Who doesn’t love the sound of an early retirement? For many busy executives and business owners, slowing down and enjoying your financial success early in life becomes a primary goal. But before focusing solely on whether you can retire early financially, also consider what you plan to do after retiring early. Spoiler alert: the knee-jerk responses of travel, golf, and nothing eventually run their course, sometimes quickly.
Retirement is a major lifestyle change. All those meetings, emails, and action items might be a form of stress, but for many career-oriented individuals, feeling needed at work also provides a sense of purpose. Without proper planning and self-exploration, new retirees can struggle to adapt when faced with a blank calendar.
Figuring out what to do when you retire early
At some point, all retirees need to think about what they plan to do during retirement. In many ways, the list looks similar to what early retirees face. But there are some key differences.
First, individuals retiring early may find their friends don’t have the same luxury. It’s hard to spend time with family and friends if they’re all at work. This can be particularly difficult when one spouse retires early and the other continues working. Also, since you’ll be in retirement longer, you’ll need to have even more hobbies, plans, and activities versus ‘regular’ retirees.
As you consider how you’ll spend your days in retirement, focus on developing the activities that don’t come to mind right away. Chances are, these are the things that you’ll find intellectually stimulating or emotionally fulfilling. Finding something in this vein that interests you is often key when looking to retire early.
Cultivating a retirement lifestyle before retirement
It can be hard for busy professionals to find time to explore hobbies or maintain relationships while working. Unfortunately, without doing so, there’s no way to know whether the activity will resonate with you or if you’ll have companions to enjoy it with. Further, we all enjoy doing things we’re good at, but that doesn’t happen overnight. If you think you might want to pick up golf, sailing, or pickle ball, starting early will increase the likelihood of sticking with it in retirement. As you get closer, it’s also important to begin thinking about where you might want to retire.
Travel, leisure, and recreational activities are usually what our brains go to first when we think about retirement. But for many retirees, especially early retirees, these things can lose their luster pretty quickly. To create an enjoyable and fulfilling retirement, it’s important to think past the honeymoon stage of retirement (which mostly resembles a vacation).
Start to think about ways you could spend your time that’s intellectually engaging or emotionally fulfilling. Also consider how you might be able to use the skills and expertise from your professional life in retirement. Perhaps you control your workload and eliminate most of the aspects of the job you didn’t enjoy doing by taking on a few consulting projects. Also consider teaching or mentoring local students or emerging professionals in your field through your alma mater or an industry association.
If you’re someone who doesn’t have a huge list of interests and hobbies already, that’s ok. It just means you’ll need to spend a little more time and effort trying new things to see what sticks. Try glass blowing, book clubs, or other common interest groups. There are also tons of ways to volunteer. In addition to traditional routes like an animal rescue group or Boys and Girls club, consider becoming a volunteer at the local marathon or PGA event.
It’s hard to feel you’re getting the most out of life when stuck in meetings for hours on end. And although there are plenty of days you’d love to just block off your calendar, don’t mistake a brief reprieve to life after retiring. It’s not uncommon for early retirees to struggle with the transition. Even basic things like when to get up in the morning and structuring each day can be challenging. People like structure, just not too much.
For executives managing a team or business owners, part of the challenge might be de-coupling your self-identity from your work identity. And preparing for a time when you’re no longer ‘needed’ at the company. Ultimately, the best time to figure out what you’ll do in retirement is before you retire. So, if you want to retire early, start now.