By Tom Blake
When I was pondering retirement from Tutor and Spunky’s, my Dana Point deli, the main thing I looked forward to was having “free time.” With it, I could do nothing—if I wanted—which sounded great, after 25 years of serving sandwiches.
Three years ago in January, I sold the deli to Jim Mouzakis, a really good man, who I knew would treat the employees well. I had worked until age 75; I’m glad I did. Working until then helped build a small financial nest egg and kept my body moving and my mind active. And then, finally, there was freedom from slicing salami.
However, I realized quickly that I did not want a lot of free time. It wasn’t good for me. I’m not built to sit around. I realized I must have projects to work on. Every morning I make a to-do list for the day. If I haven’t crossed each item off by day’s end, so be it. But, the list keeps me focused.
Soon, that free time became busy time. And from three years of busy time came five lessons learned in retirement.
- The most important retirement lesson learned is the need to have social interaction with people. To be too isolated is not good for one’s health.
A good way to interact with people is by joining groups. Meetup.com lists thousands of groups and activities and should provide plenty of ideas for people who are not sure of what to do to meet others. Also, monthly Chamber of Commerce mixers and service clubs are great places to interact with people.
Another important thing about social interaction after retirement: mix interacting with younger people into your life—kids, grandkids, great grandkids, or friends younger than yourself—to keep you thinking young.
- The second retirement lesson I’ve learned is the importance of keeping my body moving. It’s a daily priority for me. In South Orange County, we’re fortunate to have parks and the ocean nearby. The ocean can be a great aid and inspiration to keep moving. There’s surfing, swimming, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, and walking in the harbor or on the beaches. Salt Creek Beach is one of the most beautiful in the world. I can walk there in 30 minutes from our front door, and do often.
A year and a half ago, my nephew Derek, from Dallas, was visiting and would hit the sidewalk walking first thing in the morning. I’d see him push a button on a watch-like device on his wrist; he called it a Fitbit. “It tracks my exercise,” he said. “It counts the number of steps I take and the flights of stairs I climb. By keeping score of those things, it encourages me to keep moving. I walk almost 100,000 steps a week. You ought to get one.”
I took Derek’s advice. I purchased a Fitbit Charge 2. It has made a world of difference encouraging me to keep moving. My goal is 10,000 steps a day. I don’t always reach that goal, but I’m there four to five days a week. And I admit that there are nights, when I haven’t quite reached the 10,000 goal, where I walk around the kitchen and living room enough times to get the goal. It’s a little weird, but, it keeps me moving.
Weather permitting, I do standup paddle boarding (SUP) four to five times a week with my buddy Russell Kerr, a cool Kiwi originally from New Zealand. Not only do Russell and I interact together, but at Baby Beach in Dana Point, we meet all kinds of friendly men and women who are walking or paddling. So, there is social interaction in addition to the exercise.
Plus, one neat thing about the Fitbit: it counts the SUP strokes I take as steps toward the 10,000-steps goal.
In retirement, keeping the body moving daily is a must-do in filling my free time.
- The third retirement lesson I’ve learned is the need to have a purpose in life. Something with meaning, it doesn’t have to be a huge project. Volunteering and helping others is a great way to fulfill this human need. Some people use the words “giving back.” There are lots of people around who are way less fortunate than I. They can use a little help. How I help them doesn’t matter—giving of my time, or what little money I can afford, makes me feel good.
Here in California, there are people who’ve lost their homes to the fires. There are homeless people sleeping under freeway bridges and in dried river beds. They can use some help. Even animal shelters need volunteer help.
Friends of Greta’s and mine, Ron and Lee Cohan, Dana Point, retired almost four years ago from operating Zia Jewelry in San Juan Capistrano. They inspire Greta and me by taking Spanish lessons, dance lessons, and Tai Chi lessons through senior community centers and a local college. They are getting the most out of retirement.
For people still working who are pondering retirement, I think it’s important to start planning before the big day arrives. Find an interest, a purpose, or a passion, so that you’ll be up-to-speed when the time comes. I know a few men that weren’t prepared for retirement; they tell me they are driving both themselves and their wives crazy because they are around the house too much, with little to do. For them, it might have been better to continue working.
- The fourth retirement lesson I’ve learned is the importance of keeping one’s mind and brain stimulated. For some, it’s the love of reading that fulfills this need. For me, it’s my writing. I’ve been a newspaper columnist for 23 years. I love it. Every week I must generate a column and/or a newsletter article. I am grateful for the opportunity.
Frankly, I probably would not enjoy taking cruises as much as I do if I didn’t have my writing. Snapping and editing photographs and blogging each day about the ports we visit keep my mind occupied, particularly on sea days when there are no ports to visit. Writing gives me my purpose and keeps the noodle functioning.
- The fifth retirement lesson I’ve learned is to be willing to step out of one’s comfort zone. When Greta and I were in Lima, Peru, in October, it would have been easy to take a tour of the city arranged by the ship. But, instead, we decided to do it on our own. We took the buses that locals take. We stood in line with the locals. We learned a lot and kept close to each other for safety. We were a bit out of our comfort zone. But at the end of the day, we had grown from what we had learned.
If you’re single, and you’ve made a list of the qualities you seek in a mate, don’t be shackled by the list. Let’s say one of the qualities is to meet a widower of the same faith. But you meet a divorced man instead. And holy horrors, he’s not of the same faith, or even more horrifying, not of the same nationality. But you like him because he’s a gentleman.
Step out of your comfort zone and take a chance on him. Let yourself be enlightened. You’d be surprised at the number of seniors unwilling to do that. Don’t be an old fuddy-duddy.
Those are the five biggest takeaways I’ve learned in three years of retirement. In 2018, I’ll probably learn a few more retirement lessons. But, if I can master these five, I will be ahead of the game.
Tom Blake is a Dana Point resident and a former Dana Point businessman who has authored several books on middle-aged dating. See his websites at www.findingloveafter50.com; www.vicsta.com and www.travelafter55.com. To receive Tom’s weekly online newsletter, sign up at www.findingloveafter50.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.