Retirement 101

Earlier this year, a good friend of mine retired.  Having made that same decision four years ago, I called to offer, at no charge, my unsolicited, been-there-done-that advice as his retirement adviser.  I thought I heard an appreciative response on the other end of the phone.  Or was it a skeptical chuckle?

Regardless, I proceeded to share my personal experience in hopes that his retirement years would get off to a productive start.  He politely listened, although I did not hear him taking notes. Apparently he doesn’t yet realize that his memory cells are disappearing by the thousands every day.  

There are a million books out there about planning for retirement from a financial perspective.  I recommend Retire Inspired by Christ Hogan as a starter. But my free, unsolicited, yet-to-be-appreciated advice to my friend focused on two admonitions:  First, how to transition from work to retirement and second, the importance of waking up every morning with a purpose.

Admonition #1:  Vacation Mode vs. Retirement Mode

Soon after I retired, one of my sons asked me how retirement was going.  I responded by saying, “I didn’t know yet.  I am still in vacation mode.  He made a funny look and then in a voice dripping with sarcasm asked,  What’s the difference?  He laughed at his own remark as if an answer was unnecessary.  But I gave him one anyway.

After a long run, a runner usually has a cool-down routine that eases his body back into its normal state.  Maybe it’s a gentle jog around the track or just a brief period of walking.  Either way, cooling down is a necessary and essential step for your body to recover after a running experience.

I viewed retirement in the same terms.  I had worked 42 years in a corporate environment.  In many ways, it was like running a long distance marathon…with lots of sprints included.  Just as a runner shouldn’t cross the finish line and simply stop, neither should a retiree.  Having never taken a vacation longer than two weeks, I decided that I would approach retirement by treating my first 30 -60 days as a vacation whereby my first few weeks of “retirement” followed no specific routine.  I acted like I was on vacation.  I played golf, took in a movie, painted three bedrooms, did some landscaping, stayed up til 1:30 AM to finish reading a book, took a trip.  In other words, I actively relaxed and enjoyed each activity as if I was on an extended vacation.  For me, this was my cool-down jog after a long 42-year race, a way to ease into Retirement Mode.

Then I got serious.

It was time to transition into Retirement Mode.  How is that different from Vacation Mode?  Essentially, it means to establish a daily routine and to live life intentionally.  This is Admonition #2: Wake up every morning with a purpose.

Admonition #2:  Wake up Every Morning with a Purpose

When I shared my plans of retirement with my men’s prayer group, they all offered their own advice.  None more important than to wake up each morning with a purpose.  They also agreed that I would soon discover that retirement is just as busy as when I worked for a paycheck.  They were right.

This advice resonated with me.  I had recently finished reading the book, Finishing Well, by Bob Buford.  He had interviewed some of the smartest and most successful people in the world and discovered that the ones most enjoying life had found a way to move from “success to significance” in their later years.  One such pearl of wisdom was a reminder that “We are made to work; and to maintain meaning in our lives, we need to be engaged in work that has meaning and purpose.”  

When I started dating a few years after losing my wife to cancer in 2011, I met some fascinating women.  I’ll never forget one lady who had just retired from a successful career.  She was looking forward to this next phase of her life and traveling the world, hopefully with a husband.  We seemed to hit it off.  I initially thought the relationship showed promise.  But as we got to know one another, it became increasingly evident that we had, shall I say, differing priorities.  She had never married, never had children.  When she asked me if my grandchildren would interfere with our traveling, I explained in no uncertain terms that my grandchildren took priority and any traveling would be secondary.  That signaled the end of that relationship.

Retirement should be more than just playing golf or traveling the world.  It most certainly involves more than becoming a couch potato and binge-watching your favorite television shows.  There is nothing wrong with golf or traveling; it’s just that checking off items on a Bucket List hardly qualifies as activities with meaning and purpose.

In his book, Finishing Well, Bob Buford interviewed Dr. Armand Nicholi, editor of The Harvard Guide to Psychiatry.  Dr. Nicholi, who also taught at Harvard, made the following observation: “The people who feel the best about themselves after retirement are those who get involved in some kind of work or activity where they can make a contribution to others, such as volunteer work, mentoring, or teaching.  Sharing your wealth through charitable giving and philanthropy is important, but sharing your knowledge is every bit as important.  It’s the opposite of ‘fame and fortune,’ but it has lasting significance.  I’ve often said,’The fruit of my work grows on other people’s trees.’”

When I moved into Retirement Mode, I focused on what I could do to serve others.  I volunteered at a Food Bank and a homeless shelter.  I taught religious education classes, mentored young adults, and spent as much time as I could with my growing herd of grandchildren.  Leaving a legacy for them was and still is a priority.  Publishing my book, Walking Through the Valley of Tears, my personal grief journey, also opened new opportunities to help others via a grief ministry.  

Oh, I still get in a round of golf each week and make an occasional trip.  I consume books and enjoy writing personal reflections.  TheBuddyBlog.com has become a mission in itself as I reflect on the things that now matter most.

While I had some good-natured fun offering my friend my services as a retirement advisor, what I really was trying to communicate is that a successful retirement experience requires more than having enough money to live on.  It requires something to live for.… in the waking up every morning with a purpose.

In other words, I don’t believe in retirement; I believe in re-purposement.  If you are blessed with the financial resources to no longer work for a living, you now have the free time to repurpose how you spend your time, and the most fulfilling way to do that is in service to others. 

Find your passion, find your purpose, and I pray you will find finishing well a legacy worth leaving.

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  1. jccmissy

    A good read.

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. Brenda Alexander

    Thanks. I wassomewhat thrown into retirement. The college where I was teaching gave a month’s notice that they were closing their doors. Students, faculty and staff- we were all stunned. I took a couple part time, temporary teaching positions, and now just teach one on-line class that occupies one month a year. I have gotten involved with putting together the media presentations for worship services and been more active in church. For the first three years of “retirement” we cared for my father with dementia in our home till he passed in November. So we are still adjusting to another change without caring for him. My “retirement” has definitely been varying times of re-purposing.


  3. Fred Cassidy

    Re-purposement is so true. After working 49 years, I am establishing a reason to get up each morning. I look forward to continued learning, helping others, enjoying the family and friends, some travel around the world, and making new friends. Great words of wisdom.


  4. 4loonlings

    Excellent advice!

    Sent from my iPhone



  5. Madeleine

    Good thoughts, Buddy. I worked from home for many years at the end of my career. While work was still stressful (with long hours), I enjoyed the change, and it helped me transition to retirement. It allowed me to break the routine of driving to work, interacting face-to-face with fellow employees, etc. While my retirement has included volunteering and ‘projects,’ there’s always something meaningful to do. I like not having structure. I do whatever I feel like doing!


  6. Todd Steinhorst

    Thank you my good friend! We need to catch up soon, there has been many changes at the phone factory and the culture has turned toxic. I’m actively looking outside the company. More to come in the next few weeks Todd


  7. Cathy R.

    Timely advice since I just retired last week :). Thanks for sharing your wisdom!


  8. alicequinif


    I so enjoy your writing! I have been thinking about your going from vacation mode to retirement mode. I think Nick and I are moving from survival mode to vacation mode 😁


    Sent from Alice’s world, where everyday is a Saturday and no drama is allowed!



    1. Buddy McElhannon

      Alice, Yes, i do believe that you and Nick deserve an extended period in vacation mode. By the way, vacation mode is definitely “No drama allowed” mode! 🙂 Love ya, Buddy


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