We can’t know what’s ahead in retirement any more than we know about our career when we take our first job. We may start out with a plan. But life happens, and then we’re in the midst of something entirely different.
The surprises might come right away, when the reality of retirement doesn’t match up with our dreams. They may come later, after we think we’ve got it all figured out . . . only we don’t. By definition, we can’t know what surprises are in store for us. Here are a few. Have you experienced others?
A child moves back home. No one’s surprised if a son or daughter returns home after graduating from college. The surprise comes when a single, 32-year-old son loses his high-tech job in the city, can no longer pay his rent, and moves back in with mom and dad in the suburbs. This is what happened to a friend of mine. Fortunately, after a few missteps, and a sometimes-anxious year and a half, he found another job and now he’s off on his own again.
Where are we living now? A close friend of mine told me always figured he’d retire to Florida because, as he put it, “I’m from New York, and that’s what New Yorkers do.” He and his wife spent several years visiting various Florida communities, until one day on the way home they stopped to visit a friend in Charleston, SC. They fell in love with the city, and before the week was out they’d put down a deposit on a townhouse. Now, two years later, they love it . . . but they’re still surprised they ended up in South Carolina instead of Florida. In my own case, I retired to Pennsylvania. Why? Because my wife has relatives here, and we visited a lot, and the more we visited the more we liked it. And then, after we moved, I was surprised to find out that Pennsylvania is rated by wallet hub the 9th best state to retire in, behind Florida but ahead of South Carolina.
The doctor calls. Probably we all get a nasty medical surprise at some point. I played tennis when I was younger and was going to become a pickleball star in retirement. But the arthritis in my knees and ankles had a different idea. So I’m playing golf instead. I don’t mind. At least I’m on my feet. Still, many people are taken aback when they discover they have to limit their activities or take medication for the rest of their lives.
Are we going to work? A lot of people plan to take a part-time job after they retire, then are surprised to find out the workforce is not clambering for 65 year olds. I have a friend who works as a checker at the grocery store. He says he likes it, although it's not exaclty my idea of a dream job. Another friend rents out a room in her house through airbnb. My brother-in-law drives for uber. Personally, I had connection in my old company who gave me freelance work . . . until he in turn retired. Now I'm thinking of working at our local independent movie theater. But it's a volunteer job.
Money doesn’t matter as much. Yet I find that retirement is a great leveler. Most of us expect to live on a reduced income with Social Security, some savings and maybe a pension. Our income is stable. We’re not pushing for a raise or promotion. The pressure is off. So a lot of people are surprised that success in retirement is less about how big our house is, or what car we drive, and more about having fun, hanging out with a good crowd, and leaving a legacy for friends and family.
We can deal with all the change. I know it's sounds stupid, but it's a surprise to me that after retirement, life goes on -- meaning things continue to change. We move; we have grandchildren; our kids do something unexpectedly different. We have different friends, perhaps different interests. We realize we can cope with a lot of change and adapt to new developments. Yes, some of us are surprised that we can do this!