Don’t Waste Your Retirement

Here’s how to prepare for a fulfilling retirement.


When we make the transition from working stiff into the ranks of the retired, we assume the responsibility and freedom to do what we want to do when we want to do it. We can now occupy ourselves with whatever pursuit most appeals to us and no longer answer to the dictates of job and career responsibilities. Exactly how we plan to spend each day of the next twenty or thirty years may not be crystal clear, but we can figure it out along the way.

Many baby boomers view retirement as a time of new opportunity and the beginning of a whole new chapter in their lives. But maintaining some connection to the working world is also important to many people. Some seniors would like to go back and forth between periods of work and leisure. Perhaps they fear losing the stimulation and engagement that is part of work.

However, some people enter retirement with no plans beyond relaxing and getting away from it all. This lack of preparation can be viewed as wishful thinking. Retirement can quickly lose its luster as months roll into years and boredom begins to surface. If you’re not exactly sure what you will be doing in your second act, here are some steps to avoid wasting your well-deserved retirement days:

A little routine can be a good thing. It helps to have a routine to follow in retirement. You certainly don’t need to schedule every hour on a calendar, but it’s useful to have a general course to navigate. Getting up by a certain time in the morning to start the day is one example. Obviously, in retirement, you can sleep in as long as you want to, but at some point you may begin to feel that you are wasting the day. If you are a morning person, why not get up at seven or eight and take advantage of your high-energy time of day? It is amazing what you can accomplish by noontime when others are just getting started. For the very organized, you can be as detailed as you want to in your daily scheduling.

During my trial retirement a few years ago, my morning started at 7am with breakfast and a newspaper. Then I spent two to three hours on the computer, mainly writing and researching (and often injecting thirty minutes in the garden to reset and refresh a bit), walked to the gym for an hour workout, and came back home for lunch. After all that was accomplished, the whole second half of the day was still awaiting.

Strive to do something worthwhile each day. Keeping busy and active is a worthy goal. But if at the end of the day you find you have done nothing of consequence, you cannot do it over. A more meaningful day can be experienced by consciously focusing on doing something worthwhile. Take the time to help someone in some way, start or complete a project that has stalled, improve yourself by reading or learning something new, or bring a smile to the face of a fellow human being. It could be as insignificant as cleaning the house. But when you look back at the end of the day, it helps to have accomplished something of substance.

Be good to yourself. As you age, it’s essential to take care of yourself, including regular exercise and a healthy diet. Don’t feel guilty if you need to listen to your body when it says to slow down a bit. And make time to do things that you enjoy doing, whether that means bungee jumping from a bridge in Costa Rica or curling up on the couch with a book.

Dave Bernard is author of Are You Just Existing and Calling it a Life?, which offers guidelines to discover your personal passion and live a life of purpose. Not yet retired, Dave has begun his due diligence to plan for a fulfilling retirement. With a focus on the non-financial aspects of retiring, he shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement–Only the Beginning.