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.
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?
- Language differences are a perceived barrier but in truth they represent an opportunity to connect with others who are also looking for personal growth.
- City living is more convenient in many ways but we like things a bit quieter.
- 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.
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.