What’s the best thing about retirement? Retirees tell

Older couple on sailing yacht with outstretched arms

Image: dolgachov/Bigstock.com

What’s the best thing about retirement? That’s a question I asked during extensive (up to an hour) interviews with individuals and couples who’ve been retired for more than two years.

Five of us are involved in the research and I’ve interviewed 17 people. There are a variety of answers for most questions, but this question has brought a single response from almost all.

Answer: Freedom.

Not everyone used that word, but it was the same message. It may have been said in this way: ‘We have control over our lives’; or ‘I can do what I want’; and ‘We’re able to choose for ourselves what we do.’

The freedom zone

Ken Dychtwald speaks of the freedom zone in retirement. This is when our identity is not so much defined by what we do, but more by leisure activities and the interests we pursue.

‘Rather than having to punch a clock, please a boss, impress your parents or your kids (or both!) or meet a deadline, people find that they can now do a lot more of what they want to do, when they want to do it, and often on their own terms.’

In my interviews, there’s a sense of delight in: ‘If I don’t want to do something today, I don’t have to.’

That freedom allows retirees to choose how they live their lives: what they do and don’t do. The challenge, of course, is to make choices that also help to maintain a healthy lifestyle. That’s physical, mental-emotional and social health.

The do-ing to be-ing transfer

In part 2 of his report, Dychtwald says, ‘As retirees further separate from full-time work and gain comfort with their post-work identity, “be-ing” increasingly replaces “do-ing” and fewer have feelings of guilt when not using leisure productively.’

Significantly, ‘Most retirees (74%) say it’s easier to structure their free time now than it was during their pre-retirement years.’

It isn’t that there’s no routine to life in a good retirement (there is), but the routine is in the hands of the retiree. And it can be broken at any time.

In retirement, Charlotte Bronte’s words (in Jayne Eyre) ring true: ‘I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.’ And retirement un-ensnares us and probably allows more freedom than at any other time of life.

A good question for your retirement is: What will it look like when you stop your do-ing and shift into your be-ing?

Now, before your retirement, is the time to start dreaming. I imagine the retirees I’ve been talking to would say that, in retirement, you have the freedom to be and do what you want.

So, who will you be? How you answer that will also help you work out what you will do.

Bruce Manners is the author of Retirement Ready? and Refusing to Retire, and founder of RetireNotes.com

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