The very real ways that getting older has changed how I define the perfect retirement, plus pictures of that new “dream.”
The neat thing about being retired is that you get to do what you want, whenever you want. One thing I hadn’t fully absorbed when I set off on my FIRE journey, though, was how my age would change the way I defined “the perfect retirement”.
I’ve been thinking about early retirement since I was 12. Back then, the things that appealed to me were things like travelling the world, living in a different country every three months and eating all the local foods and meeting all the local people. Rad.
While travel still appeals to me, it does so in a much more scaled back fashion. We recently planned our baby moon. It was our last chance to travel together before a major change in our lives. We had the time, the resources, the world was our oyster. What exotic locale did we pick?
We picked the Hudson Valley, a one to two hour drive from NYC. While I loved the idea of touring the UK, the thought of getting on a flight was off-putting. Packing up all my stuff for an international trip, going to the airport several hours early, sitting in that tiny seat… plus having to research so many things to make the most of the trip. Ugh.
Also, given the travel time required we would want to stay for a week. The complicating factor is I’ve discovered I begin to miss my own bed after four days. Not glamorous and worldly of me, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. Thus, with all the options in the world available to us, we chose our own backyard.
Surprisingly, you guys, it was amazing.
It was one of my top 5 vacations ever, not nearly as good but still at the same cocktail party as our private safari in Africa and a two-week jaunt to Japan featuring some of the most amazing food, temple tours, and neighborhood exploring on the planet.
We stayed at a bed and breakfast (I’d never done that before). The owners were a husband and wife couple, and every afternoon they set out cookies (pregnant lady + cookies go together like peanut butter + jelly).
Every morning, we were served a delicious home-cooked breakfast at a long dining table where we got to chat with all the other guests. I learned about venture capital in Silicon Valley in the 1960’s, the dynamics of high-end guitar collecting, and how to make eclairs (plus samples), all from our fellow guests.
In the afternoons, we’d pick one of dozens of wooded nature walks, and then follow it up by visiting a cute town to walk around, antique, and people watch.
At night, we’d go to one of many amazing restaurants serving farm-to-table fare. We chose an area that was near the Culinary Institute of America, which meant there were tons of former grads who had started establishments of their own around the area.
Would this have been my ideal vacation at age 20? Not a chance. But it certainly is now, and it’s okay that my tastes have changed. Retirement allows that freedom, and frankly it demands you acknowledge your changed tastes in order to really thrive. I think it’s the folks who feel like they need to follow a strict plan they had envisioned – even if they discover it doesn’t feel how they expect – that have trouble enjoying retirement.
Even my day to day preferences are changing. I have and always will love food. But whereas one of my favorite things to do when I first moved to the city at 21 was to eat at hole-in-the-walls and conduct multi-stop food tours that involved grabbing an item at 4 or 5 places in a row, my body just can’t keep up anymore. I just recently visited one of my old favorite haunts from my early days in the City.
A friend had introduced me to this soju watering hole that served delicious Korean street food. One of the dishes it was most well-known for was something called soldier’s stew. This thing is a giant bowl filled to the brim with spicy broth, tofu, spam, hot dog slices, sticky rice cake, mushrooms, and all topped with a generous heap of mozzarella cheese that melts over the top of the dish. It’s a heart attack waiting to happen.
I returned just recently on a rainy day, thinking about how soju watering holes weren’t a friendly place for new babies and how it would be good for me to visit again for memories’ sake before that kiddo’s arrival. The soldiers’ stew was good going down. But half a bowl in, my stomach was not a fan. Apparently neither my stomach capacity nor my taste buds are what they used to be.
I suppose the point of these stories is to share that – for me, at least – a successful and happy retirement is about changing chapters rather than one static image of constant adrenaline and adventure. Embracing those changes in my preferences rather than fighting them has made me incredibly happy. Once you shed the idea that retirement has to be a sexy, glossy highlights reel to entertain people with at a cocktail party – I was so guilty of this misconception! – and allow your preferences to show through no matter how mundane-sounding they are, you will be happier for it.
What does a perfect retirement look like to you? Is it different than how you would have answered 5-10 years ago?