You can plan all you want for a life in retirement, but the change still comes with a sudden force that you won’t be ready for. If you’ve spent over twenty years in Corporate America like I did, you get grooved in hard to a certain lifestyle. After all, someone or some organization thought you were useful enough to deserve a paycheck.
In addition to that paycheck, you get instant camaraderie, with colleagues you generally enjoy connecting with each day in the break room, or during the typical conference call. The “hard groove” also comes with built-in mentors and surrogate parental figures called “managers”.
Just like not all parents are amazing, not all managers are wonderful either. Cubicle life can be unpredictable. While you’re stuck in it, make the best of it and own it, but always look ahead to when you can achieve financial independence and leave that hamster wheel behind. Don’t settle for being a corporate huckleberry longer than you absolutely need to.
If You’re Unprepared to Retire…
The problem is that you have all of these employment-at-will dynamics – many of which can be toxic, limiting, or boring, but they’re still consuming a big chunk of your life. Take it all away, and you’re left with a big gap of time to fill from Monday to Friday, for 45 hours, or roughly 50% of your waking life.
A few weeks into retirement and even yours truly started to romanticize the warts I’d left behind. And I had a PLAN for Pete’s sake!
I figured that the real estate licensing process and a transition to full-time REALTOR would provide all the tonic I needed to put the past into the past and move on. Do I regret resigning? Hardly. Do I still have work to do to establish a brand new set of grooves, including a new network of colleagues/friends and associates? Absolutely.
The Art of Being Useful
Believing in the theory of Blue Zones living, I put a good deal of stock into the notion that one should “never retire”. A great example I’d written about years back is Jiro Ono, now age 98 and still slinging world-class sushi.
Does a contented life of good health and longevity depend on one working until he or she drops dead at 90, 100, or older? If that’s the case, I am 100% certain of my decision to resign from my Fortune 50 goliath, seeing as it employed practically zero octogenarians.
I’d have been dropped like a hot rock at some point in my 60s as many around me were (through layoffs or forced retirements) before I left. Unless you happen to be in a class with Rupert Murdoch, ditch the notion of corporate work beyond your 60s.
Leaving a paycheck, managers-by-carousel, silly meetings, and other corporate nonsense behind won’t kill you. But if you leave a job where you sit on your duff all day only to wind up sitting on your duff all day and subsequently doing nothing to improve yourself or serve others, then it’s game over.
Instead of the notion that one should never retire, how about a more flexible idea that one should never stop being useful?
If, like Jiro, you find yourself employed on your terms, being useful, and true to yourself and your values, a lifetime of meaningful work (e.g., being useful) is a healthy thing. But you won’t be 98 and working for the man – you’ll be working for yourself.
A Challenge to Be More Useful
The Arnold Schwarzenegger docuseries on Netflix inspired the crux of this post. Arnold is pushing 80 but refuses to slow down. His words, spoken with trademark accent: “Be useful”.
It’s a series worth watching for anyone needing motivation to reach audacious goals while making wholesale changes in his or her choice of profession. The Terminator jumped grooves easily, building success as a bodybuilder, then as an actor, and finally as governor of California.
Arnold’s mantra is to always keep moving forward, never dwelling on failures or tribulations. Learn from mistakes, and as Ted Lasso would say, “Be a goldfish!”
It’s impressive and a little sad at the same time how again and again we learn that the highest achievers came from troubled and abusive upbringings. Arnold was no exception. But unlike many of his generation, he didn’t and doesn’t dwell on being a victim. Instead, he viewed and continues to view the world through a lens of opportunity and optimism.
For me, the challenge to be useful post-retirement* starts with a complete career makeover. It’s a career defined by my terms, not by used car salesmen pretending to run a major company. I am my own boss now.
Real estate (property management, investing, and sales) is work that I enjoy and I can throw myself into it with passion. I have paid my dues to achieve financial independence, which affords me the flexibility to prioritize family time (and ME time).
Being Useful In the Service of Others
As a family, we are dedicating more of our free time to serving others. Volunteer work is a wonderful thing, but it’s even better when you can give your time and energy together. Not only is it character-building for the kids, but it’s a tangible benefit to the community and your mental health.
In the real estate realm, I’m now able to give more of my time, energy, and focus to my tenants and the very old homes they rent from me. This year I invested more cash (over $28,000…OUCH) and time to improve and repair a variety of issues that I’ll anecdotalize in a future post.
Being Useful In the Service of Myself
I have a lot of work to do still. Those deep grooves from the old corp gig will take a little more time to climb out of, but I’m wearing them down. I can be an even better husband and father, son, brother, neighbor, and friend.
If I use this newfound freedom to improve as a person, then I’m optimistic I can avoid any pesky regrets down the road.
That includes spending more time exercising, learning, reading, and *gasp!* writing. If I can commingle growth with building a community of friends and acquaintances, then I’ll know I’m hitting the mark. For starters, I joined a pickleball league with my wife. Woot!
I’ve got a long list of home improvement tasks to tackle as well. Working with your hands on household projects is a passion of mine, and I’m pretty sure I’ll get more into gardening as time rolls on.
Am I bored? Some days, honestly, yes. Retirement boredom is that little devil that can creep up on you at any moment, especially M-F 9 to 5 when we’ve all been programed for student or worker productivity.
Starting out in real estate as a REALTOR is tough. The real estate market is slower than molasses with mortgage interest rates persisting north of 7%. Demand has softened, but supply remains limited. Grrr…
But you know what? I am using this lull in the market to educate myself, exercise, and network. No video games. No movies. No sleeping in past 7 am.
Bottom line: I am incredibly content with my choice of at-will WORK.
*Retirement is defined in this blog as leaving an at-will employment job (i.e., work where you can get fired for any reason). One can still retire and continue to work, whether it’s volunteering, part-time hourly to supplement social security, child or family care, or even owning a small business, gardening, or heck, even writing a blog!
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