What would he change? What would he do differently? But once he was retired, he realized that he and his wife were doing exactly what they wanted to do– they wouldn’t change a thing. Now they take the two-year test every six months or so and gradually approach new things.
At first, two years may seem like an eternity! But he and his wife have been perpetual travelers for over 25 years and they’ve learned not to rush into creating new habits. The first couple years of retirement are one of life’s few opportunities to contemplate how you want to spend your time.
Two years gives you a chance to appreciate the annual routine and to see how things work out. Don’t buzz back and forth with a new “To-Do” list and try to change everything around you. You have the rest of your life to figure out how you want to do this so relax, slow down, and contemplate the opportunities.
Your top priority is re-engaging with family, relatives, and friends. You might not just have to figure out the new family routine– you might have to get to know each other again!
If you’ve had a career of long deployments and extra hours on the mission, then your spouse is probably accustomed to being in charge of domestic decisions. That is not going to change just because you can make it your new mission. Your kids may also be a bit suspicious of your new schedule. They may be horrified to learn that you’re going to spend all your time with them (while secretly enjoying the attention) but they’ll also be a bit skeptical of your commitment.
Even if you’re living alone, the first months of retirement are a great chance to reconnect with relatives and close friends. You have the time to spend a few hours with an elderly aunt or to go out for a meal with your wingmen whose schedules never synched up. There’s even time for a trip around the country to give people a chance to congratulate you on your retirement all over again.
As you visit with these relatives and friends, pay particular attention to the retirees. How did they make their own retirement transition? What perspective have they developed on the future and their own activities? What surprises or challenges did they face? What would they do differently? What advice would they give you? These could be the mentors you’d never find around the military or the office.
The first months of retirement are also the time to confront the perpetual question of all retirees: “What will you do all day?” The cliché response, of course, is “Whatever you want to.” The difference is that you can spend the time to do it without being rushed by weekend deadlines or fighting the crowds.
As you contemplate your morning routine, you’ll notice that the neighborhood seems to be evacuating around you. Front doors and garages are ejecting their occupants, families are bustling to load up, car doors are slamming, and the streets are full of urgent rush-hour commuters.
Meanwhile you can plan your day at your own pace. Maybe you’re continuing a morning workout habit or you’re starting a new exercise commitment. Perhaps you’d rather help the rest of the family get out of the house, do your chores before it’s hot, or have your own quiet time enjoying the sunrise– if you’re even planning to be up this early. Once the rush hour crowds have reached their destinations, you’ll be able to enjoy the neighborhood without rushing.
Remember the hassles and crowds of shopping and errands on a Saturday morning? You don’t have to do that anymore. The entire world is open during the workweek but it’s a lot less crowded at 10 AM on Tuesday. You can also break up your business with leisure activities– an hour at the library or a quiet coffee house, a workout at the gym, or just exploring the neighborhood.
In the shops and stores, you’ll notice that the workers have time to answer your questions or to help you plan a project. (No more competing with six other crazed weekend shoppers before you rush back home to prepare for next week’s work!) If you adopt a weekly routine then you may get to know the staff and their work schedules– and they’ll get to know you. You might even reacquaint yourself with the people around your neighborhood
Back home it’s time to think about lunch or projects or even a short nap. After years of long hours and irregular routines, you may be chronically fatigued. The first couple weeks of your new life may even require an extra hour or two of “catch up” naps before your circadian rhythm resets. Even if your eyelids aren’t drooping, there’s a blissful pleasure in 20-30 minutes of quiet contemplation of your surroundings. Practice “being” instead of “doing”.
The afternoon can be devoted to more chores or you can give yourself a reward for completing them. If you spent the morning surfing then maybe you’re ready to start errands. Or if you spent the morning on yard work then you might be ready to escape the heat with a visit to a local museum, an uncrowded movie theater, or lunch with friends.
Take your time and enjoy being able to focus on an activity. You don’t have to rush back to work and you don’t have to burn through the chores so that you can enjoy what’s left of your weekend. Once again, perhaps for the first time in decades, it’s your choice.
If you’ve been perfecting the art of dodging the commuters then you’ll get to your evening’s destination before rush hour starts anew. The kids will be out of school, ready to spend quality time with you as they discharge their pent-up energy before homework.
The neighborhood will start to fill up with cars again as the morning’s evacuation reverts to an evening invasion. It’s time to start thinking about dinner and spending the rest of the day with family. The retirement difference is that you have time to plan ahead and really enjoy a creative meal, whether it’s fixed in your own kitchen or enjoyed at a local restaurant among a few weeknight diners. From now on, you only have to compete with the weekend crowds if you want to.
Speaking of weekends, they can become a retiree’s nightmare. There’s nothing worse than leaving the house for a few quick errands– only to realize that it’s Saturday when you’ll be stuck in traffic, crowded parking lots, and long lines. You may no longer need to keep track of every minute but you may find it helpful to keep track of what day it is. This is simpler if you have school-age children or a working spouse, but you may still need to have a calendar in every room of the house or a “day clock” that displays the day of the week instead of the time.
No, this is not a joke. There really is a day clock, and it really helps you keep track of the day!
Relax, and don’t worry about the next few months. One of the top three concerns of all new retirees is “But what will I do all day?” By the second week, though, they’re all wondering what the heck they were worried about.
The next couple weeks of posts will talk about more ways to develop (and enjoy!) your retirement without inadvertently re-creating your working life.
“But… but… but what will I DO all day?!?”
Myths of military retirement and early retirement
Lifestyles in military retirement: surfing
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