“Don’t Wanna be an American Idiot.” – Green Day
One of the biggest concerns I’ve heard is whether leaving the workforce will lead to a lack of intellectual stimulation. Will your brain turn off? That’s a question I feel very qualified to answer.
My definitive answer is: NO! I don’t lack for intellectual stimulation. First, let’s remember that not every hour at work much less every day at work was invigorating and challenging. So what will you do in retirement?
Learning: You will have more time for reading and learning. If you come across a topic that interests you, you can search the web or find a book to dive in and learn more. You can also take courses at a local university or from many of the on-line options. My wife and I are in a couples book group.
Social: You can spend more time with friends and family. Your office doesn’t have a monopoly on intelligent or interesting people. And you don’t need to spend time with people you don’t enjoy, which can be mentally draining. The topics you discuss or learn about in your office are by definition narrow and now you can spend time with a wider group of acquaintances with different interests.
Physical: You can get more sleep and exercise more. I no longer use an alarm clock so I get the sleep that I need and I don’t have the stress of rushing around in the morning. There’s plenty of research about how better sleep and exercise benefit your brain. When I bike, I use an app called Strava that provides an incredible amount of analytics that I can dig into for further mental stimulation.
Travel: The joy of vacations comes from the anticipation of the trip, the vacation itself, and the memories that you create; the three of these together can extend the enjoyment from a short trip to months or even years. For examples of the intellectual stimulation, I research what to do for upcoming trips and learn about new cities and activities. Recently we visited the FDR presidential library and learned more about the Great Depression and WWII.
Volunteer: You can get involved with non-profit organizations that need your skills–I volunteer with low-income students and with a couple of alumni and community organizations.
New Work: You can look for part-time consulting gigs which bring in a little money but give you a flexible lifestyle. I do some part-time consulting work in my prior field, which keeps me connected in the industry. I also have a “job” managing my investment portfolio (saving 1% on an investment advisor pays pretty well and I have time to read up on new ideas that I hear about.
Ideally you will look for activities that give you intellectual, social, and physical stimulation at the same time like some of the examples I gave above. If you can do all three at once, you’ve hit the trifecta of a great past-time.
The bottom line is I use my brain just as much, just in different ways. If you’re retired, do you agree? If you’re still working, how would you like to challenge yourself in retirement?