When You Retire, What Are You Going to Do?


I’m fascinated when people ask this question of my wife, Joan, when they learn she is retiring from her job as a home health executive. They usually rush to share with her how lucky she is, and isn’t it great she will have time to do nothing, and where is she going to travel now, and on and on. Isn’t it curious how envious most people are about someone else leaving the “rat-race”? Yet I’ll bet those people haven’t given much thought to what they will do after they retire. More importantly, how much planning have they done for how they will fulfill their soul, not just spend their time?

Whoops—I probably lost a lot of you right there, talking about stuff like “soul.” What I am getting at is, what will you do when you’re not working that will fill your life with some measure of satisfaction? When I was a practicing financial life planner, a lot of that fulfillment came from my clients. When I sold my business and lost that relationship with my clients, it took a while before I had any inkling of what I was going to do.

Most great financial planners I know get such deep fulfillment from helping their clients achieve their life goals that the fees earned in the process feel almost secondary. Of course, great financial planners are helpers and teachers at heart anyway, so that’s not surprising.

Work defines a lot of how we see ourselves and what we contribute to the world. Isn’t that the second question most people ask when meeting someone new: “What do you do?” So, think about how you will answer that question as you get ready to retire. The key word is “do,” an action verb, not passive. But action can take many forms and wear many different hats—there is no one right answer. Your answer will fit your values.

For some folks, what they do once they retire is become deeply immersed in their family and spend time helping those they love understand and carry on family values. For others, it may be giving their time and energy to the charity of their choice, like building a house with Habitat for Humanity or working with the homeless or jobless. Many go back to school and drink deeply once again from the cup of knowledge, with the rich perspective gained through the experience of living. I’ve always thought that a better word might be “regeneration” not retirement!

Joan’s answer? She starts with a reference to Calvin & Hobbes. You may recall that wonderful comic strip of a few years ago about Calvin, a small boy of around six years old, and Hobbes, his favorite toy stuffed tiger. In the very last strip before it stopped, Calvin & Hobbes walked out early one morning into the wonders of a new snowfall, carrying Calvin’s sled. As they looked out at their fresh new day, Calvin said to Hobbes as he pushed them off down the hill: “It’s a magical world, Hobbes ol’ buddy … let’s go exploring!”

When asked, Joan says that’s what she is going to do: become an explorer—of life, places, people and meaning. She has no roadmaps, just intentionality and commitment. I’m going exploring with her, maybe not in lockstep all the time, but heading in the same general direction.

What are you going to do? [It’s never too soon to imagine it!]

Sam Hull, CFP®, CPCC, ACC, RLP
Whitewater Transitions LLC
Arundel, Maine

2 thoughts on “When You Retire, What Are You Going to Do?

  1. I enjoyed reading your view of retirement Sam, I mean, exploring. I’ve never had anything that interests me besides whatever work I was doing at the time. Currently its cookies, specifically fundraising with cookies. My wife and son are in the business and my feeling lately is that I’m tired and want to move on to something else. I don’t know what that is. After reading about your wife Joan’s attitude, I hope I can adopt that feeling and incorporate it into my daily life. I’m not supremely confident I can, since at 63, I’m kind of afraid of trying anything new.
    Thanks for listening, sir. warmest regards……

  2. Thanks for the great words about retirement Sam. Tonight my husband found

    your wise words to book mark on the computer after listening to me rant on

    about people almost demanding to tell them what I am going to do when

    retired. I am sort of egging them on by announcing just how many days are

    left, as of this monday only 56.

    I found myself feeling angry because some told me horror stories about

    people getting cancer and dying “only a year after retiring”. Thanks loads you

    oafs I really need that kind of information.

    I really appreciated the people who smile and said GREAT for YOU!

    It is a magical world with so much unknown and I guess my new response will


    Thanks, Jill in Santa Barbara….56 and counting

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