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10 Secrets to a Successful Retirement

The editor of a new book asked experts and happy retirees to reveal the keys to a fulfilling life after full-time employment

By Mark Evan Chimsky | May 30, 2014
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Mark Evan Chimsky is the editor of Not Your Mother's Retirement and 65 Things to Do When You Retire. He is an editorial consultant who helps authors with their book manuscripts and proposals. His website is markchimskyeditorial.com.

What are the secrets to a successful retirement?

When I set out to compile my book 65 Things to Do When You Retire (Sellers Publishing), I trawled through hundreds of websites and blogs, looking for retirement experts and retirees with something fresh to say. I encountered one common theme: A successful retirement today is often about re-creation — redefining who you are to make your future as meaningful as possible. 
 
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Beyond that, these are the 10 nuggets about successful retirements that stood out the most:
 
1. Find your passion, recommends retirement blogger Dave Bernard. This is not always as simple as it sounds, however. You have to dig deep inside yourself to determine what excites your heart and soul. But once you discover your passion and decide to pursue it, Bernard says, you'll have a reason to get out of bed every day.
 
2. Free fall creates a new freedom to be ourselves, writes feminist and social reformer Gloria Steinem. Sometimes, she notes, taking a leap of faith can help you let go of the past as you find out who you really are. Steinem hopes women in retirement will be perennial flowers who “re-pot” themselves and bloom many times over the years.
 
3. Create a success inventory, advises Judy Juricek, a human resources professional who writes the Attract Your Ideal Retirement blog. The axiom “build on your strengths” applies to retirement as well as to the workplace, she says. If you make a list of what you've accomplished so far, you may have a better idea of the kinds of things you want to do in your second act, particularly if you're thinking about looking for work in retirement. And, Juricek adds, the success inventory will “remind you of how awesome you really are.”
 
4. You will see more opportunities when you prepare yourself to see them, says Bill Roiter, Ed.D., a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School and author of Beyond Work. Once you know what you want to do in retirement, begin your personal prep work by “reading, listening and telling friends of your interest.” The more opportunities you see, Roiter says, the greater your chances of making some of them work.
 
5. Push back against the limits you've set for yourself, counsels Bob Lowry, who wrote a Next Avenue article describing how his prison ministry work in retirement took him out of his comfort zone and offered fulfillment. If we take on new challenges and break through old definitions of ourselves, we may discover new purpose in our lives, Lowry explains.
 
6. Embrace contradictions, says Dr. Ronald J. Manheimer, the founding director of the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement. On some days you'll want to charge up the mountain; on others you'll want to sit in contemplation under a tree. It's all part of the journey.
 
7. Add new tools to your belt, advises spiritual counselor Sally W. Paradysz, who built her own writing cabin at the edge of a Pennsylvania forest at age 65. Paradyszk believes that each new opportunity can feed your soul and that the experiences will deepen your sense of self.
 
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8. Talk with your partner about what each of you wants out of retirement, says licensed psychologist Dr. Dorian Mintzer. Finding a way to discuss this next stage of life can take a lot of stress out of the relationship and lead to some creative possibilities, rather than just allowing things to happen by default, she maintains.
 
9. Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps the songbird will come.  I love this Chinese proverb, quoted by retirement expert Ernie J. Zelinski, author of How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free. Essentially, it means that if you continue to grow and feel alive in retirement, you’ll feel forever young.
 
10. Retirement is not an end, but a new beginning. For me, this bit of wisdom, from former President Jimmy Carter, exemplifies how we can make the most of our retirement years. After leaving the White House (“four years earlier than planned,” he notes), he and his wife, Rosalynn, started the Carter Center, volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and traveled the world to help resolve conflicts, advance human rights and assist developing countries. “While reaching out to others,” he writes, “[we] filled our own needs to be challenged and to act as productive members of our global community.”
 
(Note: All contributors to 65 Things to Do When You Retire provided their essays on a pro-bono basis. Royalties from the sale of the book will be donated to nonprofit organizations dedicated to preventing and curing cancer.)