Exploring Retirement: Jeanette Lewis

Jeannette Lewis, contributorJeanette is one of the regular writers for Exploring Retirement. Each month she contributes an inspirational article on living life to the full in retirement.

Life Plans in Retirement

The title of this post may cause a frown! Why bother to make a life plan after retirement? Isn't this the time to take things as they come? Shouldn't we live for today, drift along, and let things happen? Shouldn't retirement mean freedom to spend time however we wish?

With average life span expectations creeping upward, people have two, three, or more decades of living after leaving full time work. How can this time be used to give meaning and purpose to life? What goals might yet be achieved?

Most people look forward to retirement as a time of liberation from the stress of deadlines, demanding bosses, long commutes, and dissatisfied customers. However, once the stress is gone, many feel anxious or bored.

Jeremy Kisner [1] attributes such feelings to missing the psychological rewards of achievement that are typically received in the workplace. Lack of stimulation from too much leisure without a sense of accomplishment can lead to emotional, mental, and physical problems. Nobody benefits from a three decade long weekend! Time spent with no discernible purpose can lead to restlessness and depression.

Making a life plan involves soul-searching. Which retirement goals will bring feelings of achievement? A good level of self-knowledge is required to establish goals that will lead to feeling alive and living with purpose.

Bucket Lists and Life Plans

Often associated with the expression "kicking the bucket" a bucket list is generally defined as a list of things to accomplish before dying. It can form the jumping off point for creating a life plan.

Bucket lists usually begin with ideas for travel. What parts of the world do you want to see? Are there cultures you want to explore? Sometimes travel aspirations involve meeting family members or friends who live far away. Sometimes people want to visit ancestral homelands.

For others, new experiences are a key component of the bucket list. Perhaps it's taking 10 points off the golf score, or learning ballroom dancing, or taking piano lessons, or growing award-winning roses. A bucket list might include learning new skills by practising a new hobby or re-connecting with a hobby that brought satisfaction in the past. It may involve adventures you dream about, books you want to read, or a language you want to speak.

While bucket lists have a role in making a meaningful life plan, Christopher Peterson [2] urges readers to consider a plan for living rather than a plan for dying. He argues that bucket lists containing items for connections to a larger purpose can be important in developing a life of fulfillment.

1 Jeremy Kisner, Is Achievement the Missing Ingredient, www.jeremykisner.com, January 16, 2018

2 Christopher Peterson, Bucket Lists and Positive Psychology, www.psychologytoday.com, February 2, 2011

Many people already have a list of goals, aspirations, and dreams that are important to them. Developing a bucket list of anything and everything you've always wanted to do can offer inspiration for accomplishment goals during retirement.

Components of a Life Plan

While a bucket list may be a starting point, creating a life plan involves a positive, big picture look at the future; it also requires an honest appraisal of past successes. Mental, physical and spiritual needs are considerations. The components may include aspirations for improving health, pursuing abandoned dreams or hobbies, learning new skills, volunteering, starting a business, or embarking on a new career.

Finances are often perceived as a stumbling block. If dreams and bucket list ideas involve money that is not available, one can focus on intangibles like hope, optimism, and selfconfidence that don't cost money.

Research tells us that people rank good mental and physical health higher than money for overall well-being. Finances provide a foundation for lifestyle and activity choices but financial comfort is more than having a large nest egg. Strong personal relationships and a social support network bring opportunities for friendship, validation, and connection without costly expenditures. For many people, this means family time, involvement with a religious institution, and participation in community activities.

Peace of mind comes from establishing a plan from what lives in your heart.

Life Plan Amendments

As time passes, life changes. Perhaps some of the activities/hobbies you chose after retirement no longer bring pleasure and happiness. Perhaps you've accomplished the goals you set.

Periodically the life plan must be re-visited,reviewed and updated. Unforeseen issues arise. Perhaps there are health issues for you or a spouse/partner. Perhaps you decide to move - to a warmer climate - or to a senior living community. It doesn't need to be said that massive changes such as death, divorce or re-marriage will cause reconsideration of a life plan. Things that seemed worthwhile or essential, no longer matter.

I think of a friend who was widowed three years ago after more than forty years of marriage. She took three years for what she calls "a holistic review" of every aspect of her life. She moved to a smaller home in a condo community with many other single residents. She joined a new gym. She took bridge lessons to learn a new skill. She is building new friendships in a widow's dinner club. Widowhood forced drastic life changes. When she talks about her altered lifestyle, she now describes it with a future orientation.

A life plan provides clarity for making wise decisions about how to spend one's retirement. When intention shapes the use of time, the reward is a sense of achievement. Knowing what you want and accomplishing life goals - big and small - lead to a retirement filled with purpose and meaning.