Ann, a former middle school teacher, is the ideal example of a successful retiree. Ann always has a project she is working on around the house—her latest has been coordinating the repaving of her driveway. She regularly spends time with friends, making lunch dates or attending book club. Ann loves to lounge by the pool during the summer, reading the latest novel. She is passionate about her garden and loves creating recipes with the vegetables from her backyard. Some of her grandchildren live locally and she will often babysit them. Although she is financially secure, she sometimes enjoys taking the occasional part-time job. Most recently she worked during the local election at the polls.

Many of us, laboring along in the nine to five rat race, dream of retirement. We fantasize about how wonderful it will be to have an endless stretch of time before us, no deadlines and nothing scheduled. The truth is, many adults who have worked 30, 40, even 50+ years don’t know what to do with all that spare time once retirement begins. How do we make sure we actually enjoy our well-deserved and long-awaited retirement?

One reason Ann is such a successful retiree may be because she was a schoolteacher. During her working life, she was accustomed to having large blocks of unscheduled time during summer and holiday breaks. Ann also has many interests, hobbies and friends. Others with more traditional jobs sometimes find large blocks of time off to be overwhelming. Since they have never encountered so much unscheduled time, they find the reality of retirement much different than their fantasy.

Here are six tips to help new retirees be as happy and fulfilled as possible for the next phase of their lives:

1. Know yourself. If you have been a workaholic, consider securing a part-time or volunteer job prior to retiring completely. Perhaps you could gradually retire from your current job by serving as a consultant for your company part-time before you ultimately retire. If your entire identity is wrapped up in career, anticipate that an abrupt loss of work life may be distressing. Don’t go cold turkey!

2. Fill some dates on your calendar prior to retirement. While many retirees fantasize about a leisurely schedule, most people are bored after a few weeks without structure. Give yourself a couple weeks of unscheduled time but then make sure to schedule some lunch dates or day trips so you have something to look forward to. We tend to enjoy our down time much more when there are busy days to balance it.

3. Keep a tickler file of things that appeal to you during the year or two preceding retirement. Clip articles, save brochures and advertisements, and make lists of places, activities and experiences you may want to try once you have more free time.

4. Think about the skills you most enjoyed utilizing at your job. Maybe you are mechanically inclined, creative, a great writer or have inspirational leadership skills. Find a new way to apply these skills to your personal life or even through a volunteer outlet.

5. Keep learning. Reading non-fiction books, magazines and newspapers, viewing documentaries and taking classes keeps you fresh. Check out online courses at a local community college that you can participate in from home.

6. Do a practice retirement. Take a sabbatical or long “staycation” of at least 3-4 weeks prior to making the decision to retire. You could plan some day trips, but don’t leave home for more than two nights at a time. Find projects around the house. Spend time doing fun things you never seem to have time to do. If you find yourself napping everyday or watching a lot of television, it is likely you might have difficulty transitioning to retirement.

Retirement can be a fulfilling and exciting time. Knowing yourself and preparing are the keys to making the most of it.

Mature market expert and gerontologist Jennifer FitzPatrick, MSW, LCSW-C.
Jennifer FitzPatrick, MSW, LCSW-C, CSP is a speaker and consultant on age diversity, older customers, caregiving & dementia. She is the President of Jenerations Health Education & an Instructor at Johns Hopkins University. For more information please visit www.jenerationshealth.com.

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