The Biggest Lesson From My First Year Of Retirement

One year ago this month, I retired.

To celebrate this “Retire-Versary” (is that a word?), I decided to break my sabbatical long enough to add a “One Year Update” update to my Retirement Reality Series,  a thread dedicated to sharing what it’s really like to go through the transition to retirement

One year ago this month, I retired. Today, I'm sharing the biggest lesson I've learned in my first year of retirement. Share on X

The Retirement Reality Series

the biggest lesson from my first year of retirement

Below are links to the previous posts in this series:

The Retirement Reality Series:


biggest lesson from first year of retirement
The Sunset from our first night in Washington

The Biggest Lesson From My First Year Of Retirement

We’re currently in the middle of our Great American Road Trip, and it’s ironic that we arrived in Washington State on the evening of my one year Retire-versary.  My first morning in Washington State was exactly one year from my last day of work. That irony wasn’t apparent to me at the time, but it was revealed as I thought about what I wanted to share on this first anniversary of my retirement.

If I had to boil the first year down into one simple message, what would be The Biggest Lesson From My First Year Of Retirement?

A hefty challenge for a man on sabbatical, but one worth tackling.

I took my brain out of neutral for sufficient time to answer the question, and today’s post was born.  I’m going to keep it short because the lesson is a simple one.  Simple, but important.

Then, I’m going to put my brain back into neutral to continue this wonderful sabbatical.  For the record, we’re enjoying it fully.  As you read these words, my wife and our 4 dogs are working our way around The Olympic Penisula (follow us on Instagram if you like pics).

I look forward to writing to you all again when I return home this Fall.  From my brief sabbatical respite, here’s the biggest lesson from my first year of retirement… 


The Milestones Of Life…

As I thought about what I’d learned in my first year of retirement, I thought about the major milestones I’ve achieved in my life:

  • Graduation From High School
  • Graduation From College
  • The First Day On A Job
  • Marriage
  • Home Ownership
  • The Birth Of A Child
  • The Death Of A Parent
  • Becoming Debt Free

What I realized is that retirement has a lot in common with these other “Life Milestones”.  Like retirement, these milestones are typically ones which we plan for over an extended period of time.  They’re also typically achieved on a single date.  We know the date of our marriage.  We know the date of our children’s births.

We know the date of our retirement.


Life Goes On

As I looked back on the “Before vs. After” of life after each of these major milestones, I realized they also share a similar theme around continuity.

After we achieve these major life milestones, we find that Life Goes On.

Sure, life after Marriage is different than life as a single person.  But life goes on. 

Life with children is a lot different than life without.  But life goes on.

We’ve achieved the destination of our Great American Road Trip. Life is good.

An analogy from our current Great American Road Trip comes to mind as I write these words. On our trip, we recently arrived in the Pacific Northwest after an enjoyable month of slow travel across this great country.  Arriving at our destination was a major milestone of our journey, just as retirement is a major milestone in our lives.  We’re currently in the midst of an extended visit with our daughter’s family and our wonderful new granddaughter.

We’ve Reached Our Destination.

Life is good. 

But…in a matter of weeks, we’ll once again be hooking our 5th wheel onto the back of our truck and hitting the road.  Why?  Because life goes on. 

Milestones are just that.  Milestones. 


Life Doesn’t Stop Because Of A Milestone

As I thought about it, the irony of the sunset on our first day in Washington, exactly one year to the day from my last day of work, became clear.

The sun sets on one day.

The sun rises on the next.

Life Goes On.

Just as with the birth of a child, life is a lot different now that I’m retired.  Just as with marriage, life is better after having achieved this particular milestone.  Life was good before, and life is good after.

Life is often better after we achieve major milestones, but it’s still life.  Life goes on.

A few brief takeaways from this “Biggest Lesson From My First Year Of Retirement”:

  • Don’t sacrifice all of your “today’s” in a desperate quest to get to retirement. 
  • Focus on contentment, your life will be better as a result. 
  • Savor The Present, even while you’re still working.
  • Enjoy the days you’re given.  
  • Spend time in your final years of work thinking about what you want your life to be after retirement. 

When you retire, you wake up to a new sunset, just like you did after achieving earlier milestones. 

Without a doubt, retirement is a wonderful life.

But life goes on. 


Conclusion

This “biggest lesson” seems a bit anti-climatic to me, but that’s exactly the point.  This Retirement Reality Series has followed the emotional adjustment of life after retirement.  Initially, there’s a strong emotional “high”, which lasts for months.  Eventually, however, you adjust to your new reality.  I’m fully enjoying every aspect of life in retirement, but I’m finding after my first year of retirement that this lifestyle has become the new normal. 

And the biggest lesson I’ve learned is the importance of enjoying whatever your “normal” is, regardless of where you are in life. 

Life’s too short to live it any other way.

 

Your Turn:  Do you agree with the importance of enjoying your life as you live it, or are there other lessons you’ve learned which are more important?  BTW, how ironic that the very first post I wrote on this blog was about Contentment.  4+ years later, and it’s still an important theme on this blog, and in my life.

Let’s chat in the comments…

41 comments

  1. “So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking, racing around to come up behind you again” – Pink Floyd

    Life goes on indeed, and Father Time stops for no one. It’d be great if we had a master “pause” button, but we don’t. So we might as well enjoy the song that’s playing now….

    1. Pink Floyd, one of my favorite bands of all time. Man, their lyrics are truly amazing if you take the time to listen, and think. Thanks (once again) for jumping in with that first comment. Man, you get up EARLY! 🙂

  2. “Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”
    ― Jack Kerouac

  3. Thanks, Fritz. Great advice, especially the part about spending time in your final years of work thinking about what you want your life to be after retirement. We did some ‘seeding’ a few years back which is now manifesting nicely to take our lives on to the next phase.

    1. Good advice, Fritz. Wherever we are in life, working or retired, we need to savor each day and count our blessings. Enjoy the rest of your road trip.

  4. Retire- aversary is a word now. I have a few more years before I join you in retirement but I learned a lesson many years ago when working at Weirton Steel. I had a job there that gave me close daily contact with the guys whose entire work lives had been working in that mill. Their jobs were frequently hard, sometimes dangerous and I can’t say I ever met one who I thought absolutely loved working there. The best you could hope for was they appreciated having a good job that supported themselves and their family, and they showed up every day to do it well. The result of this was that they spent alot of time thinking about what they would do when they retired. The fact was that few of them had a plan that took them past a year or so. Too many of them ended up following their wives around in the grocery store asking why she bought that can of peas and not the one that was a nickle cheaper. My lesson learned was to HAVE A PLAN, know what you want to do, as you say, what your life will look like. Don’t just say, ” I want to fix my house up”, that will take a year and then what? Have hobbies, a plan to travel, organizations that you want to volunteer for. Not everything you can do in retirement requires a big bank account. Travel can be done economically, volunteering your time costs nothing. If you rest you rust.

    1. Brian, your grocery store comment made me laugh. After my grandpa retired I remember my grandma saying “your grandpa goes everywhere with me. It’s as if I don’t know how to grocery shop anymore”. It took me awhile to figure out just what she meant. =)

  5. I think that the greatest aha moment is to prepare for what happens after that milestone you have looking forward passes. Now what? You need to be thinking ahead as well as living in the present knowing that these milestones pass so quickly and most of our lives are spent in the present. Enjoying what we have today is so important. As an example, I just picked up my car from the mechanic. Initially, we thought the car required major, major work but then Richie (my mechanic ) said that it wasn’t going to be so bad after all. Now I feel like I am driving a brand new car and feel so grateful. Despite the traffic in Boston I really enjoyed my drive to work. Thanks for your article.

  6. Fritz: Amen to what you shared. Having a PLAN is a starting point. Having a DIRECTION is even more powerful. Direction leads the winding path as the Plan unfolds. The things that DRIVE us most often continues to drive us. So…KNOW YOUR DRIVERS. A great resource to learn more is the third edition of Don’t Retire-REWIRE!
    Looking forward to more lessons.
    Fun Travels to You…

    Mark

  7. Well said Fritz. There much to be grateful for in a life well lived. Every day can be a gift or a burden. Your choice!
    Two phrases come to mind:
    Carpe Diem
    Tempus Fugit.
    Never put off until tomorrow what you can accomplish today.

  8. Thanks Fritz for breaking your sabbatical. We needed a bit of wisdom from you after a long break.
    Your post reminded me of what I’ve been seeing lately that retiring “to” something should be the focus as opposed to retiring “from” something. I’m 2 months away from my 1 year retire-adversary and being active and having a purpose has been important to me.

    Ps: There is no better love than the love you feel for your Grandkids!!
    Thanks again and safe travels.

  9. great advice about enjoying today, fritz. i find myself content at home more than ever the past few years. i swear i think the fact that we could choose to pull the plug and do various activities is better than doing them sometimes. the option is a gift.

  10. Glad I found your blog recently, even though you’re enjoying a sabbatical.

    And how relevant “enjoying your normal” is although finding that your new normal may be an interesting journey.

    I found myself ‘retiring’ earlier that anticipated due to the demands of becoming a caregiver. Am also ‘living life backwards’ working to attain the degree that I was too rebellious to pursue earlier in life. And the major for my degree is “Life: from corporate to retirement.” It is so important that my new normal includes mental and physical stimulation, most of all…fun.

    Looking forward to reading your sage writings in the future .

  11. I retired shortly after you, and thought I’d be busy with all sorts of volunteer work and travel. Neither have really materialized due to an impending knee replacement. I’ve found that being home, puttering in the garden, exercising and getting in shape for the surgery, cooking, keeping house, reading, and re-learning to play the piano have been incredibly satisfying. After the surgery, if that isn’t enough, it’s wonderful I have options to look for more. Isn’t life grand?

  12. Just turned 56 and when people ask me when I retired from the service, I have to think about it as I usually blurt out two years ago but in fact it has been four years! Time goes by so fast in retirement! I have done a lot in those four years and can’t believe how I used to fit in a full days work into my day. While I now have lots of time on my hands, I never seem to have enough time to do everything I want or should do. I remember how weekends would be such a rush when I was working as I had to get all those chores and errands done and fit in some fun. In retirement it now takes me days to do what took me hours when I was working. A project that involved going to the hardware store and doing a job when I was working took me 2-3 hours on a Saturday when I was working. Now it takes me days as going for a sail or for a swim or hike takes priority etc. Time seems endless but passes by so quickly. I think when working one is always looking forward to holidays or an event and it took sooo long for that date to arrive. When you are retired you have less structure and time seems to slip by so quickly. Whether you fill your life with activities, travel, hobbies etc or just take it slow, time moves on. So take advantage of your time on earth, your days are numbered no matter how much time you spend in the gym or watch what you eat. It will pass by quickly and I now have a new understanding of the old adage of “its all downhill from here” as we age, its not about deterioration (that will happen for sure) but its about speed. Time passes more quickly in retirement.

  13. Love the Olympic Peninsula. Yosemite still remains my favorite, but great beauty is everywhere.

    Finished a wedding video last night for our son’s wedding next week – Mrs gave an ugly cry watching it. Don’t blink.

    I am looking forward to “changing” in spring 2021 – still may be sooner. Work is slow and I’m down to 30 hours for a couple weeks – which is actually a good thing even if it crimps additional savings. My observation of the week comes from attending a Highland Games event this last weekend. It is clear that there is a club or group for every interest – just get out of the house! Even if it means wearing a kilt.

    Meantime, I need to pave the walk, learn to dance, call my dad, buy a boat, drink a beer, sing a song, make a friend….

    1. Thank you for the wisdom.
      I especially like “Savor The Present, even while you’re still working.”

  14. Happy to read your thoughts on retirement year one. Given that this life you’ve built is your new normal, the future promises to be interesting, fulfilling and adventure filled. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Fritz, Thanks for the insight. You are so right–life goes on–but is finite for all of us. The sun will rise in the morning which is a pleasant thought. All of us should make every day count regardless of the circumstances. Too many people tend to think of retirement as a “destination” when it should really be the start of a new phase of life–a milestone–not the end. We should savor each and every day (even if still in the working phase), strive for excellence and enjoy our family, friends and the blessings that we have. You seem to have this in proper perspective. Enjoy the rest of your trip.

  16. Seeing early retirement on the near horizon and I completely agree with savoring the present moment. I don’t have many regrets, and fortunately we’ve got plenty of time to catch up with friends and family now, but I would have benefitted from slowing down more along our FI path and focusing on relationships.

  17. I am retiring in two week after 39 years of work. Not sure I have my life plan as fully baked as the articles in your blog would suggest but looking forward to figuring it out. Good to see there is life after work and your road trip is an inspiration. I am looking forward to boating, fishing, hiking, and exercising more. I would say golfing but I really am bad at that and it kills my back.
    Biggest challenge is figuring out where we want to live…near the water, near the kids?

  18. Yes, life goes on. You were already happy before retirement so you’re still in a pretty good place.
    For me, I was very unhappy with my job. I had to take action to get out of there. It was either find a different job or try early retirement. Life got a lot better once I got rid of that pesky job.
    So the biggest lesson for me – if you’re not happy where you are, do something about it. Don’t just stay there and complain. Life would still go on even if I didn’t retire early, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much.

  19. Excellent post. Time indeed moves on endlessly, it’s how we choose to handle it that makes the difference. Thanks, Fritz.

  20. Fritz – This post fits in nicely with my thought on “quiet desperation”. It really fits into living life in the present and you’re an inspiration of doing just that. Congratulations on a year in retirement and inspiring so many of us to be smart about our goals. You truly are living a live of NO quiet desperation.

  21. I retired in June 2018 so its been a little over a year and have found that its tough being my own boss but liberating to have the flexibility to decide what I want to do each day. I have had the opportunity to complete some endurance mountain bike races in different parts of the country which have helped me to satisfy my competitive spirit and also experience some unique geographic features not available to me in Southern California. My wife and I still have a lot of work to do in designing our retirement but have been enjoying the journey so far. I really appreciate the thought provoking insights your posts provide so please keep them coming.

  22. Excellent article and congrats on the retire-versary! I can’t agree enough on both messages of enjoying each day/chapter of your life’s journey and that it does, indeed, go on irrespective of the milestone. Sage advice and glad you’re enjoying your adventure!

  23. Perfect post, Fritz. This is the nut I’m trying to crack. I am absolutely certain I’ll find myself in a “so what now??” mode after some early retirement quest to the finish line. Life goes on indeed. Make the most of what you’re given – GREAT advice, my friend.

    All that said – the planful and mindful make this thing call retirement “work”. Thanks for sharing a great example here! And safe travels!

  24. July is my retirement month and finishing year two. My take is it was like driving I-95 out of Miami at 120 mph. It required constant and diligent attention and short term and long term planning and a well practiced intensity. The day I drove home was the day I took the off ramp and all of that dissolved. The day I drove home I changed from a Human Doing into a Human Being. Being is much more interesting, and much more relaxed. I recommend!

  25. 100% about enjoying life today. I think that’s why I love sunrises and sunsets – they remind me we get a new chance to live the life we want every day.

    Thanks for the good reminder.

  26. Wonderful post, Fritz. Thanks for your wisdom. Milestones certainly have their place. But if you can find happiness and contentment in the ordinary, you’ve won the game of life.

  27. I’m a newcomer to this blog and find it fascinating to read and listen to the blogger and the commentaries. Me and my husband have been unofficially retired for 4 & 5 years respectively. However, continued to work part-time in our fields. Nothing much changed about our life style. Now at 70 & 71 we want to completely retire, to include downsizing our home and moving to a warm climate year round. Our first inclination is move to AZ where our daughter and son and their respective spouses + 3 grand kids live. All our instincts tell us to do that. We still live very active lifestyles. Plus, moving from the Midwest to AZ is game changer in terms of cost of living expenses. Any thoughts, ideas or perspectives on this are greatly appreciated. ~Thanks

    1. Not sure what game changer in cost of living means. We are contemplating a move to Sedona, AZ from CA. Our costs would decrease (housing, gas, taxes) but other daily living costs are still high in Sedona (food, sales taxes, etc). Other parts of AZ are cheaper, for sure. But AZ has also raised their minimum wage like CA, and now senior health services and restaurants are feeling the squeeze.

      In terms of costs, we’ve also considered the Carolinas – mostly because kids are both on east coast. Reality is taxes are about the same everywhere – sometimes it just depends on the type of taxes and how you spend or earn. Outdoor opportunities are also everywhere. The family and community connections are much more difficult to assess – and much more important, I think.

  28. Love this post. It serves as a refreshing reminder to be patient and enjoy the now. I find myself trying to race to retirement, but time will go at the pace it sets, so there’s no point in trying to fight it.

  29. Hey all! Thanks for your comments, just wanted to let you all know I read every one, but wasn’t able to respond while we were on the Olympic Peninsula due to lack of cell coverage. Also, I was enjoying something even more important than my blog (like kayaking with my wife). 🙂

    In a week, we’re making our turn “around third” and heading East for the first time. We’ll be stopping in Glacier & Yellowstone next week before heading back to Georgia. I look forward to re-engaging with all of you in the Fall!

  30. Fritz, I turned 57 late last year and my last day at work was December 31, 2018, after 2 weeks shy of 35 years as an Area Manager in the Mortgage business with one of the mega-banks. The last 10 years of my career, I thought about retirement pretty much every day and tried to invest as much as I could to achieve an early retirement without sacrificing the quality of our lives while still working. My wife retired at the end of May from her Speech Therapist position. Seven months into it, I have not looked back and we have both been busy as heck with projects, travel, cycling, sailing, tinkering, cooking, reading, etc.. The first 90 days of retirement was a very unique time, almost like a ‘high’…. that has subsided a bit, but I wake up every day and think of how lucky I am to be healthy and physically able to do pretty much anything we want to do in retirement. With what I am doing now, I feel a sense of accomplishment, I have enough contact with other adults that I don’t feel isolated or alone, and the freedom from the pressure cooker is absolutely priceless. I am learning how to do things I’ve always wanted to do, the time flexibility has been splendid… I am very happy… and I know my wife is too.

  31. Life does indeed go on, for most of us.

    After leaving work in 2012, I’ve just sought to find new challenges. Whether it’s improving my tennis rating, spending more time as a stay at home dad, remodeling a house, or crossing travel items off a bucket list.

    You definitely get used to the new normal!

    Sam

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