During retirement: You will change. Your plans may change too.

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I’ve spent most of the last five months posting chapter excerpts of “The Military Guide”. This post starts the last of the book’s chapters. It could also mark the end of the retirement fairy tale: “And they all lived happily ever after.” Right?

Not so fast. If you retire in your 40s then your age demographic can look forward to a minimum of 30 years of being responsible for your own entertainment. For financial-planning purposes you should count on 40 or even 50 years. You’ll find plenty of things to do all day, but each day will present its own set of challenges.

In the coming years, it’s quite possible that you’ll evolve as a human and your priorities will change. Retirement may turn out to be your avocation, but if you encounter another type of avocation (possibly even involving paid employment) then you should feel free to pursue it. Retirement is a life-changing event, and the subsequent years will change you too.

Long-term goals

The longer you’ve been on active duty, the more likely you are to have a list of goals: short, medium, and long-range. Even if you don’t have dates on those goals, you may still have an idea of when you’d like to complete them– monthly, quarterly, or annually.

However if your retirement is typical of most early retirees, then your time scale is going to change. What used to seem essential for next quarter may start to stretch out over a longer period– even to next year. You were busy with other activities. You’re not transferring to a new duty station every few years, so your sense of timing will no longer revolve around the next set of orders. At a minimum you may find yourself adjusting your monthly goals to quarterly and your quarterlies to annual. Pretty soon you’ll be applying Paul Terhorst’s two-year test to every goal, not just the long-term ones.

If you’re the type of person who keeps a list of very-long-term goals then here are some longevity events to tackle:

  • Stay healthy and active longer than the median of your demographic
  • Join the list of the 10 oldest alumni from your schools or military occupations
  • Collect more pension checks than paychecks (Bonus: adjust the totals for inflation!)
  • Discover your “dream avocation”
  • Teach your family’s next generation(s) how to achieve financial independence and retirement

Feel free to share your own long-term goals here or on Early-Retirement.org!

Find your avocation?

When you started planning your retirement all those years ago, your top goals were to achieve financial independence and to leave the workplace as quickly as possible. You’ll have enough money to avoid the workplace for the rest of your life, but don’t lock yourself out of the office just for the sake of maintaining your independence.

After a few years of retirement you might find yourself reflecting on your ideal avocation. Many of us achieved retirement through an occupation (like the military) or a series of jobs and never found our true avocation. Maybe your avocation offers a fulfilling sense of accomplishment, total creative control, and a flexible schedule. Maybe there are no bosses, co-workers, office politics, long hours, painful commutes, or workplace uniforms. Or perhaps you’ll discover the traditional corporate ladder of your dreams and begin climbing to your heart’s content. Your goal is to achieve the financial independence to spend your retirement time as you see fit, and to be able to change your life without fear of poverty or deprivation. Maybe retirement is the only avocation you’ll ever want, but you should also devote your time and energy to pursuing your dreams.

Another benefit of financial independence is seeking the work you truly love. You have to love it, because you’re rarely getting paid for it! Most retirees find this through non-profits, whether by becoming an employee of an agency or by volunteering where they see fit. The beneficiaries of your efforts are what make your work so fulfilling. You can focus your efforts locally or at making life better for all of us. While you may enjoy delivering your personal touch at a shelter or school, you can also help an advocacy group to campaign for better health benefits for the homeless or to call attention to veteran’s legal issues.

As a volunteer, you gain creative control just by agreeing to tackle a job that’s been languishing. Anyone who interferes with your control also risks the chance that you’ll simply drop the job and move on, leaving the organization with another vacancy. It’s the same for a flexible schedule– the organization appreciates that some of your time is better than none at all.

If you find your avocation then it won’t even feel like work. You enjoy it so much that if you’re getting paid for any of your efforts then you wouldn’t mind donating all of it to charity. Your intangible rewards are worth far more to you than the effort or the money, and you’re honoring a debt of appreciation owed to those who helped you find your path to financial independence.

But whatever you do, don’t rush it. It bears repeating from an earlier post:

Retirement is the best time of your life to make changes, but don’t be disruptive. It may also be the first time that you’ve ever had so much control over this many aspects of your life, so take it slowly and give yourself (and your family) plenty of time to adapt. Don’t give up that control, and don’t drift along letting change control you. Think through each of your changes and consider whether you’ll see the commitment as an incentive or a burden. Give yourself time to adapt to each change, to decide whether it’s temporary or permanent, and to learn whether it supports or interferes with your other change plans. Don’t burn out. You have the rest of your life to experiment and enjoy your changes, so don’t make things happen so quickly that retirement becomes painful.

Related articles:
Retirement: relax, reconnect and re-engage
Volunteering for charity or neighbors
Forget about who you were and discover who you are
Retirement: don’t recreate your old environment

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WHAT I DO: I help you reach financial independence. For free. I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers, veterans, and families. All of my writing revenue is donated to military-friendly charities.

3 Comments
  1. […] military charities for “The Military Guide” royalties Volunteering for charity or neighbors During retirement: You will change. Your plans may change too. Retirement: don’t recreate your old […]

  2. Reply
    Doug Nordman February 17, 2011 at 5:50 PM

    Thanks, Janet!

    You’ll have to keep us posted on how things work out. You’re turning into one of the retirement mentors now…

  3. Reply
    Janet February 17, 2011 at 11:37 AM

    Hi Doug-
    I retired early (age 58) from local government org last October, not the military, but your tips here resonate with my deciding to retire experience. Especially re: avocation, and commitments becoming either an incentive or a burden. I’ve felt like I just have to stop taking on anything new, fun though it may be, while I see how what I’ve already jumped into turns out. Your post helped me know that’s the right place for me to be right now. Thanks, Janet

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