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10 Keys to Retirement's Holy Grail

The author of ‘I Want to Retire!’ shares his insights 

By Dave Bernard

This article is adapted from I Want To Retire!: Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be.

I’m not retired yet, so over the past few years, I’ve been gathering information and learning what I can do to eventually live a fulfilling retirement.

Obviously, even a well-prepared plan is subject to unexpected events beyond our control. But I believe we can make some educated guesses and take actions to increase our odds of realizing that ideal retirement. The trick is to know what you need to do and then get to it sooner rather than later.

I have spoken with many retirees and retirees-to-be and regularly follow numerous retirement blogs and publications. In addition, I’ve taken time to ask myself what retirement means to me and how best to enjoy the experience.

(MORE: What Retirees Say Retirement is Really Like)

10 Keys to the Retirement Holy Grail

After all my research, if I were to pick the 10 top considerations to prepare for retirement and to live it to the fullest, I'd say that my list would look like this:

1. Accept reality. Getting older can make things a bit more challenging, but denial is not an option. Try to pretend the effects of time are nonexistent and you’ll ultimately fail.

So make the best of what life throws your way. Limitations needn’t be treated as impassible roadblocks to living a glorious retirement. Although aging won’t be easy, living the best life possible can give you peace of mind.

Remember what Victor Hugo said: “When grace is joined with wrinkles, it is adorable. There is an unspeakable dawn in happy old age.”

Oh, and try not to take yourself too seriously. Otherwise, retirement’s challenges might become overwhelming.

2. Be easy on yourself as you transition into your new lifestyle. When starting out in retirement, try not to put unnecessary pressure on yourself. Don’t feel guilty if you find you have nothing to do. Try to accept that the time you enjoy wasting is not wasted at all.

Learn to go with the flow and appreciate your good fortune at being retired. Allow yourself to settle in to your new life. You have earned your freedom from responsibility; savor the moment.

The time may come when you want to explore more meaningful activities to fill your day. But you’ll be happier if you avoid jumping into something that you’d really rather not be doing – just to be busy.

(MORE: The Secrets of ‘How to Retire Happy’)

3. Live your legacy. Older people frequently talk about the legacy they will leave behind when they are gone. For some, it’s all about leaving an estate so the next generation can benefit from their hard work and success. Others are more concerned with how the life they lived and the person they became will be remembered.

Why not focus your efforts on the life you are living now to create a lasting memory that goes beyond material things? Long after your inheritance is spent, the memory of who you were and what you stood for can live on.

I would rather have my children or grandchildren remember my crazy sense of humor or my obsession with the San Jose Sharks hockey team or a kind deed I did for someone in need rather than have them line their pockets with money that will dissipate. If they smile when they think of me after I’m gone, my legacy will live on.

(MORE: What Financial Planners Don’t Get About Retirement)

4. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. By this time in life, you’re well aware of the things you like to do. You have probably been doing them for years and have gotten darn good at them.

So why shake things up by trying something new? Because you can have a more fulfilling retirement if you’re willing to test yourself and broaden your horizons.

Do you remember when you screwed up your courage for the first time in your youth – riding your bike without training wheels while mom watched pensively from the porch or scoring your initial basket under the watchful eyes of happy teammates?

They resulted from your willingness to take a chance. There is no reason we should unduly limit ourselves just because we’re getting older.

Make lifelong learning a reality to keep your brain sharp and your conversations worthy of attention.


In my book, I list 77 possible interests to pursue in retirement, from learning how to ride a horse to writing a poem. But the options are truly limitless.

5. Try to live below your means. Enjoying retirement doesn’t require you to pursue extravagance. And you’ll likely run into some unexpected expenses, particularly relating to your health.

As the years progress, you’ll feel more secure about your future with a bank balance that’s under control.

6. Don’t be a watcher, be a doer. TV is for watching. Sports events are for watching. Concerts are for watching. Life is for living.

A retirement life spent watching the world go can be a wasted retirement. Look for ways to get involved and engaged rather than observing passively from the sidelines.

Once you’re retired, you must assume responsibility for maintaining a balance between activity and relaxation. A retired life made up of only one or the other does not typically work out well. So give yourself a mix of activity and then some down time, an adventure and then a vacation, a physically taxing outing and then a nap in the garden. It’s all about achieving balance.

7. And don't just plan to do it, do it now. The clock is ticking and no one knows how many more tomorrows we are allotted. Today is the perfect time to try things and to finally do what you’ve been meaning to do.

If you wait, you may be physically unable to accomplish them.

8. Have no regrets. There’s a Yiddish proverb that says: A man is not old until his regrets take the place of his dreams. It’s worth remembering.

You’ve probably heard the story of the old guy on his deathbed listing all of the things he’s sorry for not having done during his life. Tears are shed as he describes spending too little time with his family and not going on that adventure he always dreamed of. How many of us are taking action to prevent such an occurrence in our lives and ridding ourselves of regrets?

Take the time now to make amends, clear the air, and do the right thing. Otherwise, those mistakes can haunt your retirement, leaving you with feelings of guilt and sorrow.

9. Don’t let your passions die with you. While you were tied up in the working world, you may have dreamed of just this chance to finally do the things that inspire and excite you.

When you’re retired, ask yourself: Are you pursuing your passions? If not, what are you waiting for?

Do what you’ve always dreamed of doing while you are still able.

10. Put family first. Once we retire, our calendars may have a bit more time available to spend with others. Who better to hang with than family?

If you are lucky to have your parents still around, call and visit them to share your life’s events. If you haven’t spoken with a sibling recently, pick up the phone to catch up with each other, share a memory and reconnect. If the last time you two spoke ended in a conflict, mend that bridge.

As my mom taught me at an early age, there’s nothing more important than family. That's especially true during your retirement years.

Dave Bernard is the author of I Want to Retire!, writes the blog Retirement - Only the Beginning and blogs for On Retirement on the U.S. News & World Report site. He has had a 30-year career in Silicon Valley. Read More
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