The Wonder Years

If you’re over the age of 50, you likely have fond memories of watching The Wonder Years.

The coming-of-age series ran from 1988 – 1993 and featured the likeable Kevin growing up in the late 60’s to early 70’s.  In my opinion, Kevin’s infamous voice-overs were the key to the show’s success, and shed light on his thinking as he shared his memories of his brother (Wayne), sister (Karen), parents (Jack and Norma), and best friends Paul and Winnie.

And, who can forget that opening song, “What would you do, if I sang out of tune….”

For those who missed it, here’s the opening theme song:


 (Title image source:  Wikipedia)

I had a recent epiphany, and it relates to the show.  

In thinking about The Wonder Years, I realized there are some key messages in the show that can help all of us “Achieve A Great Retirement” (my byline).  Today, we’re going to examine the philosophy and lessons learned by Kevin as he reflected on his childhood. 

Turns out, the lessons Kevin learned as he tried to figure out adolescence are also very applicable to us as we try to figure out our paths in retirement.

The Wonder Years was unique in its use of Kevin's voice-overs to share his thoughts on adolescence. Turns out, he taught us some lessons we can also use in retirement. Share on X

the tv show The Wonder Years


The Wonder Years

During my four years at a Midwestern liberal arts college, I was required to take a theater class in my quest for a diploma.  I sighed as I signed up for “Messages In Film,” and figured it would be one of those classes that wouldn’t apply in the least, but at least I’d check the box.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the class and learned a lot in the process.

One of the things I remember was the professor’s insistence on looking deeper at a film’s message.  “Every film,” he said, “has two layers of meaning.  There’s the surface-level story, and there’s always a deeper, hidden message.  Our goal with this class is to teach you to find those deeper messages.”

We’d watch movies during the class, and then be assigned papers to write on the deeper meanings we felt were being communicated.  Forty years later, I still remember watching Apocolypse Now and searching for the hidden meaning (there are loads of them, by the way. If you’re curious, check out this summary).

As I used this same methodology when thinking about The Wonder Years, I came up with the following deeper messages that we can apply to our retirement years:


The Wonder Years – Hidden Messages For Retirement

As you reflect on Kevin’s journey and hear his voice-over commentary in your head, try to find ways to apply the lessons he was teaching you as you seek your new life in retirement.  Yes, it turns out even The Wonder Years had those hidden messages my professor taught me to look for. 

To this day, I’m thankful I took that class.

Here then, are the hidden messages from The Wonder Years that you can apply to your life in retirement:


1. Rediscover Your Curiosity

I’m curious if the use of the word “Wonder” in the title of the show had a double meaning. Childhood was a time of wonder, and the very act of wondering is a good way to stimulate our curiosity.  Was the use of the word meant to remind us of the wonder we once had, or was it simply a word to define a period of our lives?  Either way, our retirement can be defined as The Wonder Years in the same way that our childhood was, and it should serve as our reminder to pursue wonder and curiosity in this chapter of our lives.

Many of the themes in Kevin’s journey focused on pursuing his curiosity.  Pursuing our curiosity is a skill that many of us have lost in our working years.  It’s a muscle we need to learn to exercise again, and it is one of the most important keys I discuss in my book, Keys To A Successful Retirement

The best way to find your Purpose in retirement is to learn to listen to your curiosity and take a first step in whatever direction it leads. Just like Kevin, we need to explore new hobbies, interests, and experiences with a fresh perspective. This exploration often leads to fulfillment and joy, like our childhood curiosity did in our Wonder Years.  Following is a quote from the show that demonstrates the value of curiosity:

“In every life, there comes a time when that thing you dream becomes that thing you do.”

I love that quote and believe it applies directly to our retirement years.   NOW is our time to do the things that were once our dreams.

Learn from Kevin.

Don’t miss the opportunity to live your dreams.


2. Embrace Change

Retirement is one of the biggest changes you’ll face in life.  Try as you might to avoid it, the reality is there will come a time when you retire.  Rather than resist that change, learn to embrace it.  Here’s a quote from the show that captures that philosophy:

“Growing up is never easy. You hold on to things that were. You wonder what’s to come. But that night, I think we knew it was time to let go of what had been and look ahead to what would be.”

“We knew it was time to let go of what had been and look ahead to what would be.”  Sounds like a quote about retirement to me.  Listen to Kevin and dream about the opportunities the change of retirement offers.  Seek out the positives and minimize your time worrying about the negatives.  Like many things, your mindset toward the change will likely be a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Savor your past, but be excited about your future.

A friend in my Retirement Mastermind Group shared a quote with me, and it’s worth sharing here.  “You know a person is getting old,” he said, “when they always talk about the past and not the future.”  The future is our lives.  Don’t live your life in the past.  Dedicate your energy to making your future all that it can be. 

In The Wonder Years, the best example of dealing with change comes in the final scene of The Final Episode, which is worth a watch if you are a fan of the show.  Kevin’s voice-over is epic in this one:


3. Build Meaningful Connections

Who can think of The Wonder Years without reflecting on the relationship between Kevin and Winnie?  Or, the relationship Kevin has with his best friend, Paul?  What about those family dynamics that became the plot of so many episodes?  The dynamic of these relationships was one of the keys to the show’s success, and the same is true of our retirement.

Kevin invested a lot of time in his relationships, and his authentic approach to caring for his friends and family was obvious.  In the same way, we need to invest time to build our relationships in retirement.  Those relationships we had at work fade in retirement, and life is not meant to live alone. Take time to be intentional as you foster closer relationships with new people to replace those you’ve lost from work.  Focus on tightening your relationships with your family.  

Invite a friend to breakfast, or for a hike.  Invite a couple over for dinner and a night of playing games (we do that often with our best friends and savor our time with them).  Reach out and call an old friend (I did that today, and enjoyed our chat, Bill). Volunteer at a local charity and focus on your interactions with the other volunteers. Take a week and go visit a family member you haven’t seen in a while.  Offer to babysit your grandchild so your child can take a much-needed vacation.

If you got into an emergency today, who could you call to bail you out?  If you don’t have 2 to 3 people that readily come to mind, it’s time to focus your energy on building meaningful relationships.  There’s a reason that fostering strong social connections was Secret #2 in 7 Secrets To A Great Retirement

To close out this section, here’s a YouTube video with the Top 10 Best Kevin & Winnie Moments from the show:


Learning To Embrace Your Inner Child

When I first started this post, the working title was “Learning To Embrace Your Inner Child.”  The Wonder Years connection came later, as I was in the writing process (I love the serendipity that comes with writing).  I went with the thought, and I’m pleased with the results.   

The seed for the post, however, was planted when I had a recent epiphany.

My Epiphany:

Retirement is a lot like childhood.

I had an epiphany recently: Retirement is a lot like childhood. The more we embrace our childhood mindset, the better our retirement years will be. Share on X

I hinted in my last post (5 Things You Need To Know Before You Retire) about the epiphany I had.  It happened spontaneously during my podcast interview on Awe-Inspired & Retired, and it focused on how we can use our childhood mindset to live our best life in retirement. Wonder Years was simply the metaphor I chose to communicate the concept.

The moment the epiphany happened…

Specifically, the epiphany came when Riley asked me “What do you want to do when you grow up?“. (if you’d like to hear it, scroll to the 57:30-minute mark here.)

My initial (unscripted and spontaneous) response to Riley’s question was,

“I hope I never grow up…the interesting thing about retirement is that it’s the closest thing in life that you’ll ever experience to childhood…you’re free to do anything you want to do.  So I’m a kid.  I’m a 60-year-old kid…” 

As I expanded on the answer, I added, “I’m intentionally viewing retirement as a time where I never have to grow up.  I can be a child for the next 15 or 20 years.

“What’s a kid do?”

 “A kid goes off and rides his bike and plays at the playground…and then he goes out to the beach…they play different ways every day…they’re getting exercise…they’re being outside…

Kids Play.

 So that’s what I’m doing.  I view life in retirement like a hand of cards.  At any given point you can put a card down or pick a new one up. And you should.  You should always try new cards.  And if you find a card you enjoy (like me with my writing), you hold that card for a while. 

All those cards are just a kid riding his bike.  My blog is just me riding my bike.  It’s my plaything. 

So, if you want my answer to “what I want to be when I grow up,” I want to be a professional card player, and I want to build the best possible hand that I can.   That’s what I’m focused on.”

engage your inner child

Embrace your inner child.

Learn to play again.


Conclusion

The Wonder Years is a great metaphor to help you live your best life in retirement.

By looking into the deeper meaning behind Kevin’s voice-over insights into his adolescent years, we’re shown the secrets to living a great life.  

  • Rediscover Your Curiosity
  • Embrace Change
  • Build Meaningful Connections
  • Embrace Your Inner Child

I encourage you to think about my epiphany and consider how you can apply it to your own life. The epiphany is simple in concept and easy to apply:

Retirement is a lot like childhood.

Sharon summarized it well when she left her comment on my last post.  She wrote: “I’m almost 2 years into retirement and I’m going to start thinking like my inner child/teenager, what would SHE want to do??” 

Well said, Sharon.

The Wonder Years were presented as a memory.  Kevin’s past, and his thoughts about his adolescence as he looked back on those years as an adult. But that doesn’t mean our Wonder Years can only happen in our memory.  It should be a part of our lives NOW.  I’m living my Wonder Years now and you can do the same.  Sure, I’m using the memory of childhood to help facilitate my life in retirement.  After all, as a wise man once said (wink),

“Retirement is a lot like childhood.” 

The more we embrace our childhood mindset, the bigger the impact it can have on our lives. Kids play, and the more we learn what “play” looks like in retirement, the better off we’ll be.  Pick up a new card or put an old one down. Never stop improving your hand.

Embrace it.

Go out and play.

Live Your Wonder Years.


Your Turn:  Did you watch The Wonder Years?  Do you think the lessons it teaches also apply to our lives in retirement?  How are you embracing your childhood mindset, and what are the results? Let’s chat in the comments…

43 comments

    1. To be honest, I don’t know why I got this email. I’M SO GLAD I DID! I just retired at 57 and hopefully there’s a lot of fun ahead. I’m starting to embrace time to do nothing, while at the same time playing pickleball a ton with a regular group, visiting and calling old friends, travelling (without spending a fortune) and reading. I’m starting up Spanish lessons again online and hope to take some classes. And I workout and walk daily. It seems like a lot, but it’s not. I’m so used to working 60-80 hours weeks I’ve had to learn to stop feeling the need to occupy every second. Thank you for this amazing post! Also, Joe Cocker’s version of A little help from my friends, the Wonder years theme song, is very fitting and an amazing version. I highly recommend listening!

        1. Haha, glad you figured it out, didn’t want someone to think I was spamming them! Congrats on your recent retirement, you’re going to love life on this side of The Starting Line!

  1. THIS! –

    “I’m intentionally viewing retirement as a time where I never have to grow up. I can be a child for the next 15 or 20 years.

    “What’s a kid do?”

    “A kid goes off and rides his bike and plays at the playground…and then he goes out to the beach…they play different ways every day…they’re getting exercise…they’re being outside…

    <3

  2. I read the post multiple times and really enjoyed the message. Great takeaways in your conclusion.

  3. Loved Wonder Years. Thanks for bringing back some good memories. Wish they’d make shows like this today. Love being a child again!

  4. Fritz,
    Thank you, I have been sitting on the sidelines watching and reading your post for some time now. My wife and I recently meet with our financial advisor and he gave us a GREEN light on retirement. I have worked as a surveyor and in the engineering field for over 30 years and have crunched the numbers more times than I care to admit. We have had multiple ups and downs in our careers, life as well with my retirement accounts. We have planned and saved and its just so surreal to believe that our DREAM has come true at 55 years old. This post hit home to me and I just wanted to say thank you for all that you do.

    1. I loved The Wonder Years, and I loved this post so much. I especially resonated with #3. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I can do each day both to deepen my existing relationships and just brighten someone’s day.

      As for #4, yeah—retirement is like childhood except that (a) you have money and (b) you don’t need your parents’ permission! 😂 (Oh, and you don’t have the energy or dexterity you had as a child, but that’s the circle of life. Nor can you eat the way you did then!)

      Anyway, great post.

      1. Other similarities: eventually you lose your hair and your teeth and end up in diapers….wink.

    2. Joe C, congrats on that GREEN light, time to quit worrying about the numbers and figure out how your going to play like a child in your early retirement years! Like you, I crossed “The Starting Line” at age 55 and have no regrets. And…you’re welcomed. 😉

  5. This is a great post and more great writing that you consistently share with us!

    I can’t wait to share with Mrs. FIlightER!!
    I loved The Wonder Years and Kevin’s reflections and conclusions/insightful observations and commentary.

    We are working hard to embrace “New Cards” in ‘24 and as 60 YO’s we are parallel’s endeavoring to make the most of these GO-GO years!

    Thanks for your inspiration!!

    1. Be a Kevin to your Winnie. I hope Mrs. FllightER enjoys the writing as much as you do! Enjoy those new cards…

    1. It won’t be long now, Angie. Get ready to really run wild…. 😉

  6. Fritz…Thank you for this. My childhood begins again in 29 months, but who’s counting.

    1. Nothing wrong with counting – my countdown timer had over 1,000 days on it when I started that clock. They’ll seem slow as you’re living them, but blazing fast as you look back on them after retirement. Run a good race, you’re getting close!

  7. Thanks Fritz. I watched and really enjoyed the Wonder Years. My wife and I still enjoy the actress that played Winnie on Hallmark type movies. I’m 58 and have always been a kid and trying new things. In my 2 years of retirement I took up road biking, serve on a school board, coach sports and just volunteered with the Israeli IDF for a few weeks. I love feeling like it’s summer vacation all the time. Carpe Diem!

    1. Israeli IDF…there’s a story in that sentence! Good for you for finding new ways to play. Carpe Diem, indeed!

    1. My skills lack in comparison to your ability to link music to FI, Dave. I always enjoy the lyrics you share. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Wow Fritz – this one really hit home! I lost my beautiful wife 2 years ago after an amazing 30 years together. She was addicted to The Wonder Years and watching these clips brings it all back. I plan on learning these lessons (I will fully retire at the end of this month) and watching some more episodes as it brings a flood of beautiful memories. Thank You!

    1. So sorry to hear about the loss of your wife, Gary. Enjoy those beautiful memories as you navigate your new life. Congrats on the full retirement in 2 short weeks!

  9. Thanks for this post and all of your previous posts. You have inspired me to adopt the word “Wonder” as my word for 2024.

  10. I’m 40 years old, still a lot of life between now and retirement, but have enjoyed reading this blog since coming across Fritz on The Money Guy show a couple years ago. This post brought me back to when I was a kid, laying on the couch, watching with my Mom, Dad and younger brother. What was great about the show was that my parents were able to share their memories of their childhood growing up in the 60s, while my brother and I were experiencing ours. We connected over it, we learned about history, it brought our family closer together. It was a show about the best America has to offer, it was a show about values. So many great life lessons broken down in this article. I was excited to share it with my wife and my family. Perhaps I’ll rewatch the show with my kids. Perhaps I’ll be spending more time “wondering.”

    Thank you.

    1. Great story, Tim. I suspect there are many families with memories similar to yours. And, cool that you saw that Money Guy show appearance – I enjoyed doing that interview from their studio, great guys!

  11. Really “wonder”ful piece! So many meanings to glean and reflect on. One thing that popped into my head was the memory of my favorite aunt and uncle while I was growing up. I was drawn to them more so than any other adults because they knew how to have fun and everyone always had fun when they were around. Interesting part…they weren’t retired!! They knew how to have fun and see life as endlessly interesting all throughout the many years they were in my life. I wish I’d had this epiphany sooner and applied this understanding before now. I won’t be retiring until this fall, however, thanks to your essay, I’m going to start embracing this philosophy immediately and am looking forward to retirement even more now than ever! Thanks Fritz!

    1. Interesting how people who naturally have fun are also appealing to others, isn’t it? Congrats on your looming retirement, Fall will be here before you know it. Pleased to hear my encouragement to embrace your inner child made you even more excited about retirement.

  12. Didn’t watch The Wonder Years very often but love your epiphany. I think this is one of your best posts.

    1. One of my best? Wow, with 400+ posts, that’s quite the compliment. Thank you!

  13. Hi Fritz!

    Our church service message recently ties in nicely with your blog….difference between acting “childish” and “kiddish”. Then up on the big white board went the definitions of each, asked for from the audience. Kiddish brought up these: curiosity, wonder of the universe, our human body form that our Father created, wonder of life in general and wonder of our past.

    Learning something new each day is one of my pursuits. There is a sanctuary in FL called Turkey Creek and I had to discover the origin of the name. I was pretty sure it had nothing to do with turkeys and I was correct. I learned that there were turkey oak trees in the sanctuary; named that because their leaves are shaped somewhat like a turkey! So there you go Fritz, you have learned a new thing today! Ha. And if you already knew this, then your readers learned! 🙂

    I also urge readers to really explore a passion they have and try to relate it to a charity where they could volunteer. Maybe they enjoy woodwork type projects and could build dog houses for dog owners they don’t know…. :0

    Another thought provoking article Fritz. Well done as always!

    Joy and peace to your readers, Steve

    1. Sounds like a great sermon, thanks for sharing. And no, I didn’t know about Turkey Creek, so you did teach me something new today. I love your pursuit of trying to learn something new each day. Reminds me of our visit this week from Jim and his family (from Route To Retire). They’re homeschooling their daughter, so I gave her a homework assignment to learn what TVA stood for (there’s a TVA dam in Blue Ridge with a plaque of the entire dam network). Lifelong learning starting young!

      Finally, I’m 100% on board with your suggestion to try to relate a passion to charity work. It’s a real sweet spot for finding joy in retirement. Let’s hope a few of them take up your suggestion of building dog houses. Wink.

  14. Hey Fritz – oh ya – Wonder Years was one of my favourite shows! And the lessons it taught definitely applies to retirement years! I’m not quite there yet but have been thinking alot in the last year or so about “pulling the trigger on retirement”. My wife recently retired from a 35-year career in teaching so I thought I’d give her a bit of space first. 😉 I have already read your book, listened to the podcast mentioned above, and have read all sorts of books on retirement. Although I’m feeling good from a numbers perspective, it’s “all the other stuff” (the 90 of the 90/10 rule) that I still need to solidify. Once I feel that’s in place, then I’m ready to enjoy the fruits of a 35+ year career in hi-tech. Keep doing what you’re doing!

  15. Last year, my wife and u decided to retire together. It was scary to me (being an Accountant), it it has definitely been worth it. After 5 months of sleeping in, visiting the beach (where I now live), and making new friends, I have recently taken on a new endeavor: working part-time as an tax preparer for a friend. Always wanted to try it and if it doesn’t work, then I will move on to something else. Thanks for your reminder that living like a kid can be so much fun. From you more than boring accountant. Phil,

  16. I really enjoyed this post Fritz. I always liked the Wonder Years when it was on TV, but honestly I hadn’t thought of it in years This post brought back memories of simpler times. Your comparison of the Wonder of our childhood years to our new start in life in retirement is right on. It’s given me a whole new perspective on how I should look at the years ahead of me and my wife. I have such wonderful memories of growing up and being carefree. I hope that my inner child will take over and lead me (us) down whatever paths will bring contentment and happiness to our retirement journey. Thanks Fritz, this one is definitely on my “best of” list.

  17. Shows like “Happy Days” and “The Wonder Years” cause adults to look back on their youth with fondness and nostalgia and other feel-good-ness. But let’s be honest. When you were actually going through those years, they weren’t full of “wonder” and “curiosity”. For most people, they were full of “terror” about the unknown and the conflicting and baffling advice from the adults in their lives, whose experience had been pretty much the same. And no one would watch a show about that.
    Retirement is a similar entry into the unknown. And the way to prepare for it is with hard numbers and planning. Most of the ER blogs used to focus on that, but it seems like in recent years they’ve all drifted into exercises in creative writing and self-help.

  18. Thank you Fritz for this wonderful post!!!. I love to think in a very positive way about retirement and how to live it and you are a good inspiration every time I read your articles.

  19. All of us will eventually become the victim of our successes or failures. It is easy to identify the victims of failures because they do not play by the rules.

    It is harder to recognize the victims of successes because they are more educated and/or financially more stable than the general population.

    Yet, many of these superstars will eventually fail because they stocked in a very tiny world (albeit more educated and financially more stable (may not, if they keep up with the Jones). In this tiny little world, same people and same conversations are recycled years after years just to protect the group’s financial interests.

    And you have surely identified all the necessary steps!
    1. Embrace Your Inner Child (this is a hardest step for any 50 years old. This is harder than FI.)
    2. Rediscover Your Curiosity
    3. Embrace Changes
    4. Build Meaningful Connections – outside the tiny little world that you have seen and experienced

    Just a matter of taking action!

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