Dave's retirement journey

Here’s the question I dread most, now I’m retired

By Dave Dineen, BrighterLife.ca

It’s easier for working people than retired people to provide a satisfactory answer when asked, “What do you do?”

Here’s the question I dread most, now I’m retiredIf you and I were to meet someday, you could ask me almost any nosey question you’d like, such as:

  • How old are you?
  • How much do you weigh?
  • Why are you wearing that hat?
  • How much did you pay for your car?

Don’t worry, I wouldn’t mind. But if you want to see me squirm, just ask: “What do you do, Dave?”

Actually, I’m willing to provide a satisfactory answer — I’m just not that able. As a recent retiree, I’ve tried to answer the question, but I never feel my answer satisfies people.

I’ve tried the “elevator speech” trick, where you memorize a short speech that you have ready to impress people in just a few seconds. Frankly, I haven’t had much success with my elevator speech, either.

It’s easier, of course, for working people than retired people to provide a satisfactory answer to the what-do-you-do question. If you tell a stranger that you’re a lawyer or a receptionist, that you work the night shift at Acme Manufacturing, or you work “in computers,” people get at least some idea of what your daily life is like. They may get an impression of whether you’re better paid than they are, or you have a cushier job, or your job is more stressful.

Should I envy you or pity you?

Just by hearing your answer to the what-do-you-do question, people can start to assess whether they’d be happier in your shoes, or whether they should be glad they’re not you.

Just saying “I’m retired” doesn’t give them much to go on. Are you retired because you want to be? I call those people “Plan-A retirees,” because being retired is their choice. Or are you retired because of poor health or job problems? I call these people “Plan-B retirees,” because they have had to adapt to the necessity of being retired. They’d rather be working, but that choice isn’t available to them.

These days, if you tell someone you’re retired, they no longer really know what that means. In contrast, they’re more likely to get an accurate measure of you if you say you’re:

  • Semi-retired
  • Phasing into retirement
  • Never going to retire
  • Starting a second (or third, or fourth) career
  • Cutting back on your hours at work

I’ve told some people that I’m retired and they’ve even argued the point! Their argument goes like this: If Dave does any work of any kind, for any amount of money, then Dave isn’t retired. According to their black-and-white view of the world, I’m not retired because I do a bit of writing about what it’s like these days to be retired. Ironic, eh?

I actually spend about as much time brushing my teeth as I do writing about retirement, so I think most Canadians would agree with me that my situation falls within their idea of retirement.

This is what I do

  • I do what I like. I avoid what I don’t like — a nice reward for decades of hard work.
  • I seize the day. Most days, that’s easy: I have a schedule and include time for fun and rewarding stuff. Some days are special and require more than a day of preparation — that calls for planning. For example, for our daughter’s recent wedding in England, my wife and I began budgeting and saving long ago. Our trip was a full month long and we prepaid our flights, hotels and car rental. We exchanged our money at a great rate about a year earlier and flew to England nearly a week before the wedding day to avoid jet lag. I also spent a lot of time planning my father-of-the-bride speech!
  • I make up for lost time. In today’s workplace, it’s not easy to maintain a satisfying and healthy work/life balance. As a retiree, I now have more time for exercise, preparing healthy meals, reading and spending time with family and friends. My days aren’t rushed, but I don’t drift through them either. The secret is having two things: a purpose and a schedule.

I guess what I do in retirement might not sound exciting or fulfilling to everyone. But it more than satisfies me.

So what am I doing today, in particular?

Um … let me check with my wife.

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Dominic on

Dave haven’t seen any thing written by you in a couple months. Maybe you’re not retired anymore.

    davedineen on

    Hi, Dominic. Yes, I’m still happily and gainfully retired. :-)
    After a bit of a pause, I’m currently writing a few articles for Brighter Life, so watch for them in coming weeks.
    I’m soon off to England, Scotland and Spain, which we’re excited about.

Oct 14: Best from the blogosphere | Save with SPP on

[…] Life’s Dave Dineen says now that he is retired, “What do you do?” is the question he dreads the most. Read how he seizes the day, does whatever he likes and makes up for lost […]

Phil on

Great article! Try being 40 and answering this question. 2 years now trying to answer this question to everyone that asks. It is very difficult and stressful for all reasons mentioned. I “retired” on my 40th Birthday, a Plan-B that became a Plan-A and became what I refer to as a house husband, which my wife detests hearing… Having read this article and reflected, I believe my answer to THE question will be that – “I teach” I teach others to mentally and financially prepare themselves for life and all it has to offer… Thanks Dave, you have helped me make peace with what I have become. For the record though, I was once an Engineer… damn, that still somehow sounds better. – Cheers

    davedineen on

    Wow, great comment, Phil! Your description of what you’re doing — post-engineering — ‘ “I teach” I teach others to mentally and financially prepare themselves for life and all it has to offer… ‘ is one of the most inspiring personal statments I have heard!!!!
    Pretty much every job description I’ve ever read (and written) pales in comparison! Very impressive.

      Phil on

      Thank-you for writing on a topic that no one ‘really’ discusses, and for jump starting my melon to truly contemplate what it is I now do, and enjoy doing. Funny but, I feel a great invisible weight has been lifted from my shoulders… My wife also appreciates my new “career”- Cheers and thanks again.

Alyse on

This is a great article. I do have a question for you.. what age were you able to “retire” at?

    davedineen on

    Thanks, Alyse. I retired a bit before my 55th birthday.

Canadianbudgetbinder on

Sometimes retirement for people isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. I don’t know how I will be able to answer that question down the road Dave but like you, I’d seize the moment. There will be plenty of time when I’m retired to make sure that I get done what I need to, see what I need to and enjoy life provided my health is still good. Everything in life is a risk… I’ll balance my life now so that when I do retire I don’t look back and say, “I wish”. Have a great weekend Dave, great post.

Grant Oxner on

Well stated Dave. I think people should create their own version of what ‘retirement’ is supposed to be. It could be getting involved in volunteer opportunities, travel, just ‘being’. Or, really any combination of a myriad of things. My own vision will be different than other’s. The trick is ensuring my vision dovetails with that of my partner’s. They don’t need to be the same. They just need to compliment.

    davedineen on

    Grant: very true. You’ve definitely got your head screwed on right.

Joan Jacobs on

I “retired “this year after 42 years in health care. I don’t call it retirement, I call it Graduation into the artistic phase of my life and say that the only demented person I now have to look after is myself ( and maybe some of my friends).

Brian on

Dave, this is the best I ever heard the question answered.

Q. what is it you do for a living.
A. Well, I live for a living, what is it you do?

    Grant Oxner on

    Thanks for the quote Brian. A wise friend of mine has always used a version of that by replying, “I breathe”, when asked what he does for a living.

      Jim Stelfox on

      I love those responses, Brian and Grant.
      When people asked me what I was going to do when I retired, I often noticed their eyes would glaze over if I tried to provide a meaningful and detailed response. To save me time and them from the boredom, I started providing a humourus reply to that question by saying that:
      I’m going to become an alcoholic couch potato ;-)

      Those who know me realize that I was kidding.

      Jim Stelfox
      RRFB (Recently Retired Fisheries Biologist)

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