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Retirement Remix - Chapter 7: The Six Steps to Your Remix

In this chapter of the Retirement Remix, author Chip Munn takes you through designing a retirement "career" that's unique to you.

Old habits die hard, and old beliefs can be difficult to change. Most of us have heard about “retirement” for our entire adult lives as if it were the magic pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and we should spend our careers working toward it.

Chip Munn

Chip Munn

Old School Retirement is a pretty simple concept: you produce for forty years, and then you retire and consume for the next twenty years. Anyone can understand that.

The retirement remix is much more nuanced. It eliminates the bright dividing line between “working” and “retirement.” It puts much more control of your life into your hands. There’s no single cookie-cutter solution.

Some people take to it like a duck takes to water. I would say to them, “You know something? You don’t have to follow the old path. You can design your life any way you want!”

They would then say, “Really? Great! I’ll get started!” And off they go, to climb mountains or start a new business or volunteer at the art museum—wherever their personal muse takes them.

Many other people need to begin by dipping their toes in the water and thinking about it. Then they wade in a little deeper, being careful to stay near the shore. The retirement remix is unfamiliar territory, and they don’t want to get in over their heads. They want to keep their feet firmly on the sandy bottom, and their hair nice and dry.

That’s okay!

If you’re the type of person who likes to carefully consider new ideas, you’ve picked up the right book. We understand the importance of not rushing into a new approach, especially when it’s your life we’re talking about. You want to go step by step, and that’s why we’ve created our Six Steps to Your Remix plan.

Ready? Let’s get started!

1. Be Honest with Yourself

On one hand, this seems very easy. “Be honest with myself?” you might say. “No problem. I’m a grown adult, after all.”

Okay, but let’s think about it for a moment.

The first step to being honest with yourself is to believe and understand that there’s no right or wrong answer to the questions you ask yourself. As long as what you want to do isn’t illegal or mean to other people, then this is America and you can be the person you want to be.

Let’s start with the past. Here are the questions to consider:

“Do I regret any of the big choices I’ve made in the past? Are there things I wanted to do but for some reason never did?”

Of course, we know we can’t do everything. I may have enjoyed being a famous actor, but I didn’t try to become one and never made any attempt to work as an actor in any capacity, so I’m not going to fret over never having been a star of the silver screen. And besides, if I wanted to find work as an actor, I could start at any age. You could be eighty years old and get a headshot and start going to casting calls.

I hope your answer is that you’re grateful for the life you have now, and you’re not going to beat yourself up about the past. But sometimes we have deep yearnings that stay with us for a lifetime. Let’s say you immigrated to the United States when you were a kid and have never returned to visit the land of your birth. That might be something you’ll want to remedy as you get older.

If there’s a dream from your past that you want to make come true, put that into your retirement remix.

Ask yourself about the present. “Is what I’m doing right now making me happy? If I had to work at my present job for the rest of my life, would I choose to do so?” The answer might be “yes”—we have both Stephen King and Warren Buffett on the record as saying precisely that. The answer might be, “No, I work at my job for the paycheck. I would quit if something better came along.” Or you might say, “I like the industry I’m in, but I’m not married to my particular job. I’d like to find some other role, perhaps as a mentor.”

Ask yourself about the future. “What do I want to do for the next twenty or thirty years?” Any answer is okay! If you sincerely reply, “I want to quit my job and play golf all day, and I have lots of money, so I can afford to be nothing but a consumer,” then go for it. You’ve earned it. But if you say, “Gee, I always wanted to run an art gallery, but it always seemed like a poor way to earn a living,” then you should definitely pause and think seriously about making the retirement remix work for you.

Remember, no dream is silly. No vision should be dismissed without due consideration. We live in a nation where you can figure out how to accomplish just about anything, as long as you put your mind to it.

2. No Need to Feel Guilty

Many people of retirement age experience feelings of guilt. When they think about retirement, they feel guilty about:

  • No longer suffering in the daily grind with their coworkers and fellow commuters.
  • No longer being productive and adding to the national wealth.
  • Spending all that cash they’ve earned over the past forty years.
  • No longer being able to contribute to their grandchildren’s college funds.
  • Not sufficiently paying back society for the opportunities it bestowed upon them. This is particularly true for professionals including doctors, who might have received substantial subsidized academic training.

If you feel guilty about the choices you face as you approach your retirement, I’m not going to tell you you’re “wrong” or that you should “get over it.”

Feelings of guilt mean that you’re a caring person. They mean you think about the welfare of others. You don’t like the idea of being a freeloader.

It’s all the more reason why in your retirement remix you should continue to contribute in some way to the betterment of others! It means that you’re the type of person who wants to continue to stay active, either with your family or the community.

The retirement remix is just what you’re looking for.

3. Set Yourself Free to Be Yourself

Many people who’ve been in the workforce for a long time have gotten used to the idea that they’ve needed to conform to the expectations of their profession. This means suppressing some aspect of their personality that would be deemed inappropriate or distracting from what other people think they should be. They get used to dressing a certain way, going to certain events, joining certain clubs, even having their kids go to certain schools.

I know a man who was a vice president at a regional bank. As is the case with most banks, the image of the institution and its employees was very buttoned-up. Their customers expected solid dependability and fiscally conservative values. They liked seeing the bank employees dressed in subdued business attire—all grey and dark blue.

As it happened, this man—I’ll call him John—was a pretty good rock guitarist. He played in a band in college, and even put out a couple of records. Then he had to “settle down” and pay attention to his professional career in finance and to his young family. There’s nothing wrong with that—he was a real stand-up guy, and he liked his work. But on weekends he’d spend a couple of hours in his basement with his Les Paul guitar plugged into his Marshall amp, wailing away along with a Van Halen record.

When John turned sixty, he was just as good a player as he had been when he was twenty. When he thought about retiring and no longer having to play the part of a straitlaced bank executive, he thought about getting a band together. But John thought to himself, “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re sixty years old. Rock music is for kids. You’ll look like a fool.”

Around this time, the Rolling Stones rumbled into town on their 50th anniversary tour. John snagged some good tickets from a client, and he and his wife went to the concert. Of course the Stones were amazing and blew the roof off the place. The crowd went nuts and everybody had a great time. In the car on the way home, John’s wife asked, “Gee, the Stones have been playing together for fifty years! They sure have a lot of energy. I wonder how old they are?”

When he got home, John went online. He found out that during the tour, Mick Jagger turned seventy years old. Keith was sixty-nine and Ron Wood was sixty-six. And Charlie Watts, the old man of the group, was seventy-two!

“Are you kidding me?” John said to himself. “These guys are older than me, and they’re killing it. What the heck am I worried about?” So, he made some calls and got a band together. They played when they wanted to, had fun, and no one worried about what anybody thought. And oddly enough, the confidence they exuded made them more popular. John and his bandmates learned that even in the rock and roll business, your attitude is more important than your physical age.

4. Self-Awareness Isn’t Selfish

Many people in the stay-at-home workforce—particularly those millions of (mostly) mothers who choose to forgo a paycheck job and stay at home to raise the kids—are trained to put the needs of others above their own.

The stay-at-home parent must follow a daily schedule revolving around the obligations of her (or his) children: meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry, school drop-offs and homework, dance class, soccer games and then sleepovers. What little time she or he can carve out for themselves belongs to their partner or the parents of classmates.

Just as a family’s kids are becoming self-sufficient and are maybe even headed off to college, the family’s grandparents often become elderly and require more and more care. If a person is really unlucky, her surviving mother or father will be diagnosed with a life-altering disease, opening the door to years of worry and increasingly intensive care. A woman who’s fifty years old with a parent who has a disease such as Alzheimer’s can feel as though she has spent her entire adult life as an unpaid caretaker—and there’s no end in sight.

People in service industries train themselves to respond to their customers or clients. Waiters, customer service reps, and anyone else who deals with the public all make their money by saying “Yes, sir,” and “Yes, ma’am.” Even professionals who earn $200 an hour are likely to find themselves taking phone calls at ten o’clock at night or on weekends and rushing off to do some task required to please their wealthy client.

As you near retirement, you can envision the day when you won’t have to say, “How high?” when your client or customer says, “Jump.” You can see yourself doing what you want to do, on your schedule. This may be an unfamiliar and even unsettling feeling. You may be reluctant to acknowledge the sensation of freedom you’ll enjoy.

Look at it this way: Nearly every human endeavor that involves a transaction between two people is a form of service. To make the transaction complete, someone tries to please someone else. But if you want, and you can afford it, you can do your own thing without caring whether other people happen to approve. Let’s say you’re a natural artist and paint portraits. You can paint however you like and follow your own vision. If other people like your work, great! If they don’t, that’s fine too. It makes no difference to you, because you’re painting to please only one person—yourself.

There was once a painter who did exactly that. His name was Vincent Van Gogh, and he loved to paint and draw. His career as an artist was extremely short, lasting only the ten years from 1880 to 1890. Before that, he had various occupations, including art dealer, language teacher, lay preacher, bookseller, and missionary worker. During his time as an artist, he produced more than 2,000 artworks, consisting of 913 paintings and 1,100 drawings and sketches.

Of this prodigious output, how many paintings did Van Gogh sell during his lifetime?

Van Gogh sold one painting, The Red Vineyard. A woman named Anna Boch purchased it in Brussels for 400 francs a few months before the artist’s death.

You’re probably not the next Van Gogh, but the point is that you’ve got only one life on this Earth (at least as far as we know), and while service to others is a good thing and the hallmark of an enlightened member of society, the time will come when you owe it to yourself to march to the beat of your own drum. You contribute to society not only by serving others but by being the very highest and best version of yourself.

5. To Thine Own Self Be True

The above quote comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s uttered by Polonius, the father of Laertes, who is about to board a ship bound to Paris, where he’s enrolled in college. Before Laertes embarks, his father gives him a long-winded lecture of advice, which concludes:

“This above all: to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!”

The counsel Polonius gives to his son ostensibly refers to such ungentlemanly activities as loaning money, borrowing money, carousing with women of low character, and other pursuits that are “false” to the self. By “false,” Polonius seems to mean “disadvantageous” or “detrimental to your image,” whereas by “true” he means loyal to one’s own best interests. Take care of yourself first, he urges, and that way you’ll be better able to take care of others. Polonius may also be suggesting, more ambitiously, that if Laertes remains loyal to his internal essence—his self, soul, mind, spirit, nature—then the version of Laertes that others experience will be the real Laertes, not an artificial construct.

When you interact with friends and colleagues, are you careful about the image you project, or do you “let your walls down” and be your natural self? One of the advantages to getting older is that because you’re no longer in the business of currying favor with teachers, bosses, or clients, you can stop spending your energy putting up a false front and be true to your authentic self.

6. You Can’t Live Someone Else’s Life

Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

How true!

It’s tempting to want to model your behavior and beliefs on someone else, especially if you consider that person successful or intriguing. Doing so can be okay. It’s good, and even at times necessary, to learn from the examples set by others. As we go through life, we all need mentors or people we can look up to.

But learning from others is not the same as mimicking them. And it’s important to put what you see in perspective. All around us—on television, in books, in movies—we’re inundated with stories about other people and the wonderful things they do. You’ll see that I tell the stories of others often. While they’re meant to be inspiring, these biographies can also be depressing. Because they’re customarily presented in such a way as to be appealing, the lives of other people often seem more exciting and glamorous than our own. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than on Facebook. In recent years, this global social media platform has become incredibly popular with senior adults. As AARP reported, data from digital marketing researcher eMarketer revealed the site is seeing a decline in activity from its youngest users, with growth coming from users age fifty-five and older. A 2018 Gallup poll found that 52 percent of Americans aged 50 to 64 have Facebook accounts, an increase of 18 percentage point since 2011. Similarly, Facebook use among people 65 and older has risen from 18 percent to 32 percent, a jump of 14 percentage points.

The problem is that people tend to post two types of personal content on Facebook. They post sad events—news of a death, for example, of a loved one, whether human, canine, or feline. Such posts evoke feelings of sympathy. They also post “good news” photos from their vacations, or their new lakefront cottage, or their birthday party, or a concert. Such posts can evoke feelings of jealousy. When you see photos of a friend lounging on the beach in Jamaica, or on a cruise ship in the Greek islands, you feel happy for them, but you might also feel as though your life is dull by comparison. It’s important to remember that social media provides a highlight reel of someone’s life. Don’t make the mistake of comparing that reel to your reality.

In the retirement remix, there is no right or wrong way to live your life. If you sincerely want to go on a cruise to the Greek islands, then go! But if in your heart you’d rather spend two weeks volunteering with Habitat for Humanity building houses in Mexico, then that’s what you should be doing. If you’d rather work part-time as a financial consultant and serve on the board of your local hospital, then that’s what you should be doing. Seeing how others live their lives—whether on television or social media—is fun and can give you new ideas, but at the end of the day it’s your life to live, and you should do what makes you happy.

The above article originally appeared as a chapter in The Retirement Remix and is reprinted with permission from the author Chip Munn. No parts of this article may be reproduced without correct attribution to the author of this book.

You can find the full book here.