How to Realize Your Retirement Potential

U.S.News & World Report

When we retire, we hope the next 20 or more years will be a rewarding and exciting time that perhaps even surpasses the years leading up to this point. The hard work is behind us, and we have earned the freedom to explore and experience what is most important to each of us. But with so much to choose from it is not unusual to find yourself a bit overwhelmed. Here's how to make the most of your retirement years:

Plan now. Retired life will be different than what you are used to. Your schedule will no longer be dominated by a job or the responsibilities of raising a family. An unfamiliar but intriguing freedom to do what you want will become the natural state of affairs. The days ahead are a blank canvas that you can choose to artfully paint or leave simply uncluttered.

It is important to prepare and plan for this significant transition before you get there. A thorough understanding of how your lifestyle will change will allow you to make the most of your time and avoid unpleasant surprises. You can line up interests and hobbies that you didn't have time for because of other commitments. Look honestly and carefully at your expenses to identify limitations, and set a realistic but livable budget. Try to look far down the road into older age to get an idea of what your needs may be. Since your retirement will hopefully extend for decades, you should put an appropriate amount of time into planning for it.

Be your own boss. Once you retire, the day starts when you say so. You can do what you want for as long as you want. You progress at a pace that suits you best. And at the end of the day your accomplishments are judged only by you. In retirement, you become your own boss. It is entirely up to you how you manage your free time. For those under the thumb of a boss it may be hard to imagine the liberating feeling experienced when daily micromanagement disappears. And not surprisingly, it can be kind of fun. Take advantage of the situation to really do what you have always wanted to do free from any boundaries set by those higher up the corporate ladder. Since you are no longer climbing that ladder you can focus more energy on the things that really matter.

Try something new. It is not uncommon to become a bit set in our ways as we age. We find comfort in doing familiar things. Security can often trump excitement as we journey into our retirement years. Although there is something to be said about predictability, we have never had a better chance to step outside of our comfort zone and try something new. We finally have time, and how we choose to spend it is actually in our control. Thinking back to when I was enmeshed in providing for the seemingly endless needs of raising a family, I remember putting aside hobbies and interests because I just could not get to them. In retirement my time is my own, and those hobbies are just waiting to be revisited along with a list of new experiences I have never tried. Of course I am a lot older now, and so I must accept the reality that my to-do list will not include bungee jumping or iron man competitions on tropical islands. But there are a host of interesting things I have not yet done that I will have time for in retirement.

Don't heed detractors. I am always inspired by stories of senior citizens doing something beyond what the rest of us think is possible. They overcome perceived limitations to compete and create at the highest levels when most people their age are assumed to prefer sitting safely on the couch. And I would wager the most interesting retirees did not seek approval from friends or family prior to their undertakings. No one has lived the life you have or feels emotions exactly the way you do. What you may consider an interesting adventure might trigger a negative reaction from family members who expect you to act your age. But retirement should be a time of grand adventures, because you may never get another chance.

Enjoy the moments. Maintaining an optimistic retirement outlook is a worthy goal. Keeping a perpetual smile and positive attitude as you advance in years is not an easy thing to do, but it's worth the effort. It is easier to enjoy retirement if you approach it in a positive manner. If you are too focused on the negative, you risk missing meaningful moments with family and friends. And you don't want to miss those moments.

Dave Bernard is the author of "I Want To Retire! Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be". Although not yet retired, he focuses on identifying and understanding the essential components of a fulfilling and meaningful retirement. He shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only The Beginning.



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