Finding Retirement II – Mind, Body and Soul

Having found Friday morning golf, the Friday Lunch Gang and the Friday Night Listener’s I am not sure I will be able to go back to working on Fridays.

For those that have lost track, a year ago I wrote here about the challenge of moving from full time work to full time ‘not working’.  It has been an interesting year and I thought I would head into the holidays by writing down what I have learned in my journey.

The Mind

Those that know me, even a little, realize that I have a lot on my mind.  When I was younger, I thought it was a strength.  It wasn’t until I met a life coach who helped me see that the non-stop firing of synapses was far from ideal.  This process led me down a road of listening to my body and my heart.  More to say on those areas in a bit, but needless to say that I still have a strong tendency to attack every moment of every day with my thoughts.

In my pursuit of not investing all my time at work, I committed to myself and to others around me that I would only work half-time – about 25 hours a week.  I had a grand plan to not work Monday mornings, Wednesdays and Fridays.  I thought that this structured approach to taking time off was necessary because 2020 was a year of drifting through a pandemic by working and not working each day in a home office. By the end of 2020 it never felt like I took time off or was that productive at work.

2021 was definitely a year filled with lots of full days not working.  I was going to count them up and report on the percentage increase of ‘no-work’ days compared to 2019 (the last ‘normal’ year).  But I don’t want to spend the time going back through my calendar and the result isn’t that important. 

What is important is what I learned.  In a nutshell it didn’t turn out as I had hoped.  I took the time off because I said I would, but often found myself sitting around staring at the screen on my phone without direction and preventing myself from logging on to the office to do some email because I said I wouldn’t.  On the other side, when I was at work I was always rushed.  I had to pay for the large chunks of time I took off and that mostly meant I kept falling behind on email and many of my projects were right down to the day.  That is the archetype I disliked when I started at Mercer and one that I spent my entire career to avoid with careful planning and if the planning failed then long hours.

The other thing that I learned is that I still love my work.  Talking with clients about their challenges and the options they have to tackle them, working for lawyers to help the courts understand the complex world of pension and benefits by presenting things in simple terms, writing about the pension system and the ideas that I have to improve outcomes for savers are all things that bring me joy.  Talking with my retired friends about all the things I could do with my time if I was fully retired doesn’t seem as exciting – at least at this stage.

Adding to ‘work’, I now have my Tuesday nights after work with my buddies from University, the Friday Lunch Gang which is a group or retirees many of whom are actuaries, and a growing interest in being more active in managing our retirement savings nest egg.   Slowly I am adding the things I will need to keep my mind busy in retirement.

The Body

Sitting in front of a computer starting in high school and spending 40+ years doing that for most days does not contribute to a healthy body.  I wrote about my decade long struggle to be more fit in January.  I can report that this was probably my most successful year ever in terms of not only showing up every week to workout but also focusing on what I was doing when I was there.  My main goal is to get stronger, since all the literature now points to a strong correlation between strength, longevity and reduced chances of dementia.  There are a number of different ways to measure strength and progress – my estimate is that I am about 10% stronger today than when I started the year.

My secondary goal was to lose 10 pounds.  Arriving home on October 3 from a guy’s weekend in Toronto I had to admit defeat as I had gained 10 pounds to that point in the year.  The truth is that you can have a goal, but you need not only a goal and a plan to reach the goal, you need the right plan.  My plan was more exercise – check.  Unfortunately, the correct plan needs to include ‘eat less’ and its cousin ‘eat healthier’ which is code for not having apple pie every night.  I have tried a little harder for the last 10 weeks and can report that I have lost the 10 pounds I put on this year and I am hoping to finish the year down a few.  One secret in this home stretch is that I completely gave up beer.  That is fine for now, but I am not sure that formula will work when golf season starts up again next April.

The Soul

I haven’t given much thought to my emotional well-being over the years.  I am a very emotional person, but for the most part the emotions have just ebbed and flowed without any effort to manage them.  My inability to control the outflow of my emotions is why some people like me and others are just plain scared.  It takes a certain amount of courage and self-confidence to deal with Joe Nunes on a regular basis.

As the year progressed, I found new joys in the small pleasure of connecting with people.  The continued lockdown into a virtual world has opened me up to connecting with people for no other reason than to connect and chat – no business purpose, no action to be taken, no goals to pursue.  Just talking. 

Finally, through the increasingly small world that technology has brought to our doorstep, I connected with two longtime friends who moved to London, England – one from high school and one from our beginnings at Mercer.  In addition to having London in common, both guys are passionate about music.  I used to be passionate about music but when it became obvious to me that I wasn’t going to make a living as a musician I had to fall back on the actuary thing and I have let it take all my time since then. 

My friends insist that I return to listening to the music that I love and with their encouragement I recently listened to Dark Side of the Moon from end to end in order in one shot. I am overdue on Led Zeppelin II and my return to this hobby will need some long-lost discipline in a world of Spotify on shuffle.   Adele isn’t the only one that thinks the best way to listen to an album is from beginning to end (although I am fine without the need to turn over to the B side half-way through).  The Friday Night Listener’s group is by invitation and the curated playlist has started to feed me music I have never heard and rekindled my love for good stuff no matter who created it.  I am now down a rabbit hole of musicians I never knew. 

Finding Retirement II

Everyone in the Friday Lunch Gang but me and John are fully retired.  I snuck in under the ‘semi-retirement’ status and I get a lot of support and advice from the gang on how to find this elusive transition to not working.  The most valuable reminder is the observation that no matter how many years I have left, this year is the healthiest year I have left – so it’s time to get on with doing the things I want to do in terms of travel and other activities.  The travel restrictions of a pandemic temper the urgency to get right on the travel part of his advice.

I get why some people can’t wait to retire.  It could be that too many hours make it exhausting, it could be mundane, frustrating, or that unenjoyable work is too great a portion of the day.  It could be that the boss is a p#$%k.  It is easy to walk away from that world as soon as your financial advisor gives you confidence that you have saved enough to have the lifestyle that you want in retirement without needing a paycheque to pay for that life.

Three more buddies retired this year, two from the golf course, and one buddy from university.  All of them were confronted with the ‘all or nothing’ deal and I get why the three of them voted against the 50+ hour work week.  One joked as he handed in his access card for the last time that if he had my 25 hour week deal, he would take it – but he hits 25 hours by Tuesday afternoon – for a guy who has worked Sunday afternoon/evening for most of the time I have known him it might not be an exaggeration.  He is free now.

I have a new retirement savings formula – tell me on a scale from 1 to 100 how much you don’t like your job and that is probably the percentage of pay you should be saving each year (note to readers – the formula doesn’t work but you get the idea).

I would like to tell you that the team at ASI needs me.  They really don’t.  But I have committed to doing some work and what I now see more clearly is the challenges employers have in letting employees pick and choose how much to work and when (with the new added layer of the challenge of WFH/in-person balances).  Everyone that wants what they want should remember that they need to think a little about what their employer wants.

What became clear this year is that I am not ready to fully retire, partly because I love the work but partly because I don’t have enough things in my life that I am ‘retiring to do’.  I know for sure I can’t golf five times a week in retirement and I am not sure that writing papers about industry problems will be as fruitful if I disconnect from the industry.  My Friday’s are very full – and I have for years tried not to work on Sundays – but that leaves another five days in which to make myself busy not working.

I need a little more time and possibly the end of a pandemic to let me see what else retirement means for me.  In the meantime, I will likely be here at work regularly in case you want to touch base or ask for help.  I was telling one friend about my struggle to find my way – she said patience.  Patience is not something I am known for, but I am working on that too.

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