5 Things I’ve Learned in 3 Years of Retirement

January 1, 2018

Tom Blake

When I was pondering retirement from Tutor and Spunky’s, my Dana Point, California, deli, the main thing I dreamed about was having “free time.” With it, I could do just nothing, if I wanted, which sounded great after 25 years of making sandwiches.

I pictured the early scene in the movie, “The Graduate,” where Benjamin, who had just graduated from college, was content just floating around in his parents’ swimming pool doing nothing more than soaking up the sun. That would be I.

In January, 2015, I sold the deli. I worked until age 75; I’m glad I did. Obviously, that helped the financial nest egg and kept my body and mind active. No more slicing salami. Freedom!

I learned quickly that I did not want a lot of “free time.” I realized it wasn’t good for me. I’m just not built that way; I realized I must have projects to work on. Every morning I make a to-do list for the day. If I haven’t crossed each item off by day’s end, so be it. But, the list keeps me focused.

Soon, my “free time” became busy time. And from busy time, five lessons learned from retirement evolved.

(1) The most important lesson I’ve learned in retirement is the need to have social interaction with people. If retired people let socializing with others slip away–they might be sitting around the house too much or watching too much mindless TV. When that happens, their retirement will become boring, lonely and non-productive. To be too isolated is not good for one’s health.

A good way to interact with people is by joining groups. Meetup.com lists thousands of groups and activities and should provide plenty of ideas for people not sure what to do to meet others.

This week, my partner Greta hosted her book club of 10 women for dinner. I helped by pouring the wine and serving dessert so Greta could focus on enjoying her guests. Those women had a hoot of a time together. That’s the type of social interaction people need.

And one last thing about social interaction after retirement. Try to mix interacting with younger people into your life—kids, grandkids, great grandkids, for example, or friends younger than yourself can really keep you thinking young. That’s very important.

(2) The second lesson I’ve learned in retirement is the importance of keeping my body moving. It’s a daily priority for me. In Orange County, where we live, we’re fortunate to have the ocean nearby. The ocean can be a great aid and inspiration to keep moving. There’s surfing, kayaking, Stand Up Paddle Boarding, and walking in the harbor or on the beaches. Salt Creek Beach is one of the most beautiful in the world. I can walk there in 30 minutes from our front door, and do often.

A year and a half ago, my nephew Derek, from Dallas, was visiting and would hit the sidewalk walking first thing in the morning. I’d see him push a button on this watch-like thing on his wrist; he called it a Fitbit. “It tracks my exercise,” he said. “It counts the number of steps I take and the flights of stairs I climb. By keeping score of those things, it encourages me to keep moving. I walk almost 100,000 steps a week. You ought to get one.”

I took Derek’s advice. I purchased a Fitbit Charge 2. It has made a world of difference encouraging me to keep moving each day. My goal is 10,000 steps a day. I don’t always reach that goal, but I’m there 4-5 days a week. And I admit that there are nights, when I haven’t quite reached the 10k goal, where I walk around the kitchen and living room enough times to get the goal. It’s a little weird, but, it keeps me moving.

Weather permitting, I do Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP) 4-5 times a week with my buddy Russell, a cool Kiwi from New Zealand. One neat thing about the Fitbit: it counts the strokes I take as steps toward the 10K-steps goal. Another positive about SUP: it amazes me how many new people I meet down at the launching beach. Both men and women. So, there is social interaction to the sport as well.

To keep moving, one doesn’t need an ocean nearby, or even a lake. Almost all cities have parks. Not to mention the exercise classes that help keep the body moving and, also provide social interaction at the same time.

In retirement, keeping the body moving daily is an absolute “must-do” in utilizing my “free time.”

(3) The third lesson I’ve learned in retirement is to have a purpose in life. Something with meaning, it doesn’t have to be a huge project. Volunteering and helping others is a great way to fulfill this human need.

Champ Chris Anastasio volunteers at the San Clemente Villas in California.

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He plays Santa and the Easter Bunny and dances weekly with the patrons who live there. Chris turned 84 on January 28, 2018. What a Champ he is. This picture was taken a week ago at the Villas Christmas party. That’s one of the ways he finds purpose in his life.

Lots of people use the words, “Giving back.” There are lots of people around me who are way less fortunate than I. They can use a little help. How I help them doesn’t matter-giving of my time, or what little money I can afford, is of help to them.

Here in California, there are people who’ve lost their homes to the fires. There are homeless people sleeping under freeway bridges and in dried river beds. They can use some help. Also, there are animal shelters that need volunteer help.

Having a purpose can simply mean improving oneself. At the book club party, Greta’s daughter, Tina, stopped by. She showed me the Spanish lessons she’s taking on the phone app Duolingo, which is free. That’s something I want to add to my “Have a purpose in life” goal. Just a few words a day and before you know it, “Hola, Como Estas?”

Friends of my partner Greta and me, Ron and Leigh, take Spanish lessons, dance lessons, Tai Chi lessons through senior community centers and a local college. So, there are other things, besides learning a language, that can add meaning and purpose to one’s life (they do them all).

For people still working who are thinking about retirement, I think it’s important to start planning before the big day arrives. Find an interest, or a passion, so that you’ll be up-to-speed when the time comes. I know a few men that weren’t prepared for retirement and they say they are driving their wives crazy and themselves crazy because they are around the house too much, with little to do. Might have been better to continue working.

I was in my local bank this week talking with Sheri, one of the gracious tellers there. She has taken up quilting and was telling me all about it. Gosh, I never realized how much is involved in that hobby. “It’s addicting,” Sheri said. “There are always new things that pop up. There’s a heck of a lot more to it than just sitting and sewing. In quilting, you are on your feet much of the time.”

I know one thing Sheri will be doing with her retirement “free time.” She’s got a great head start on it already.

(4) The fourth thing I’ve learned in retirement is the importance of keeping one’s mind and brain stimulated. For some, it’s the love of reading that fulfills this need. For me, it’s my writing. I’m been a newspaper columnist for 23 years. I love it; every week I must generate a column and/or a newsletter article. I am grateful for the opportunity.

Frankly, I probably would not enjoy taking cruises as much as I do if I didn’t have my writing. Taking pictures, editing pictures and blogging each day about the ports we visit keeps my mind occupied, particularly on sea days when there are no ports to visit. Writing gives me my purpose and keeps the noodle functioning.

(5) The fifth thing I’ve learned from retirement is to be willing to step out of one’s comfort zone. When Greta and I were in Lima, Peru, in October, it would have been easy to take a tour of the city arranged by the ship. But, instead, we decided to do it on our own. We took the buses that locals take. We stood in line with the locals. We learned a lot and kept close to each other for safety. We were a bit out of our comfort zone. But at the end of the day, we had grown from what we had learned.

If you’re single, and you’ve made a list of the qualities you seek in a mate, don’t be shackled by the list. For example, let’s say one of the qualities is to meet a widower of the same faith. But you meet a divorced man instead. And holy horrors, he’s not of the same faith, or even more horrifying, not of the same nationality. But you like him because he’s a gentleman. Too bad his qualities don’t show up on your list.

Guess what? Step out of your comfort zone and take a chance. Let yourself be enlightened. You’d be surprised at the number of seniors unwilling to do that. Don’t be an old fuddy-duddy.

So those are the five biggest takeaways I’ve learned in retirement: Seek social interaction, keep the body moving, have a purpose or purposes in life, keep the brain and mind working, and, be willing to step out of your comfort zone.


Similar articles by Tom Blake appeared in the January 11, 2018, San Clemente Times newspaper and The Capistrano Dispatch (San Juan Capistrano)