One Year In–Early Retirement Progress

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Today is my first retirement anniversary and it feels great! Deciding to retire was an amazingly good decision for me, much better than I’d hoped for and I had high hopes – although there were a few weeks of continuous rain over winter when I consider moving abroad for the month!

Like any major life change though it’s not without it’s challenges and I have a little bit of advice for anyone considering following in my footsteps.  The most important thing is to recognise that change follows an adaptation curve  (it’s a lot like the Gartner Hype Cycle) and although I’m now solidly in the ‘new confidence and transformation’ phase, I did have to proactively manage my way through some of the other ups and downs.  being aware of this cycle was very important to making my first year a smooth and enjoyable experience.

It’s also very important to prepare, but not over-prepare.  Spend some time envisioning your life in retirement, make sure you have plenty of activities planned, that your kids and partner understand what to expect, that you have strategies in place to continue to socialise and challenge yourself.  Don’t over-prepare though, because you will need to adapt as you adjust.  I strongly recommend easing into retirement as well, ideally by reducing your working hours gradually over a couple of years.  You can read about my extensive preparation here.

2016-06-10 09.57.43There are four things that have really made this an exceptional year for me.  The first was being there for my family during a year of transition, Debbie’s first year as a teacher, Tess & Anna’s last year a college, Jennie and Jon’s first year as parents, and Steph’s last year abroad studying before settling down with Graham.  Second has been successfully keeping in touch with, and spending plenty of time with, my old friends at work.  Third has been significantly improving my health through a combination of hugely increased movement, improved diet and dramatically reduced stress. Finally my personal highlight – getting an allotment – which has been transformative.

There have been so many changes this year that it’s hard to pick out all of the lessons learned and highlights, but here’s a sample:

Diary Writing

I spent most of my working life writing software, emails and reports.  I’m not a good writer, but I like to write, it helps me shape my thoughts and reflect on my progress though life.  Now that I’ve retired I find that keeping a diary is the most enjoyable form of writing,  it motivates me to live a richer life, it supplements my fragile memory, and helps the kids keep track of what’s going on as they leave home – it’s great.

Now that I have my allotment I’m writing an allotment diary as well as a personal diary, it provides a similar purpose, but it’s also a really useful practical record that I can use each year to help me plan.  My allotment diary is a ‘hidden’ section of my main blog that can be reached at http://steves.allotmentnews.com/ or the ‘allotment news’ category of the blog http://steves.seasidelife.com/category/allotment-news/.  I started this diary writing habit with a 30 day challenge.

My diary all gets integrated into the iPhone Moves app, that automatically includes my Instagram photos, the places I’ve visited, the personal diary posts I’ve written and more.

Bottom line – diary writing has really helped me to adapt constructively to retirement

Naps

Over the last decade my sleep has gradually degraded, it’s not terrible at 7 hours a night, but it’s assisted by sedative pain killers which impact it’s quality.  I’ve a long term plan to wean myself off these pain killers and I’ve made a lot of progress this year already.  In the interim I’ve used an hour a day of my new found free time to take an afternoon nap and it’s been glorious, I curl up on the sofa in the conservatory and snooze in the warm, it’s a particular treat when it’s sunny.  The naps have definitely contributed to increased energy levels in the afternoon and evening.

Bottom line – afternoon naps have been one of the biggest, most enjoyable and unexpected benefits of retirement

Movement

I wanted to push my body harder, to try and toughen it up and improve it’s ability to recover from the minor injuries that are the inevitable result of gardening, hiking and cycling more.  This has meant a mix of body weight exercises and moving more throughout the day:  gardening, housework, cycling and hill walking and doing longer and more frequent walks.  The result has been much less lower body pain generally, and completely conquering my feet, shoulder and Achilles tendon pain.  The only blip has been developing ‘tennis elbow’ from all of the gardening.   Increasing my level of movement considerably has been fantastic and I’ve never felt so at home in my body, I’ve stopped going to the gym, because I don’t need to, I’m getting all the exercise I need naturally.  I’ve written a more detailed blog post about the approach that I’ve taken.

Bottom line – my body is coping well with moving more and my pain levels are much improved, but my elbow – ouch!

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Diet

My personal experience is that my body can cope with all sorts of different foods, including low quality junk and processed food.  However I’ve noticed that as I’m aging my ability to cope declines and that ‘coping’ is no longer good enough.  I’ve hypothesised that I can significantly improve my health in subtle ways by eating well.  To that end over the last year I’ve gradually transitioned to a much better diet and I’m now at the point where I’m mostly eating organic fruit and veg from the garden, supplemented by nutritionally dense whole foods like nuts, meat and eggs.  Now that I’ve got my allotment I’m growing even more of my own veg with lot’s of fruit to come this summer and it’s wonderful!  I’ve written a more detailed blog post about how I’m eating now.

Bottom line – I’m proving to myself the benefits and practicality of a whole food, mostly allotment grown diet

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Challenge

I’ve was understandably worried about stagnating, of slipping into bad habits, filling my time with TV etc.  So far there’s no sign of that, I’ve watched less TV and read fewer books and felt busier in retirement than I did when I was working.  I’ve started in the way I mean to go on though, to challenge myself to live the kind of life I want to lead.  My life is much simpler now: caring for my family, hiking and cycling with my friends, traveling, growing my own food and chatting to my fellow allotmenteers.  I live my life mostly outdoors, do DIY and housework when it’s raining, chill out in cafe’s first thing in the morning, facilitate family meals most evenings.  I’m getting plenty of challenge in my life though, opportunities to push myself physically abound, I’m always learning new things and the allotment provides endless opportunities for projects and experimentation.

Bottom line – every day feels like an adventure, down on the allotment, out hiking or cycling I’m enjoying that glorious sense of flow – totally absorbed in the moment

Socialising

Several years ago, when I was working from home as part of a global team, I almost never saw the people I worked with and only socialised with family in the evening.  It was a very isolating and demoralising time, even though I enjoyed the work I was doing, I learned to hate conference calls.  I wanted to make sure this didn’t happen in retirement, so I’ve made a particular effort to spend at least three days a week with friends and family, in addition to the evenings.

I also enjoy the privileges of being a ‘regular’ at several cafes and the allotment provides endless opportunities to chat.  It’s worked out really well so far, in fact I’ve spent much more quality time with people than I did when I was working.

Time on my own to read, listen to podcasts, listen to books, explore, work on projects is also important, it’s all about balance.  As the kids eventually fly the nest over the next year, I’m provided with even more excuses to travel the country, which I’m really looking forward to, especially in the winter.

Bottom line – I’m loving all of this stress free socialising!

Purpose

For most of my working life my purpose was provided by my work and young family, now I no longer have ‘work’, my children are all grown up and Debbie is working and mostly financially independent.  I need to find a new purpose, or more likely many different purposeful activities.  I’ve started with the basics, fix my health, fix up the house and garden, go on adventures, learn about the world,  it was good, but I lacked involvement in something ‘bigger than myself’.

The allotment has filled that gap splendidly, it’s a fantastic community, my plot needs plenty of regular care and attention and provides so much opportunity for projects, experiments as well as the joy of cropping.  I’ve also joined the committee to give something back in return for all the joy I’m getting.  I’m living the ‘good life’, sharing and bartering surpluses with the neighbours and the simpler it gets the better it is. My allotment diary is a ‘hidden’ section of my main blog that can be reached at http://steves.allotmentnews.com/

Bottom line – so far I feel I’m living a very purposeful life, made up of many activities, but dominated by my love of sustainability and self sufficiency, the allotment provides a big contribution to that.

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Medications

In my first week of retirement I started to aggressively reduce my medications, testing my hypothesis that in retirement, more movement, less stress and better food would ‘fix’ me.  Although it started well, probably assisted by the placebo affect, I was too enthusiastic, my pain levels went through the roof and I had too many withdrawal symptoms.  I quickly re-evaluated and decided to take a more measured approach.  First establish solid movement, diet, relaxation and sleep habits, essentially the bed-rock of health, second very gradually start to wean myself off the meds, avoiding being too ‘proud’ to go slow.

This approach has worked, I’m still flaring as often as I used to, but each flare is milder and shorter in duration and my baseline pain levels are much reduced, with much lower levels of medication.

Bottom line – my health problems were decades in the making, I can’t fix them in a week

In summary, I’ve made a good start, there’s lots more to do and I’m brimming with ideas.

A year ago during my retirement week, I wrote a blog post for each day and I pretty much followed the plan that I laid out there.  My retirement journey can be found in these posts.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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