A bucket list for your retirement?

OK, let’s get it over with.

Nearly everyone imagines their retirement will be a time for doing the exciting and wonderful things (on their yet-to-be-started/completed bucket list) that they weren’t able to do while working. For you, that may be true and I truly hope it is. But first, meet a man who lived out his “bucket list” of things to do.

John Goddard… the original Indiana Jones

One night, John Goddard, then age 15, sat listening to several older men as they talked with his father. The men were complaining about all the things they should have done when they were young … but didn’t. Goddard heard a long series of “I only I had done …”

That very night Goddard wrote out a list of 127 goals he wanted to achieve before he died. Age 15 wasn’t the end of his goal writing efforts. Eventually he had over 400 goals on what he calls his “Life List.”

Goddard’s goals aren’t simple or easy. His goals include climbing the world’s major mountains, exploring the world’s longest rivers, piloting the world’s fastest aircraft, running a mile in five minutes, learning foreign languages, and reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, just to name a few.

So far, John Goddard has accomplished 109 of his original 127 goals. You can look up John Goddard on the Internet and read about his extraordinary life as a scholar, adventurer, photographer and athlete.

I first read about John Goddard while contemplating my retirement. I decided to make a list of things I wanted to do before I died. Although I was getting a late start on making such a list and doing the items on the list, that didn’t matter to me at the time.

You might think a person as old as I was would immediately have a long list of things I wanted to do in life. No so. After a dozen or so entries, I was running out of “bucket list” items. My eventual list was embarrassingly short…maybe 25 items. No matter, I thought, more ideas will come to me.

Soon after I retired I began doing and checking off the items on my list. For a few post-retirement months I thought I was living the perfect retirement life. After all, I was traveling to exotic places, taking adventure trips, seeing things I’d always wanted to see, pestering my kids and their families …

Disillusionment arrived

I found it curious that I wasn’t adding new items to my list. As I completed (and checked off) things on my list I sensed that something wasn’t right. One day I came across another article about John Goddard. That article stated that John Goddard hasn’t been pursuing his goals for adventure or for the sake of frivolous thrills. Adventure and thrills were simply by-products of his passion for scientific exploration and adding to the world’s store of knowledge.

Unlike Goddard, I had been pursuing things on my list solely for their frivolous thrills value. My “things” were just that … things. They weren’t goals like Goddard’s.

There was nothing wrong with my list of fun things to do but I was getting tired of frivolous fun. I stopped doing things on my list. Instead, I tried to change my focus. I moved to Washington State and designed the perfect retirement home. After the house was built, I busied myself trying to improve it. I wrote several books for young boys. But I was still missing something big and important.

I talked to other retired people. I asked them how they were enjoying retirement. At first they would describe their retirement as “just fine.” But once we talked more, they weren’t doing “just fine.” Something was missing in their lives too. Neither they nor I could put our fingers on it.

As the months went by my life became less and less enjoyable. My life wasn’t “just fine” either, it was more like “just OK”. Retirement had become something of a burden instead of being a string of endless, fun-filled Saturdays. Believe it or not, I occasionally wished I was still working! I began experiencing periods of anxiety about the future. I felt depressed and disillusioned, just like my retired friends had described their feelings about retirement.

The answer?

I began reading about retirement. Somewhere there had to be someone who had figured out how to retire well. There were tons of Internet and magazine articles as well as tons of books about “how to retire and be happy.” Practically every piece of literature talked about making money or having fun or keeping busy. By now I knew that neither money or fun (or both) guarantees a fulfilling retirement. There had to be something else.

I decided to research the entire concept of retirement. The more research I did, the more clearly I saw the reason for my situation and for my retired friends’ situations as well. I think most people in retirement face the same problem.

In my next post, I’ll tell you what I discovered.

(By the way, don’t discard your Bucket List concept. It will have its rightful place in your retirement.)

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About Donald F. Keene

Retired risk manager willing to share his thoughts about a risky topic ... namely, retirement. Contrary to what you read in the financial press, there is much more to retirement than money.
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