July 8, 2020

How to retire happy, wild and free — what I learned from Ernie Zelinski about retirement and leisure time

The first thing about this book that I think you should not worry about is that although this book is about retirement advice, it is widely applicable to everyone in all part of their lives. Of course, the advice is more relevant and applicable to those that are about to retire, but I’m also someone that likes to practice long term thinking and anything where I am able to see what the long term implications are and what I need to do now to get those benefits, is a winner in my mind.

Ernie Zelinski is originally from Edmonton and is the best selling author of The Joy of Not Working which I drew out the key takeaways in another post. That being said, I would like to think that I am not close to retirement (at least as per the definition of traditional retirement being working until I’m 55+ and then getting a nice pension and having other assets to keep me financially well-off), and so the takeaways from this book for me apply to my life now (someone in their mid-thirties). Here is what I learned about retiring happy, wild and free (or essentially how to approach retirement or leisure time in the best way possible):

There are significant benefits to retirement or taking more time off

Ernie has a great list of the benefits of retirement, but the same benefits can be had by taking more leisure time (or time off work). For example, you don’t have to deal with traffic. You can take a nap in the afternoon. You can do things when everyone else is at work (such as grocery shopping, going to the gym, having coffee) which can make you much more efficient and less hurried at the same time. All this leads to the next point.

Retirement is the life you want to live, rather than the life you had to live while employed

Some people fear retirement, but for the benefits above, and the fact that you get to live the life you want, retirement can be an incredibly rewarding part of our lives. Of course, Ernie in The Joy of Not Working, advocates that we should all be taking early retirements (similar to the FIRE movement, but different in execution), but when we get to the retirement phase of our lives, whenever that is, we can really enjoy it.

Breadth of interests is important as one or two activities will not fill your time

Maybe you thought of retirement as playing golf all day or going to the bingo hall and playing bingo all the time. If you have ever had time off to do those activities consistently, day in and day out, you will quickly find that you are going to get bored of playing golf seven days a week or playing bingo all the time. These activities are often fun because you aren’t doing them all the time.

Ernie suggests a similar approach to retirement. You can have at least one major activity that helps to provide purpose and a sense of achievement (say volunteering or writing a book or speaking), but make sure to pepper those in with other activities that you can work on when you inevitably become bored or want other forms of entertainment.

Structured and unstructured time

I particularly like Ernie’s thoughts on having structured and unstructured time. Don’t we seem to get more done when we have a vacation planned or know that we have to run off to a lunch outside of the office. I know I have more productive days when I schedule lunch or coffees during specific times, rather than having completely free days where I have nothing scheduled. When you retire, it will help you to have structured time given that your 9–5 is completely gone.

When to retire?

There is no specific number at which you should retire; however, there certainly has to be a balance between being healthy enough to enjoy your retirement or leisure time and being financially able to support yourself at the same time. Ernie tells a story of a friend of his that had amassed a net worth of seven figures (and by all accounts, was able to retire more than comfortably) but his friend had decided that he wanted to work a few more years to pad his wealth. A week and a half after talking to his friend, his friend had gotten into a car accident in Paris and had passed away. The moral of the story is that however much health you have, you never know if you are going to live long enough to enjoy it. You can have all the money in the world at the age of 75, but it is not going to do you any good if you pass away a month later.

Advice on your identity during retirement

This does not apply to me as I never tied my identity to my job, but for some people, being a Partner or CEO is everything for them. When you retire, you may no longer be doing the thing that you had worked so hard at it for many years.

Retirement is the time where you can live the life you want. Ernie recommends that individuals who have retired describe their identity in a new way, not as ‘retiree’, but rather as a ‘connoisseur of life’. This is someone that only works when they want to, and only on projects that make a difference in this world. This will also help with any questions from people who ask if you work or not.

Retirement can be an opportunity to pursue your true purpose in life

Once I heard a story of a student whose parents always wanted him to be a medical doctor. Except that he wanted to do something else (I forget what, but let’s just say it is an accountant). To appease his parents, he went through medical school, went through residency, became a full-fledged doctor, then once he became a doctor, he quit and went back to school to become what he really wanted.

Sometimes, we have to do things we do not really want to do. Maybe it is financial. Maybe it is because of scarcity. Maybe it is because of family.

Retirement is the chance for you to do what you really want to do, without worrying about what people think. Technically, you can do whatever you want to do, but I can understand that everyone has certain responsibilities that can dictate how they act. And if not during retirement, you may never have a chance to do something fulfilling, with purpose, and something aligned to your dreams.

Leisurely pursuits have eight characteristics

Okay, you have retired or have a certain amount of leisure time. How do you decide what activities to do during this leisure time? There are eight characteristics, according to Ernie, that make good leisure activities:

1. You have a genuine interest in it
2. It is challenging
3. You get a sense of accomplishment from tackling the activity
4. There is a certain amount of variety to the activity
5. It helps you develop a skill
6. When you do the activity, you get into a sense of flow
7. It provides a sense of self development
8. The activity does not cost a lot of money

Passive activities include: watching TV, eating junk food, gambling, shopping, watching sports. Active activities include writing a book, playing sports, taking piano lessons, drawing, auditing courses at universities or colleges. You can see that active activities will help you lead a more fulfilling and purpose-led retirement.

Age is a state of mind

Practice the concept of being ageless. When you are ageless, you never get sick, tired or depressed. Sure I’m in my mid-thirties, but I never act as if I am in my mid-thirties. I embrace my child mind and I am actively laughing, joking around and having fun with other kids (and adults).

If you want to feel rich and happy, just count all the things that money can’t buy

Money buys happiness. Do you agree or disagree? Ernie disagrees because there are definitely elements of happiness that you cannot buy. Money cannot buy real friends, loving family, achievement, peace of mind, gratitude, humility, time, true love, courage or physical fitness. It can certainly help with those things, but you cannot buy these things directly on Amazon or at Target.

All this to say that having a lot of money can certainly help, but it is not a PRE-REQUISITE for happiness, and it shouldn’t be one for you either.

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Concluding thoughts: Retirement is certainly a time that people can be fearful of. What do you do with all of that spare time? How do I cope with not having a sense of purpose or a 9–5 job every day? What kind of activities should I do? Ernie answers all of these questions and more and helps you to lead a more fulfilling and purpose-led retirement, whenever you decide to retire.

Are you retired? How do you spend your time? Are you thinking about retirement? How are you spending your leisure time?

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