Part 3: Choosing How to Spend Your Time
Once you retire, you’re free!
Has it occurred to you that once you retire from your job, you are free to use your time any way you want to?
It’s true. In retirement, from morning til night, your time is yours and yours alone.
No more deadlines, alarm clocks, commuting, boring meetings, ridiculous production requirements, dress codes, unwanted overtime, hours reductions, annual reviews with the boss, and so on.
Yes, YOU get to decide every morning how you will spend the next 24 hours, and all the 24-hour days after today.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Oh, boy! Free at last! Now I can do what I want!” Or you may be thinking, “OMG, what will I do? How will I fill all those empty hours?”
Both of those reactions, and the ones in between “Oh, boy” and “OMG”, are common responses to the recognition that after retirement, your time is your own. Some rejoice, some shrug, and some cringe.
But now you have to decide how to use that time.
And that’s the subject of Part 3 of Beginner’s Guide to Meaningful Retirement Living: Choosing how to spend your time.
Choosing how to spend your time: it’s a process
Being retired and free from job responsibilities is an incredible opportunity!
I hope to persuade you that having days and weeks and months and years to do what you want is not something to fear, but something to cherish.
If you’re already retired, but are unhappy with how things are going, this article can help you turn and go in a new direction.
If you’re nearing retirement, but haven’t decided what you’ll do with your freedom, this article can help you.
If you’re more than 10 years from retirement, but have retired friends and relatives, this article can help you understand your friends’ and relatives’ behavior.
Grab a spiral notebook (hopefully the one you’ve been using since Part 1 and Part 2 of Beginner’s Guide to Meaningful Retirement Living) and dive into Part 3 now.
First step: change from a caterpillar to a butterfly
This familiar analogy of changing from a caterpillar to a butterfly works for the process you’re going to go through here in Part 3.
You’re going to discard your old working-at-a-job self, and transform yourself into a new soaring butterfly self! A free self who will enter retirement full of possibilities!
For most people who’ve worked for 20 years or more, the job becomes routine (even if it’s varied and interesting) and your thoughts about yourself include identifying yourself by your job title and/or category.
When you’re introduced to someone new, I’m sure you’ve heard people say things like this about themselves:
–I’m a teacher.
–I’m a lawyer.
–I’m a nurse.
–I’m a department manager.
–I’m a marketing supervisor.
–I’m a writer.
–I’m a sales rep.
And so on. You’ve probably done it yourself.
What do you say when people ask you what you do? Write it down in your notebook under Part 3.
When you make statements like this – “I’m a sales manager” – you’re defining yourself by your job.
You’re implying that you are NOTHING MORE THAN your job title or category.
After many years of this, you probably think of yourself as a teacher, lawyer, nurse, etc. You structure your days, weeks, months, and years in terms of your job responsibilities and schedule.
- As a nurse, you may have every other weekend off. So you plan family outings or social events on your free weekends.
- As a teacher, you think of the year in terms of the academic schedule of September to June. You have summers off, so you do your home repairs, remodeling, redecorating, yard work, and vacation travel in the summers.
- As a marketing supervisor or store manager, depending on your product line, you may plan your schedules by the seasonal marketing promotions that your business develops. There’s the Christmas season, and then Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, Easter, etc., and clearance sales for the seasonal merchandise that doesn’t sell, and so on.
You get the idea. Over the years, you start to think of your life and your schedule as revolving around your job responsibilities and calendar.
There’s nothing wrong with this, except that it leads to your having a distorted image of yourself.
You have to let go of that if you want to have a meaningful retirement.
“What you have to accept is that your work identity is a distorted self-image of how the rest of the world, and you, look at yourself. This identity or self-image is not the real you. It has covered up your true identity for so long that it has obscured your authentic self.” (How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, p. 48)
Have you thought about your “authentic self” recently? Probably not. But start thinking about it now!
We need your authentic self to re-emerge so that you can decide what to do with your time when you retire.
In retirement, you no longer go to a job unless you WANT to. Each day is your own. You are no longer a teacher, lawyer, store manager, or sales rep.
So what are you if you are no longer your job?
That’s what we’re going to find out here.
I’m going to ask you a series of questions. Write down the questions in your notebook, leaving space between them so you have room for answers. Then stop reading this article and write the answers to the questions.
What do you love to do?
What have you wanted to do for years?
Who do you want to become?
What sort of person would you want to be if work was totally abolished in this world?
(Questions taken from How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free p. 48)
Was it easy or hard to think of something to write down to answer those questions?
If you had trouble remembering what you love to do, what you have wanted to do for years, or who you want to become, then keep at it. Take another crack at writing the answers tonight or tomorrow.
When you’ve finished, look at your answers. They should have NOTHING to do with your job. If they do, cross them out and try again.
I hope you’re starting to get excited about the possibilities that are waiting for you when you retire.
Here are some more questions to write down and answer:
–What is most important to you: travel, spending time with grandchildren or other relatives, enjoying sports activities or social events with others your age, volunteering, taking classes, or what?
–Do you want to spend more time on your hobbies? Which ones?
–Do you want to spend less time cooking or cleaning or taking care of your home?
–Do you want to travel? How often? Where to?
–Do you want to spend more time with grandchildren?
(Questions adapted from The Five Years Before You Retire p. 179)
You are much more than your job and always have been. The trick is to rediscover your best non-work traits and develop them.
Take time to think about how you could spend your days, weeks, months, and years.
Do you want to bike across Australia?
Climb Mt. Fuji?
Cruise the Mediterranean Sea?
Do you want to study for an astronomy degree?
Learn to speak Spanish fluently?
Compete in a national chess tournament?
Paint watercolor pictures?
Study theology and become a pastor?
When you retire, you can do anything you want!
You can write a travelogue, read all the “classics”, learn to play electric guitar, study electronics, design quilts, volunteer at a national park, learn the Argentine Tango, cook like Julia Child, and on and on!
The sky is the limit. Start listing the things in your notebook that you’d like to do, see, learn, or try. Write them all down. Don’t judge or censor yourself. Write everything you can think of that interests you!
This is what I meant when I wrote that you’re going to change from a caterpillar into a butterfly. You’re going to shed your old identity and develop a new identity that is free and spontaneous.
If you’ve started thinking of all the possibilities open to you, then you’re ready for Step 2.
Second step: Describe how you’d like to spend a typical day, week, month, and year once you retire.
Still in your notebook, write down as many of your retirement hopes and expectations as you can think of. This will help you plan financially later on.
It “will also give you an opportunity to figure out how your life will change and how it will stay the same post-retirement.” (The Five Years Before You Retire, p. 179)
You’ll need to work at making ”the transition from being a working person to one who is retired.” But you can do it! (How to Retire Happy … p. 49)
Here’s the next writing assignment. Let your mind embrace all the possibilities:
Describe a typical day in retirement as you’d like it to be
Describe a typical week in retirement as you’d like it to be
Describe a typical month (in each season) in retirement as you’d like it to be
Describe a typical year in your first 5 years in retirement as you’d like it to be
Read these imaginative descriptions out loud a few times. Can you start to visualize yourself in your new life?
Third Step: Define a purpose for yourself in retirement.
When you’re no longer working at a job, or no longer acting as someone’s parent every day, you need to redefine your purpose in life.
Your purpose is no longer to make money to support yourself and your family, and no longer to raise children and be sure they are educated appropriately.
If you don’t define a new purpose for yourself, you may find you’re wasting your early months in retirement.
You don’t want to spend your retirement years watching TV, drinking coffee with your friends, going to casinos, or drinking, do you? People without purposes fall into these habits.
You want to do something new, fun, and great!
In retirement, your purpose is to enjoy life to the fullest, according to your definition. So you need to make a purpose statement that expresses that.
When making a purpose statement, start by answering three questions:
Who am I?
What am I going to do?
Why am I going to do it?
It’s important to have a purpose in retirement so that you make the most of each day and find meaning in your activities.
What will your purpose be?
It’s not easy for everyone to discover a personal purpose.
It’s harder for people who have focused their lives on superficial pursuits, like material possessions, status, competition, and conspicuous consumption.
These people have been concentrating on working hard and earning a lot of money, and have forgotten who they are. They don’t know what they care about or what really excites them.
They may have more than enough money, but they don’t know what they want. They have become separated from who they really are. (paraphrased from How to Retire Happy … p. 54)
It’s going to be more difficult for them to succeed at choosing how to spend their time in retirement. But they CAN do it if they work at it.
Ask yourself questions:
What is important to me?
What makes me happy?
What talents or skills am I most proud of?
What field of endeavor challenges me in new ways?
What makes me feel most creative?
What special talent have I neglected while working?
What would I like to do that I have always wanted to do, but never got around to?
How would I like to make the world a better place?
What sort of legacy would I like to leave?
(questions adapted from How to Retire Happy … pp. 54-55)
Write these questions down in your notebook, leaving several lines blank between questions so you have room to answer them.
Take a few minutes right now and spontaneously write down your answers. Don’t stop to think about them. Keep going.
Bring this notebook of questions with you for the next few weeks and add to your answers. Every day, take 15 minutes or so to think about the questions further.
Eventually, you’ll have enough information to help you discover at least one important mission, true calling, or exciting pursuit for your first few retirement years. You may discover more than one!
There is no end to the scope and variety of activities that can be important purposes for retirees.
Some examples of activities with major purposes:
Activities with a Major Purpose
- Go back to school to get a degree just for the sake of learning
- Photograph nature in all areas of the world
- Work to eradicate a social problem
- Help educate disadvantaged children
- Learn about solar energy and help promote it
- Travel to at least 50 different countries and learn about their people, history, economy, customs, and geography
- Write science fiction
- Record the history of your town
- Start and operate a bed and breakfast inn
- Help friends and family succeed in life
- Become a cowboy and raise buffalo humanely
- Design a labor-saving device for your home
If you want to work part-time for a few years during retirement, it would be great if you could find a job to express your purpose and who you are.
Many retirees are successful at finding and going after their true calling. After their career ends, they find true happiness in a dream job that gives them the chance to be creative and produce something of value to others.
We all need to experience fulfillment. Use your answers to all the questions we’ve covered so far to design your dream job with purpose and meaning to it. Once you know what it is, you can try to find a job like that.
You are working to discover yourself again – the person who you were before you got immersed in the world of work and family responsibilities.
If you devote enough time and effort to it, you will rediscover who you are and what you want to do with your life. You’ll be finding the answer to the question people asked you when you were little: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Well, now you ARE grown up, and you can be whatever you choose!
A recent AARP study revealed that many older people want to work at least part time in retirement. More than a third (37%) of Americans aged 50 to 64 believe they will work for pay after they retire.
Among those who will seek employment post retirement, almost half (44%) will be looking to work in new fields of interest; 23% will stay in the same field, and 33% are undecided.
Regardless of the field, respondents are hoping to work part-time (73%), with over half expecting to work for someone else (57%) vs. being a contractor (21%) or starting their own business (19%).
If you can find your dream job, or one pretty close to it, then your time spent working will fly by and you will enjoy yourself every day. And you’ll get paid to do it! How awesome is that?
This is the type of thinking you need to do to find your purpose in life, once you’re retired and free.
It’s never too early to start thinking like this.
Fourth step: Take action to carry out your purpose in life.
So far, we’ve worked on these three steps:
–Changing from a caterpillar to a butterfly by revising your identity from worker to retiree
–Choosing how to spend your time – the days, weeks, months, and years
–Defining a purpose that will allow you to spend your time as you want to and give it meaning
Now it’s time for ACTION!
If you are already retired, you can start today: choosing how to spend your time.
If you’re not retired yet, you can continue your planning and investigating so that when your retirement date comes, you are ready to begin your new life of freedom!
If you’re far from retirement but want to help others get ready and help yourself prepare, then you can spread the word about self-discovery and finding purpose even while you’re still working.
Part of taking action to carry out your purpose is figuring out what your purpose will cost in terms of time and resources (such as money).
Depending on what you plan to do with your time, you can expect to either reduce or expand your financial needs:
–If you’re going back to school to study something you’d love to learn about, find out what it will cost in tuition and fees.
–If you’re going to take classical guitar lessons, find out what a good used guitar costs and how much lessons will be.
–If you’re going to photograph nature all over the world, get some travel books from the library and plan your first two or three trips. Investigate hostels and camping possibilities to keep costs down. See where your frequent flyer miles could take you. Find out what a good camera costs and start saving for it.
–If you’re going to become a cowboy, look into selling your home or terminating your apartment lease, getting rid of or storing your belongings, and finding out where you can go to buy a horse and start working for a rancher so you can learn the business of raising stock.
–Write YOUR PURPOSE AND PREPARATIONS HERE–
It’s going to be so much fun! It’s going to be great!
Now you have the tools – soon you’ll be choosing how to spend your time when you retire.
I hope you’re as excited about the possibilities as I am!
Now please: don’t just leave this website and forget to make working on your retirement plans a priority.
Make a commitment to take some time every week to work on your retirement plans – an hour, a couple of hours, whatever you can carve out on a specific day, just as you make appointments with yourself for exercising, watching a favorite TV program, planning your meals, and so on.
Write in your daily planner or calendar, “Retirement planning” on Thursday night or Saturday morning or whenever.
Don’t let your retirement just HAPPEN. Plan for it. See yourself choosing how to spend your time and making it epic.
Let me know how you’re doing! Write a comment so I can see the great progress you’re making!
If you’ve enjoyed this process of self-discovery, I recommend you get a copy of the book I relied on heavily in this article: How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free by Ernie Zelinski. Also, read the three books I reviewed earlier this year here.