(You’re reading today’s post while I’m starting the USAA blogger conference. Sorry, I won’t be livecasting to Facebook or Twitter every 10 minutes– I’ll be paying attention to the speakers and asking good questions! I’ll also try to have a conference wrapup post ready to go for Monday.)
A reader asks a perennially popular and critical question:
“I was just curious if there were any retirees who while on active duty were planning on not working after they left the military. Did they stuck to that plan? Or after a year or two either the money didn’t go as far as they thought or they just got bored and wanted to go back to work?
For the last couple years I’ve been saying that between my savings and my retirement that I don’t plan on working after retirement and instead will just tinker around the house, read, and generally keep myself busy. My spouse thinks I’ll get bored and that seems to be the typical response. I’m wondering if there were others out there who thought the same and once they got there realized it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.”
Here’s the answer that I’ve developed over the years:
This is exactly why we wrote the book. “The Military Guide” may be at your local library. You can also read the first chapter free (that link downloads the PDF). Or you can read a similar (shorter) blog post.
The bogey of “But… what will I DO all day?!?” is the #3 concern of every retiree, not just us Type A military. (The top two are inflation and healthcare– but military pensions cover those issues.) The answer to your spouse’s (very legitimate) concern is that you’ll be responsible for your own entertainment. You’ll stay out of your family’s space and create your own life with them, not just through them.
The dirty little retirement secret is that it’s actually easier to let traditional corporate employment provide your structure for you. MegaCorp offers a chain of command, an OPORDER, and a Plan of the Day. All you have to do is fill in the details of a rush-hour commute, a workplace uniform, and liberty plans.
However, without MegaCorp you’re still perfectly capable of filling in your own daily schedule. You’ll set your own goals, and at first you’ll aim higher & faster than you’d expect. You’ll think that you’re going to tinker, but you’ll get ambitious and renovate a bathroom. You think you’ll read but then you’ll end up posting about it to discussion boards and maybe starting a blog or a book. (Or, um, maybe both. I’m just sayin’.)
You could get fat, but you’ve seen enough of your friends & family drop dead prematurely so eventually you’ll get back on the fitness routine. You’ll go for a walk and end up training for a 10K. You could drink heavily or do recreational drugs, too, but eventually you’ll decide the long-term risks aren’t worth the short-term thrills. You’ve carried out a military career without going off the rails, and you won’t go off the rails just because you’ve retired. You may choose to wander for a while, but you won’t get lost.*
Socializing is another scary question that answers itself. You don’t have to wait all week for your (still working) friends to finish their chores so that they can come out and play.
You can find more friends– if you’re extroverted then you’ll get out & about and find new people to socialize with. Church, volunteer work, neighborhood walks, veteran’s groups, hobby groups, online discussion boards… it’ll happen faster than you expect.
If you’re introverted then you’ll suddenly realize that you can socialize on your terms, not for workplace expectations. There are some days when I’ve had quite enough of my fellow humans and just want to be left alone. Other days I go surfing or train taekwondo or just Facebook a shipmate to get together that weekend.
The difference is that you generally get to set the pace. You’re not going to be following your spouse & family around expecting them to provide your social interaction, either. Unless they volunteer to provide your social interaction.
Believe it or not, you will tend to overschedule and oversocialize yourself– you probably haven’t had enough practice at managing your own time in this much quantity since you were on summer vacation from elementary school. The good news is that you have plenty of time & flexibility, and you have the rest of your life to get better at it.
You’ll be exhausted at the end of the day, but at least you have the freedom to take naps when you want and maybe even sleep in. If you start a project but if you’re not feelin’ it then you can usually put it aside and do something else– because you don’t have to worry about finishing the project before liberty expires or your leave chit runs out.
I’ve been practicing retirement time management for over a decade and there are still days when I realize that I’ve just overscheduled myself out of a nap— or that I don’t want to go to a meeting after all, even though it seemed so interesting when I signed up for it.
One socially acceptable way to answer the concerns about “You’ll be so bored!” is to tell people that you’re going to take a few months off to enjoy life with family & friends, and then you’ll reassess your plans. You won’t lose your “network” or your “contacts”, and potential employers don’t care about a short break. It gives you plenty of time for introspection & self-discovery.
The retirement decision is not irrevocable. I still haven’t written a résumé, let alone networked for a bridge career. Oahu is not exactly a hotbed of employment, yet over the last decade of retirement I’ve had four serious unsolicited job offers with six-figure starting salaries.
Some came from the shipmate network, others came from my retirement network. They’ve been tempting (and ego-enhancing) but I’d have to give up some freedom and a lot of flexibility. I’m financially independent, and I value my time more than I value acquiring more money.
I enjoy the idea of work but I’m put off by the dissatisfiers of rush-hour commuting, workplace attire, department meetings, mandatory training, mandatory high-stress socializing, office politics, the boss’ self-imposed crises, deadlines… you get the idea. There are even retirement days when I don’t feel much like writing, let alone blogging, but then I throw a longboard in the car and go recharge my batteries.
The last decade of retirement has helped my spouse and me grow closer in a way that’s better than we’ve ever been. Retirement has given me the freedom to “be there” as our daughter grew up. I’ve been able to drop everything and fly 4000 miles to take care of my father– twice. Spouse and I have traveled (and we’re going to do more).
I’ve had many wonderful experiences and learned to do several new things. I’ve been able to explore projects that I never expected to bring to a conclusion (the book was on the drawing board for over eight years). I’ve acquired a lot of knowledge. I’m pretty sure that I’ve grown as a human being.
As satisfying as traditional employment could be, I’m skeptical that it affords the opportunities I’ve had during retirement. I’ve had some pretty bad experiences during retirement, too, but I suspect that they would have been even worse if I was spending 40 hours/week at the office.
Today I can’t really remember how I ever found the time to go to work.
So the answer to your retirement question is: you’ll work it out. Promise your spouse that you’ll be responsible for your own entertainment, especially if they want to get you started with their “Honey Do” list.
You could also use Ernie Zelinski’s “Get-A-Life Tree” as a starting point. (I’ve had one on my desk for over a decade, but I haven’t made the time to work on it yet…) If you enjoy that exercise then get a library copy of Ernie’s “How to Retire Happy, Wild, & Free“.
The reader got back to me a few days later:
“I just want to say hi and thanks for replying to my retirement question. Your comments hit my feelings/concerns on the head and make me feel comfortable with my current planning efforts to be financially ready to retire in five years. Thanks again!”
* That sentence was a literary allusion(!**):
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
— J. R. R. Tolkien, “The Lord of the Rings”
(** My high-school English teacher just shed tears of shock & joy…)
When should you stop working?
The biggest obstacles confronting all retirees
The biggest benefits of a military retirement
Myths of military retirement and early retirement
I’m going to retire. Now what? (part 1 of 2)
Financial myths of retirement (part 1 of 2)