Retirement Plans: Not Something to Run Away From

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( Courtesy of James Hose Jr. | Upsplash.com)
Whether considering retiring at age 60, 70 or 80, one doesn’t need to be scared, considering there is no shortage of opportunities to stay engaged –mentally and physically.

    “I married you for breakfast and dinner, not for lunch!” said my bride of 33 years. I had just turned 60 and told her I was planning to retire in six months. She was unequivocal in her resistance to my early retirement.
    My dad worked until 78 and her dad worked past 76. So, a potential retirement at just 60 challenged her perspectives. Our company offered us a very generous early retirement package, and it would have been less-than-smart (stupid!) not to accept it. A month later, she and I went on one of our rare couple’s vacations. Just the two of us. No kids, friends or relatives. At the end of the two weeks, she decided she could live with me for lunch too!
    Ready for retirement: Over the years, I had learned a good retirement requires three things. One must be ready financially, intellectually and emotionally. Sometimes, health plays a part too. For many, work provides not just financial stability but also a purpose. The atta-boys of a job well done and intellectual challenge on a constant basis. For many, it is also their regular social circle.
    One of my saddest observations while working was to see retirees come back to work. Not because they needed the money, but because they had nothing else to do.
    The challenge of retirement: A couple of years ago, I got a call from a longtime acquaintance who was contemplating retirement and was wondering how he would stay busy. I asked him, “Are you financially, intellectually and emotionally ready for retirement?” I discovered that his work was his life. He had no hobbies. Not a fan of the Golden State Warriors or the 49ers. Not a golfer, biker or sailor. He enjoyed playing Sudoku, but as he said, “how much Sudoku can I play in a day?” So, he was truly worried – and fearful. He was ready financially and intellectually, but not emotionally.
    I asked him a number of questions, and we finally converged that he really liked helping people. We then brainstormed on how to use his joy of helping people in a post retirement world. He is now on two non-profit boards and also enjoys being a docent at a museum.
    Post-retirement plans: When I retired, I had three ideas to keep busy: earn a PhD, teach at a college and write a book. Professor Gupta or Dr. Gupta sounded exotic at the time.
    The day after I retired, I got on a flight to join my wife in India. For the first time in decades, I didn’t have any emails to check. It was true freedom after having had a very stressful and demanding job for the last 10 years of my career. I enjoyed it and I decided to take a year off before I started anything.
    Actual retirement: A few months after retiring, I was driving past the offices of my previous company and realized I had not turned around to look at the facility. I knew then I had moved on, and would not miss the company where I worked for 28 years and 21 days – but who was counting?
    I started playing golf and a friend introduced me to hiking. My wife and I traveled to many different countries after she decided she might as well help me get to my goal of visiting 100 countries! I did a deep dive into our finances and our spending habits. I took yoga classes and tried to learn how to relax.
    I spent the next eight-plus years creating and building a non-profit organization to help Asian Americans, something I had developed a passion for in the previous decade. I had obviously given up getting a PhD, but still hoped to write a book. I did teach classes on soft skills to middle management people to help them break through their personal glass ceilings. It was a busy life with constant travel and interaction with hundreds of folks. I didn’t miss paid work.
    First step: “How can I help?” are the magic words that often open doors. There is so much to be done if one can park their ego at the door; there is no shortage of opportunities to stay engaged –mentally and physically. Whether we retire at 60, 70 or 80, our country is full of opportunities to contribute. Let’s open our minds and find them. These opportunities will help us overcome the fear of retirement.
    Retirement examples: So, I now look around in my friends’ circles to see what they are doing. One friend loves to cook and periodically attends classes at the Culinary Institute of America. Another took up painting and held a very successful exhibition earlier this year. It was his first exhibition and he is 75. Another keeps working part-time as he says, “It keeps my mind busy.” We also have a friend who watches TV all day when not driving his grandkids to and from school and taking them to their sporting events.
    When we moved to our new development, I discovered Lynn, a young 80-year-old who set up a robust Block Captain system as part of our emergency preparedness. Her husband works with a non-profit and enjoys golf. Recently, while chatting with a fellow Ham radio enthusiast, I discovered he is a retired doctor. Another is a former pilot! I have met a lot of people who say they want to travel when they retire. Some have invested in RVs or serious camping gear. However, a few keep talking about it and never leave town.
    At a recent coffee meet, I noticed a number of folks had a fire department coffee cup. I discovered they volunteer at the local fire department. I had heard of volunteer fire departments, but not of volunteers at a regular fire department. While hiking one day, I ran into a group of folks who volunteer at East Bay Parks regularly. One of our neighbors regularly drives for Seniors Around Town. A previous boss helps run a Farmers’ Market.
    I continue to be amazed at the number of different options that exist for retirees to contribute to society and get the intellectual and social benefits work used to provide. Growing up in India, it was hard to imagine all these different options. When our grandparents retired, they – at best – got involved in some religious or charitable organization.’
    The last word: It has been a dozen years since my bride (now of 45 years!) told me she hadn’t married me for lunch. She has totally accepted me being home for lunch, but somehow her golf, bridge and stitch-and-bitch sessions find me fending for myself at lunch! Absence makes the heart grow fonder!

S. K.Gupta can be reached at sk.gupta.us@gmail.com.

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