Our Three Year After Action Review

In Living and Learning by Jamie8 Comments


Susan and I think it's a good idea to bet on being around for at least 22 more years.  After all, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, life expectancy at age 65 is about 18 years for men and nearly 21 years for women.  And there's a 25 percent chance of living until age 90 no matter who you are.  That’s a lot of time we may have left.

The truth is we haven’t quite worked out all of the, "We’re retired and what the hell are we going to do with ourselves now?' details.  So when we haven’t been out walking the Alpujarran countryside, we’ve spent some time re-evaluating our approach to retirement.  You know, just in case.

Our after action review

In his self-help book Your Best Year Ever (Baker Books, 2018), Michael Hyatt offers an expanded after action review template that Susan and I found helpful as we spent several of our morning coffee sessions discussing how we will adjust our approach to retirement in light of our experiences over the past three years.

By the way, I found Hyatt’s book on our public library’s digital library site.  We get most of our reading materials from the library so I think a library card is as important as a credit card for overseas living.  Saves us a small fortune every year too.  Anyway back to our after action review…

After action reviews  were originally developed by the U.S. Army.  In a nut shell the review looks at what you thought would happen and what actually happened with the purpose of figuring out how to do it better (whatever “it” may be).

Here are the questions we devised based on Hyatt’s expanded review template.

  • How did we see our first three retired years in Valencia going?
  • What were our dreams, plans, and concrete goals going into retirement?
  • What disappointments or regrets did we experience?
  • What did we do that we’re most proud of?
  • What two or three themes keep repeating?
  • What were the lessons we learned?

Susan is a little uneasy sharing our answers to these questions.  Our dive into retirement didn’t exactly deserve all 10s and she’s shy about that.  Me, I figure we ought to share our mistakes just in case it helps one of you avoid the same missteps.  I’ve said it before, don’t repeat our mistakes.  Make you own!  There are plenty to go around.

How did we see our Valencia stay going?

We thought to play it safe by starting out in Valencia.  We thought it would be easier to learn Spanish and connect with Spaniards in the city.  And we wanted to live in a city with good public transportation links including an airport.

We did not anticipate how difficult it would be to adapt to life in Valencia.  I think there were two important reasons our life there didn’t build with the same velocity and momentum that we expected.

First, we were awfully shy about getting out when we arrived.  We let language be a barrier.  Everything from buying flour at the Mercadona to rail timetables and tickets intimidated us.  Consequently, a sort of inertia throttled our days.

Second, everyone loves Valencia.  Susan loved Valencia.  Even so, I knew right away Valencia wasn’t for me.  I tried to direct my feet to the sunny side, and there’s plenty of sunny attraction to life in Valencia. We particularly enjoyed meeting people, especially young people, from all over Europe.  Valencia abounds with options for breakfast, lunch or dinner al aire libre.  And the list goes on, it’s just the noise, smoke, pollution, and crowding of city life aren’t for me, no matter how up the upside is.  I like nature.

Of course we did plenty right too.  Most notably we made some friendships we think will last the rest of our lives, despite our plans to roam.

The weeks we spent at VaughnTown language camps cracked our language timidity wide open.  After those experiences we started thinking of English as an advantage.  It provides hundreds of opportunities to bridge cultural barriers especially once we overcame our Spanish language shyness.  We’re already working on building minimal French and German skills.  We aren’t going to let language stop us again.

What were our dreams, plans, and concrete goals?

Back in the States, we had dreams of learning Spanish easily, making friends with Spaniards, and visiting the great cities of Europe.  None of those dreams was particularly realistic.

When it comes to plans and concrete goals, we did a great job planning our successful move to Spain.  And then, we let go of the tiller and allowed our lives to drift.  Thing is, we had so much luck with it in the past, I think we imagined serendipity would continue to be enough.  A bit more planning and a couple of concrete goals would have helped us keep from getting lost in our day to day lives of grocery shopping, paying bills, washing dishes, and doing the ordinary things we’ve done 10,000 times before.

What disappointments or regrets did we experience?

We have two big disappointments we are willing to share here:

First, we let language keep us from connect with people in our building and neighborhood, at meet-ups and so many other venues.

Second, we didn’t really get off the beaten path much.

There were so many, many other disappointments that don’t amount to much in the end, after all what happened stays happened.  What matters is the lessons we learned.  But if I get into lessons learned here I’ll be getting ahead of myself.

What did we do that we’re most proud of?

We did manage to adapt to life in Spain and we did eventually grow out of our language induced timidity.  We made deeper and more meaningful friendships than we have had in the past.  And we are healthier and stronger than we were when we retired in 2017.

What two or three themes keep repeating?
  1.  Language differences are a perceived barrier but in truth they represent an opportunity to connect with others who are also looking for personal growth.
  2.  City living is more convenient in many ways but we like things a bit quieter.
  3.  Yoga, hiking and cycling beat sight seeing and shopping.

What were the lessons we learned?

Retired life requires more of us than we anticipated, both as individuals and as a couple.  We didn’t hit our marks on the first try.  That we didn’t set out marks to hit in the first place had something to do with that.  So then, lesson number one?

Lesson Number One

Like every border collie ever whelped, we need a job.  No, not a job — more of a PURPOSE.  That’s what we need to articulate.  Something to entice and challenge us.

Jay Shetty talks about this need for purpose in his book, Think Like a Monk (Simon and Schuster, Inc. 2020).  Susan and I both found his formula to be particularly resonating.

Passion + Expertise + Usefulness = Dharma

Whether you call it dharma or purpose doesn’t matter.  We like the notion that the intersection of passion, expertise and usefulness is where we are simultaneously student and teacher.

You might relate more easily to Kurt Vonnegut’s advice to Ms Lockwood’s students.

“Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.” — Kurt Vonnegut, Letter’s of Note

We want to treat the coming years as an opportunity to help ”our souls grow.”

But to grow our souls we will have to figure out how to to make the coming years fulfilling for the two of us, individually and together — rather like pillars standing alone and functioning together.  That’s where the components of dharma come in.

Lesson Number Two

Travel doesn’t mean going to airport cities and ticking off a bucket list of sights to be seen.  Quite the opposite. We’ve realized that if done right, travel can motivate us to a deeply engaged exploration of living, which is to say, it can motivate us “to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside us, to make our souls grow.”

  • Getting started with traveling to grow our souls at age 68 presents a few problems but it doesn’t mean we have to play it safe.
  • For the time being, we don’t have to have a permanent home base.  We can roam while we are still healthy and strong.
  • Setting aside the notion of a home base frees up the resources to make roaming affordable.  We just have to figure out how to make it work.
  • We can roam while we still have the cats.
  • Going through the visa process in every country isn’t too much effort relative to the opportunity to grow our souls.

Lesson Number Three

Nurtured and nurturing friendships beat the hell out of social networking, but these friendships take time to grow and even more time to maintain.

I think we have lot to learn from other people who are living gently in the world.  So we are going to be on the lookout for those folks for the next few years.  When we find them, we are going to work on making and nurturing our friendships in a way neither of us has been good at in the past.

And Finally

We think true friendships are based on sharing.  We plan to share our personal experiences and what we have learned from the people and places we encounter here on GentleCycle.  We hope our gentle readers will enjoy our explorations and maybe consider their own journeys, whether stationary or mobile, internal or external, as opportunities for personal growth.

Jamie  wants “life on gentle cycle” to be a story of enough rather than a search for more.  His focus is on simplicity, quiet presence, low impact travel, and mostly on living gently. He also manages the technical aspects of GentleCycle.net



  1. Hi Jamie,

    Another great commentary on your continuing adventure. I always feel a little uplifted after I read the “articles” written by you and Susan.

    Jerry and I are considering doing something similar and will be giving up our apartment in the near future. So, a housekeeping question. How does not having a

    permanent address fit into the visa renewal process? Not necessary to have a empadronamiento?

    Thanks Jamie, best to you and Susan

    1. I love reading about your journey as we are in the same boat. We arrived here in Valencia and also have a cat that came with us from the states.
      We are not sure about apt. life either although we like it a lot at the moment. We brought all our beloved stuff from the US so that changes things a bit. We had planned on settling here, but like you, miss nature and the access to clean air and the beauty of silence and the wind in the trees.
      Who knows, maybe we will be right behind you.
      We are open and have no real attachment to a place… time will tell.
      But I did want to ask about the legal part of things that Sandra just mentioned. Do you need an empadronamiento or not?
      Thank you and take care,
      Amanda and Herman

      1. Author

        Hi Amanda,
        As you know Valencia has a lot to offer and what it offers comes with costs. For us, the decision to leave was fairly easy once our Lizzie dog died. I’m not able to give legal advice regarding empadronmientos, but based on my reading of the regulations, yes, you must register with a municipality to maintain your visa status. You’ll need to in order to do so in order to get a new identity card in any event. Of course, if you are willing to move every 90 days and don’t mind leaving the Schengan Zone, you won’t really need a Spanish residence visa.

        I guess that we will have to start writing up a few “how to” posts, now that we know there are others who might find them useful. Right now we are so busy walking around the Alpujarra making up for our nature deficit, combined with the fact that we are making it up as we go along, means it might be awhile before we have anything truly useful to share. But do check back (or follow our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/LifeOnGentleCycle) if you decide to go vagabonding.
        Cheers, Jamie

    2. Author

      Hi Sandra,
      Susan and I successfully completed our second visa renewal in Valencia last August. Like so many others we were unsuccessful as we tried to get an appointments for new identity cards (TIEs). So with the cooperation of our hosts, we went through registering empadronamientos with the village here in Mairena. We used the hotel’s address. It was quite easy.

      We somehow managed to secure appointments with the national police in Granada. I think it was luck when someone cancelled three appointments just as I was doing my hitherto futile early morning check. Anyway, between appointment dates in early March and covid-related restrictions, we now know the soonest we will be moving on. If our TIE appointments are cancelled due to the virus, I think we will just give up on Spain, grab the kitties, and head out of the Schengan Zone.

      As you and Jerry consider your version of vagabonding, it might help to know that we are completely happy with our decision and excited about the potential our futures hold.
      May best, Jamie

  2. I am so grateful for you and Susan sharing your wisdom. Also – the photography! That grape photo is particularly beautiful. You both inspire me so much. Thank you for sharing. Happy New Year!

    1. Author

      Hello Catherine, thanks for letting us know we are making a difference. We appreciate the feedback. And I agree, that photo of the grapes is pretty good. Happy and prosperous new year to you too…

  3. This is so beautifully presented. Whether one lives abroad or simply ‘lives’ is the importance. Your lessons are inspiring and I would like to thank you and Susan for your candid unfolding. It encourages me to aspire to much more in my life. Language isn’t the only barrier that keeps us in isolation. I look forward to reading more from you. Blessings and safe journeys to both of you!

    1. Author

      Thank you for your comment Jaquelin. I’m glad you pointed out that there are many barriers that keep us apart. I hadn’t considered that while writing the post. Warm regards from both of us.

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