Bored man sleeping in chair

Field Work

Retirement Just Might Be Boring

Over the long Christmas holiday, I got a sneak preview of what retirement could be like. Frankly, it was a little boring.

I fully appreciate that most workers don’t have the perk provided by my employer, Boston College, which gives us generous time off between Christmas and New Year’s. By cashing in a few unused vacation days prior to Christmas, I was able to string together 16 glorious days off.

It felt like a lifetime.

After cleaning off my desk, running long-neglected errands, reading a book about the sinking of the Lusitania, wrapping gifts, stocking the pantry, going to a holiday party, exercising at the gym, seeing most of the 2015 Oscar contenders at local cinemas, and getting together with friends, I still struggled to fill my days. It’s even more challenging when the winter cold descends.

I’m developing a better understanding of why some people continue working well into their 60s, even 70s. Research covered in our prior blog posts shows that older workers are more likely to delay their retirement if they have more education. That’s because their jobs are often interesting. I’m a good example – blogging usually doesn’t feel like work. This is much different than trying to continue in increasingly difficult physical work, such as waitressing or working on an assembly line.

At age 58, my growing anxiety about retirement is in stark contrast to my husband’s anticipation that his rapidly approaching retirement – he’s 62 – will be nirvana. After three decades pouring his heart and soul into teaching high school biology in inner-city Boston, he relishes the prospect of a stress-free retirement collecting his pension. I’ve encouraged him to think about how he will be spending his winter days in retirement when activity becomes more important than the relaxation he craves in his time off now.

There are other considerations. My husband’s adult children may one day produce grandchildren, and I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things from friends who are becoming grandparents. What’s not to like? But I know retirees who are building their lives around their grandchildren, a lifestyle that strikes me as unrealistic for many modern families. And it strikes me as exhausting if taken to extremes.

People also look forward to traveling and exploring when they’re liberated from work obligations. But ennui overcame me during the Christmas holiday, despite the fact we spent a week of it visiting my mother in Orlando. A couple of summers ago, my husband and I went on a fantastic, two-week road trip from Los Angeles, through Arizona and New Mexico and up to Jackson, Wyoming and Montana. We explored, hiked, white-water rafted, ate Western fare like elk with boysenberry sauce and scrambled eggs with green chilies. But if we’re retired and spend $6,000 on a two-week vacation, what are we going to do the other 50 weeks of the year? Certainly not another extravagant vacation – retirees need to watch their pennies.

As retirement comes more into focus, I try to think harder and more concretely about what it will be like. For example, how much money do we spend now, and how much will we really need to retire in the lifestyle to which we’re accustomed?

And what am I going to do with all that free time? It’s an important question that can’t be answered overnight. I’m glad I still have a few years to figure it out.

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13 Responses to Retirement Just Might Be Boring

  1. Kathy says:

    I think we are all different. I know people who retired and were bored silly. I am 63 and have always only worked part-time. I love my days at home and am never bored. But I enjoy the days I work also. I love the friendships and people time I have at work. For me, I think it has helped to work part-time. I have no plans of retiring and am not sure when that day will be. I worry I might become a recluse if I retire. So it all depends on the person.

  2. Terry Reilly says:

    Bored people are usually boring people. I suggest you get a life outside of work and learn to live before retiring. If healthy, there is no excuse for being bored … Absolutely horrific article – lacks any type of creative forward thinking. There’s more to retirement than travel. What about giving back – volunteering and not taking the “poor me” road. There are courses to take, sports to pursue, hobbies to mastered. Only those who lack imagination are bored.

  3. Mark Zoril says:

    Your situation is a great example of how two people – in this case a married couple – have very different views of the future. We all have different experiences, and values, and aspirations. I see this all the time with my clients. Some count the days until they are on their own and retired and others dread the day they have to leave work. I became convinced, a long time ago, that those that want to describe what retirement should be or promote their view of retirement as the right way for most of us to pursue the future have virtually no credibility.

  4. GrandpaD says:

    I *once* had the same concerns about “what will I do with my time?” If you like your job, as I do, staying till late-60’s is a no-brainer. So … you’ve got a decade to figure it out.

    Just start with a list of what you’d like to do but haven’t gotten around to it. I started doing this intentionally about 3 years ago. Mine is now loaded with more certificates, degrees, courses and tours than we can possibly do. I’ve also got a small consulting gig lined up with my university for various back logged projects. Life is going to be good. (Health allowing, of course.)

    I, too, work in a university with the long Xmas break and will retire at the end of this academic year. This Xmas break I spend some time at my own pace doing some of the things that I chose from my list. My thought was, “I am so ready to do *this* full-time. If my days are going to be like this, bring it on.”

    Finances: Save like a demon. Watch out for and plan for the possibility of sequence of returns risk as you enter retirement. By the time you get there financial planners will finally have their act together on post-retirement distribution (spending) phase (as opposed to pre-retirement accumulation/saving phase) and how to do it. (They are abysmal at it now, but Baby Boomers, as usual, are not putting up with that.)

  5. Mike says:

    I think retirement is a state of mind as well as disconnecting from our current vocation – which may be well earned, deserved and necessary for the betterment of our physical and mental health (stress, safety, etc.). I would assume that if our capacity allows, we will be a much healthier being if we can keep our mind and body active and not allow ourselves to deteriorate physically or mentally. Like so many other events in life, there are ramifications to whatever decision you make.

  6. Jackie says:

    well..what I’ve found out..from my experience and others…is that taking a 16 day holiday cannot be compared to actually retiring…meaning it takes time…a year or so…to create a new interests (or old)…’s a “transition” and all transitions take time…it’s very enjoyable.

  7. macadoo212 says:

    No one was more terrified of retirement than I was, and no one worked longer hours from ages 18-62 than I did – a true workaholic. After quite a successful career, my last organization had mandatory retirement at 62, so there were no options for me. I have to say, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. My husband had already (happily) retired, and so travel has become our first priority – catching up on all the places we’ve always wanted to go as soon as possible and while health allows. We plan one ‘big’ trip and as many small ones as we can manage (yes, budgets are important). That said, having nothing but free time in NYC goes beyond the ‘kid in a candy store’ feeling. The City has a spectacular volunteer website where you can match yourself up by time, availability, skills, interests, etc. I spend 2 days a week doing the ‘books’ at a local organization, do special projects at the Museum of Math, work at an ESL program one night a week, teach basic finance skills to high school kids, participated in the NYC Tree Census, work as a part-time usher at a local off-Broadway theatre and see all their productions, and help three or four other City and public art organizations as time allows. I serve on three committees whose causes I believe in, but never had time. Maybe this will all become boring one day, but I don’t see it happening. The final bonus is that all these places are truly grateful for my efforts, which wasn’t always obvious during my working days, where my rewards were largely financial and internally generated. Run towards retirement – I can’t imagine that Boston has any fewer opportunities to offer!

  8. A long vacation is not retirement. I can honestly say, at age 71, I am not bored in my retirement that started four years ago. My body appreciates the extra hours sleep it gets and I feel healthy. Most days I’m up by 8 am and out the door for church at 9. Back home for coffee and newspaper reading and some blogging for two different websites. Sometimes there’s a shopping trip for groceries or warehouse store. Lunch is almost always at home except twice a month when I meet the ROMEO’s – Retired Old Men Eating Out. After lunch I’ll be at the Y to exercise for an hour and then home to prepare dinner, since I’ve become the cook in our house. Twice a year, there’s a six week bible study class. Once a year, I moderate a grief support group for seven weeks. Poker game twice a month. In between there are short road trips to relatives and resorts. One big trip a year: Puerto Rico, a cruise, Hawaii.

    Not too busy and not bored. Just right.

  9. Fritz says:

    My dad retired from academia. I’m 2 years away from an early retirement from “corporate” America. Academia honors age, corporate the opposite. I write a blog on retirement planning, and have started a “bucket list”: 1) Travel 2) Personal Development/Hobbies 3) Charity 4) Spiritual Development & 5) Relationships. Challenge your mind, retirement should be the best time in our lives – free to pursue what you’ve always wanted to pursue.

  10. Guy Clumpner says:

    I agree with the sentiments expressed by others. The whole idea, during one’s career and in life, is to live “on purpose.” There are a million ways to spend and invest one’s time. There’s some comfort, convenience and risk attendant to letting work fill your days and give your life meaning. Living on purpose about identifying your interests, along with your best and highest use. Do that work and the rest will come to you. Finally, retirement is like work: You have to engage in enough meaningful repetition to maximize what it has to offer.

    • Wendy says:

      That’s a great quote: “You have to engage in enough meaningful repetition to maximize what it has to offer.” Absolutely spot on when I think about how I have successfully (or not) volunteered, changed jobs, learned anything new. Very, very helpful. Thank you for the insight.

  11. Elizabeth West says:

    $6,000 on a two-week road trip? You can do it for much less. Last year I spent $2,000 for two weeks in Spain (I used frequent flier miles for my plane ticket.) I agree with your point that retirement is about more than travel, but if travel is important to you, you can find ways to do it more cheaply.

  12. Kim Blanton says:

    Elizabeth- you’re absolutely right! That trip was a shameful extravagance that included nice hotels & restaurants. But it was a honeymoon trip! Next one won’t be so lavish. Thanks for the insight about how to budget travel in style.
    Kim (blog writer)