Early Retirement–Three Months In
It’s hard to remember what a life at work was like now, I’ve adjusted to a new pace of life and that life has more than expanded to fill the time available. When I first retired I made the mistake of trying to pack to much into my weeks, It was a bit exhausting, I was trying to duplicate the world of work by making retirement chock full of challenge and activity. Now I’ve had a few months I’ve realised that retirement is not meant to be work in disguise, it’s a slower way of life, one that allows me to be more at peace with myself and my environment. I’ve realised that satisfaction can come from modest but steady progress, but progress is the essential ingredient to a day well lived. Progress can come in many forms, but for me the most satisfying is to do something enduring, make some raised beds, plant or weed the garden, do some decorating, clean/tidy the house, write a blog post, do a beach clean, every day making my world and the world in general a little bit better.
The focus for these three months has been in three areas, establish a satisfying pattern to my life, improve my overall health and keep social. I’m pretty pleased with how all of these are going, but as in all changes it’s important to remember that major change goes through a predictable cycle, which needs to be carefully managed, I’m trying to track the solid line, but minimise the crisis!
A Pattern For Living
While daily habits were central to my working life, they don’t really work so well in retirement. I don’t want a daily routine that becomes a rut that’s carved ever deeper and becomes difficult to escape. Instead I want a easy mix of different types of days, weeks and months to suit the weather, the seasons, my energy levels, my commitment and my objectives. I’ve used challenges to help me design this pattern and I’m pleased with how it’s going. A typical summer month might be anchored by 4 days of travel, 8 social and 8 solitary walks or cycle rides, with the remainder of the days focused at home on gardening, DIY and learning. In the winter the walking and cycling will reduce and be replaced my more time in the gym, the pool, learning, writing or social events (cinema, theatre, eating out)
Building a solid physical fitness foundation has been the easiest health objective to tackle and I’ve made excellent progress, starting with brisk walks, hill walks, then adding daily cycle rides and swimming. Now after a few months of this basic cardio routine, I’ve started to add some sprints and strength work. I’ve hired myself a personal trainer until the end of the year and he’s teaching me how to push through my limits and make sure my technique is good so I don’t injure myself. I hopeful that by Christmas I will have reached a baseline level of fitness that I’m happy with. I want to be able to swim a couple of miles, cycle 50 miles, walk a marathon and run a couple of miles and bench press my own weight, without too much effort.
There’s more to health than physical fitness though, I’m still having the odd auto-immune flare and my sleep is still lousy, migraines are a weekly curse. Fixing these is a more complex battle but it starts with diet and I’m doing well there too. I’m transitioning to eating mostly fruit and vegetables, nut’s seeds, with plenty of eggs, a little organic dairy and a smaller amount of high welfare standard meat. Most of the fruit and veg has come from my garden and next year I will be more than doubling the output and extending the seasons. I’m gradually making some progress with reducing my meds, but it’s a complicated dance. If I reduce them too fast then I put at risk the stability that I’m currently enjoying and might even trigger a negative spiral, but I need to keep nudging them down if I want to be rid of the side effects that are holding other areas of my health back.
My biggest concern when I retired was losing contact with my friends at work, but so far there’s little sign of that. It’s sometimes difficult to schedule getting together, but every week I spend a couple of days with friends and another couple with family. That leaves me with three or four days on my own, which is about what I need to keep sane. The quality of that social time has improved too which is an unanticipated benefit and of course I still see plenty of people throughout the day in cafes and shops, in the gym and while out walking or cycling.
There are other things that I expected to do more of, particularly reading and TV, both have played a minimal role in retirement. In fact I’ve found myself reading and watching TV a lot less than I did while I was working. I’m not sure why this is, maybe it’s just been the summer months, or maybe I’ve just been more engaged in my other activities. I love reading (and TV) so I expect that the winter will provide more opportunity to enjoy them.
Then there’s the long term planning. Retirement so far has just been about establishing a solid foundation upon which I will build the rest of my life. That foundation building will probably take a year, maybe more, there’s no rush. Already though I’m starting to apply my strategy skills, doing some scenario planning. Will I buy a small-holding and live the sustainable low impact life; will I enjoy a life of leisure, long distance hikes and cycle rides, lazy summer’s camping; or maybe a hybrid life doing high intensity gardening in the back garden an allotment in the afternoons, with walks and cycle rides in the morning and lazy walks along the beach and reading in the evenings; or maybe we will buy a beach front house up the coast and I will be swimming in the sea and running on the beach and reading on the balcony while watching the sunset, or will I spend most of my days looking after grandchildren? So many options, but that’s the beauty of scenario planning, look at the options and eventually choose a strategy that’s resilient to the uncertainty in my income, the economy, my health, my shifting interests and the families’ needs. Again there’s no rush, I have years to decide.
I’m writing this post in Esquires Coffee House in Scarborough, it’s a lovely spot usually, but right now there’s a couple arguing behind me (I’m trying to feel compassion for them). The photo is from this mornings walk along Scarborough cliffs, looking back towards Filey where I had breakfast, in that little sunny oasis in Filey’s country park.