During retirement: rebel a little

Now that you’re taking better care of yourself, it’s time to have fun with it. While you’re designing an improved lifestyle for yourself you can also get a life.

It bears repeating: retirement means that you’re responsible for your own entertainment. This is especially true if you happen to have retired at a more senior rank, where you had a team devoting their efforts to meeting every one of your goals and keeping you happy. That lifestyle is over! While spouse and family are happy to have you back in their lives, they may not necessarily share your new-found joy at being the focus of all your time and attention.

Luckily you can creatively think up plenty of entertainment. You can also evaluate all of your workplace-survival tactics and decide whether they’re still necessary. For example, are you wearing a watch? Why? When you were at work or on duty it may have been necessary to coordinate your activities down to the second– but do you need to continue that? It’s a tiny step to put your watch away for a few days, but it may need a big leap of faith in yourself. At first you’ll find yourself walking around to find a clock, and you might even have a momentary panic of “I’m late!!” But for what? After a few weeks you may have stopped looking for clocks. By the end of the first year you’ll know as much about the time as you care to, but you’ll be looking for a calendar to figure out what day it is.

Do you have to make your bed every morning? That may have been important when you were experiencing reveille and inspections, but those days are over. No one is going to care about your hospital corners, and you’ll probably be back in a few hours anyway for an afternoon nap. Sure, it’d be nice to set a neat example for the kids, too, but no one has to stow for sea anymore. Maybe the younger ones would share the thrill of your retirement by not having to make their beds every morning, either. Years later you may still feel as if you’re getting away with something.

Navy veterans of a certain age may remember that sad 1980s day when beards were outlawed by the uniform regulations. (Don’t worry, submariners, your secrets are safe with me.) Men felt that it was nice to shave less, beards kept faces warm during cold weather, and a few shipmates’ chins desperately needed a well-groomed coat of hair. If you’re now a retired man then what better way to remind yourself than by growing a beard, or at least a goatee and sideburns? The shock value with family and friends is priceless, and you can decide one last time if growing it is worth the itchy phase. Even if you shave it off again after a month, you can still relax your former clean-shaven standards. Shaving twice a week will keep you groomed enough and, if done regularly, it can help you remember what day of the week it is.

Speaking of hair, when was your last haircut? For at least the last two decades you’ve had little or no choice about your hair length and style– let alone its color and accessories. Once again you have a new opportunity to try new lifestyles and habits. From now on, every day your hair could be the longest it’s ever been. For some of us it may be the last chance to discover what our hair can do! If you’re a parent then few things will annoy your kids more than a pony-tail-growing contest. They’ll complain happily to their friends about the phase their parents are going through, but secretly they’ll be impressed and looking forward to their own retirement.

You get the idea, and from this point you can let your imagination run wild. Tattoos and body piercings are no longer out of the question, either, although you may still feel compelled to set an example for impressionable teens. Others may see retirement as a chance to have a tattoo or two removed without worrying about inappropriate workplace attention.

While you’re enjoying a little rebellion, remember to keep it “little”. Retirement is a fantastic opportunity to experiment with alcohol, smoking, or even riskier behavior. Family and friends don’t have to know about this research, and you don’t even have to worry about military urinalysis! But as you start this new phase of your life, the last thing you want to do is to risk your health (or your arrest record). In extreme circumstances it risks your longevity, let alone your military pension and benefits. There are hundreds of sad stories of retirees who couldn’t be responsible for their own entertainment and turned to riskier behaviors out of boredom or even fear. That’s not rebellion– that’s avoidance and defeat. You’ve looked forward to retirement for decades and you’ve prepared for months. Turn your lifestyle healthier, not more hazardous.

Related articles:
Retirement: don’t recreate your old environment
Retirement: relax, reconnect and re-engage
Lifestyles in military retirement: surfing
“But… but… but what will I DO all day?!?”

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About Doug Nordman

Author of "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" and co-author of "Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence."
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