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19. March 2019

Newly Retired? Learn to Relax, Guilt-Free

by Richard Downen, Advisor

“So, what have you been up to?”

This casual question can freeze even the most accomplished executive who has recently retired. Your transition from a long career of goals, deadlines, and nonstop commitments to retirement can be challenging. Migrating from an out-of-control, jam-packed calendar to a wide-open calendar you almost completely control creates unexpected stresses. When you are not used to having open time on your calendar, it can be disorienting to suddenly find yourself with surplus time. Further, your move from being “the expert” to a new role in which you are a novice—retirement—brings a very unnerving feeling.

So, pause. In advising clients about retirement, we at My Next Season talk about the importance of pausing. The pause is critical to discerning what you are meant to do in the next phase of your life. It is important to take the time to contemplate, reflect, and dream. But for many, this is easier said than done.

By nature, this pause involves stepping back and taking a deep breath. This period frequently creates a strong feeling of guilt because every minute is not filled with a busy calendar, meetings, and obligations. Many clients have confessed to me their feelings of guilt for simply picking up a novel to read at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon or taking a walk at 10:00 in the morning.

So, here are three pieces of advice I’ve shared with clients over the years that have helped them see relaxation as a gift to be appreciated and enjoyed—without feeling guilty:

  1. First, give yourself permission to relax. You don’t have to fill every minute of the day to feel you have accomplished something. It is okay to read that book in the afternoon, spend the morning cleaning out the garage, or just sit back and enjoy a beautiful day.

    Making this mental shift can take some time, like it did for one client who was particularly challenged by learning to enjoy downtime without feeling guilty. Over several months, he moved from feeling stressed about his surplus of time, to calling me from his vacation home to say how much he was enjoying time with family without the worries of work: “I think I can get used to this!” More time passed, and the next call came while he was on a family vacation: “I am really enjoying this retirement thing! I look forward to every day that I wake up and can decide what I’m going to do.”
  2. Next, explore. Take time to explore new things, and things of interest you lacked time to investigate in the past. Learn about new possibilities. Talk to others about their experiences. But be careful—not everything you hear will interest you, so don’t get caught up in what others think you should do.

    One client’s friend kept telling him, “You should start fishing. It’s great! It’s peaceful and quiet. It is so relaxing.” My client told me, “I hate fishing! I can’t think of anything worse!” What works for some may not work for you. So let the well-intentioned but off-the-mark advice pass you by, while you focus on what excites and interests you.
  3. Set goals. This may sound in conflict with relaxing, but I have found that clients who are used to a life of goal-setting and deadlines often feel a void when they have no goals. So, I advise clients to set goals for their first six months of retirement.

    The trick is to think of many things you like or want to do as goals. Examples: arrange one lunch a week with friends; read four books for pleasure; plant a garden; lower your golf handicap by two strokes—or any number of other things. Be certain to keep lots of free time on your calendar to enjoy the pause and the exploration, but for many, having goals is a key part of not feeling guilty about relaxing.

If you’re intentional about doing these three things—give yourself permission to relax, explore, and set goals—this period of “pause” can be a rejuvenating, guilt-free time of weighing possibilities. Your time is now truly yours, in a way it likely hasn’t been for decades.

So the next time someone says, “So, what have you been up to?” since retiring, there’s no need to freeze or feel awkward. Just say what a client of mine says: “I’m learning to be retired.”

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