Category Archives: Retirement

Finding Time for Adventure

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Jebel Shams, Oman

For many of us who are old enough to consider retirement, the scarcest resource in our lives is probably not money, but time.

Life, they say, is what happens while you are busy making plans. Time is ticking away, life is short. These days, everyone is saying how busy we are.  But, as we all know, we all have the same 24 hours as everyone else, and it is up to us to prioritize how we want to spend our time doing the things that we want to do.

When we were younger, we only had a few weeks of vacation each year to plan for vacation and/or trips, typically 2-4 weeks at a time. Now, once we retire, we can choose to go on super long trips such as 2 months, 6 months, or even years at a time.

Many people delay their retirement for a variety of reasons.  They want to be conservative in their finances to ensure that money will never run out, or that they think they enjoy their work as compared to no specific plans, hobbies, activities or adventures after retirement.  They like their status quo. This sentiment is easy to understand, but whenever I hear about some friends developing critical illnesses or some famous people who just died on the news, it makes me want to take action for some big adventures.  Here is an interesting grave stone marking that speaks to this (Brandon Lee’s grave in Seattle):

“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”

And here is a website that calculates when you are likely to die, based on various parameters about our life (age, weight, gender, whether you smoke) – www.deathclock.com.   A big, unstoppable clock counts down the remaining seconds of our life.

This type of thinking is morbid, but it takes deadlines to spur most of us into action.  This non-extendable deadline is scary, as there is still so much I want to do before September 14, 2042.

There is no solution to make more time.  Money cannot buy more time.  But learning about my “Expire Before” date will help me decide not to waste any more time on unimportant things, and to take action on some new possible adventures.  We need to begin the conversations with the people in our lives – our family, our boss, ourselves – about ways in which it might be possible to pause the daily rhythm of lives long enough to do something different and really memorable.

One of reason why I like traveling to new places is that it makes me more aware of how much time I have.  I really don’t have any more time, but I have just freed it up to spend it on the things that I truly feel is important to me. I wake up excited, as the day is available to explore and experience something new.  And the day stretches long into the night.  I might meet some new people along the way, learn about new cultures and world heritage sites, visit some world wonders, or hike a mountain to see some wonderful vistas.

When I am away on trips, I do not feel busy, but my days are full and fulfilling.  I cherish spending that time.  At home my days feel short, hurried, and too routine.  At the end of most of those days, I feel I have not accomplished much that is really memorable.

I hope this post will urge you to fill your days with what feels important and worthwhile to you, not with the stuff that conventional society deems us to be doing, or with stuff that might be easy and uncomplicated but is not meaningful and rewarding in the long run.

What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness

P1100879My travel friend recently sent me a link on a TED talk that was very interesting.  It is on “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness” by Robert Waldinger.  Robert is the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development where they had just completed the longest study of adult life that’s ever been done. For 75 years, they tracked the lives of 724 men, year after year, asking about their work, their home lives, their health, and asking them all along the way without knowing how their life stories were going to turn out.

So, what have they learned from the tens of thousands of pages of information that they have collected since 1938?  Well, the lessons aren’t about the wealth or the fame or the their success from working harder and harder. The conclusion from this 75-year study is: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. 

The study learned that there are three big lessons about relationships. The first is that social connections are really good for us, and that loneliness kills.  It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, friends, and community, are happier, they are physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected.  And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic.  People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.

The second big lesson that they learned is that it is not just the number of friends you have, and it is not whether or not you are in a committed relationship, but it is the quality of your close relationships that matters.  It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health.  For example, high-conflict marriages, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health, perhaps worse than getting divorced.

The third big lesson that they learned about relationships is that good relationships do not just protect our bodies, but they protect our brains as well.  Being in a securely attached relationship to another person in our old age is protective.  When people feel they can really count on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories stay sharper longer.  And those good relationships do not have to be smooth all the time.  Older couples can bicker with each other day in and day out, but as long as they felt that they could really count on the other when the going got tough, those arguments did not take a toll on their memories.

So the message is that good, close relationships are good for our health and well-being.  The people  who are the happiest in retirement are the people who had actively worked to replace workmates with new playmates.

The TED talk closed with a quote from Mark Twain.  More than a century ago when he was looking back on his life, and Mark Twain wrote: “There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.”

As we move to our next chapter of our lives, we have to remember that the good life is built with good relationships.

Moving Head Office in early 2017

IMG_1959Our company announced late last year that our head office will be moving a few blocks to the new Metrotower III at the heart of Metrotown, from our current 30+ year old tower west of Metrotown.  Last week, employees had an opportunity to take a quick tour of the facilities.

The new office tower is a LEED-platinum building with all the modern amenities.   We will occupy the majority of the 29 floors while leasing the rest.

The exciting news for me personally is that this new head office will be literally a 2-minute walk from our current townhouse.  I can potentially see my office space from our living room window.  And the view of the office tower from the 27th floor where we had the tour was quite panoramic.

There is also discussions about a possible implementation of a phased retirement program, allowing eligible employees to work 3 days a week to transfer knowledge to younger employees.

With these two new developments in my work place, my retirement plans may change.

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2015 Year End Review

Asphalted road .Forward to the New Year 2015

We are just a few days away from a New Year, and one sleep away before we fly to the Middle East for a 15-day trip to explore 3 countries there.  2015 has been a huge transitional year for us.  Here are some of the major events for our family:

January – our daughter moved out to live on her own and with her boyfriend at Olympic Village.  It was nice to be able to help her set up the condo and visit her as an adult.  Our family house of over 23 years was put on the market, and within 7 days, it was sold for a very good price with competing offers.

February – We were very busy getting rid of our stuff and preparing for our big move.  Our initial arrangement with my brother-in-law to rent their recently purchased condo fell through, but we were very fortunate to find a brand new townhouse across from Metrotown to rent for a reasonable price.  Our son got his work visa approved, and soon we saw him off to London, England, to start a new career in investment banking with a major bank.  We moved into the new townhouse on Feb 25, allowing a 5-day overlap before we hand over the keys to the new owners of our house.

March – 4 days after we moved out of our house and started to live in the townhouse, we flew to London to attend our son’s MBA convocation at Oxford University, and to visit his new home in a leased flat in central London.  Afterwards, we took a train to visit Belgium and Luxembourg for a few days before flying to Dublin to visit Ireland and Northern Ireland with a rental car for 2 weeks.

April – We settled down at our new townhouse and explored our new neighborhood.  I cycle 5 minutes to work, and my wife skytrain to work downtown.  We tried out some new restaurants nearby, and were happy to discover how convenient it is to live so close to all the amenities.  We hardly ever use the car to do chores.  We tried out the strata unit’s exercise gym, and jogged to Central Park for exercise whenever we had the time, in addition to playing badminton 3 times a week, which are the only times we drive our car.

May – My mother-in-law became ill and passed away quite suddenly. It was very sad for the whole family.  There were many family matters to attend to, including arranging for the funeral.  It reminded us of the frailty of life.

June – The weather got much better and days much longer.  Since I have so much more free time with zero home or yard maintenance, I signed up for several hiking Meetup groups and participated in many hikes on the weekend.  We also flew to Whitehorse, Yukon with a credit card 2-for-1 flight promotion, and traveled on the “Golden Circle” route with hiking in Kluane National Park and sightseeing in Skagway, Alaska for 6 days.

July – We started to ride our bikes every weekend to explore different neighborhoods around Greater Vancouver, just like what we had done 4 or 5 years ago.  We have a Greater Vancouver bicycle route map that we highlight each and every path we rode.  We also continued to sign up for more hikes via the Meetup groups, and we have met many interesting people through these activities.  Our sister’s partner treated us on a sailing excursion with his friend’s sailboat and had a wonderful bonding time.

August – We trained hard in July and August to prepare for the annual BC 55+ Games (a 24-sport event to encourage BC seniors to stay active in participation and in competition).  This year was my 3rd year participating in the sport of badminton (2nd year for my wife), and we both did very well, earning 2 medals each in our age category events.

September – We took a 3-week trip to the Italian Dolomites and the Greek Islands with another couple from Brampton, Ontario, that we met on previous trips.  It was a great trip with lots of fantastic hiking, sailing, activities, culture, food, and companionship.  Visiting world wonders of Santorini and Meteora were part of the highlights.

October – The weather was still very nice in Vancouver when we came back from our trip, so we filled our time with many more outdoor activities. I found time to sign up for more Meetup groups of different interests, such as Travel Hacking and Blogging.  We also entered a Masters level badminton tournament at the Vancouver Racquets Club where the best of the BC players play.

November – I decided to start a blog .  We brainstormed for a nice and appropriate domain name to buy.  Once I bought the domain name, along with a hosting plan, I was able to quickly get the site up and running within an hour.  It was fun to learn a new skill and put my creative hat on to create something from scratch.  I attended a Travelers Century Club meeting in Vancouver to hear great stories on exotic places of travel and enrolled in some weekly exercises for the core.

December – Between learning more features and tools with WordPress, playing badminton, and meeting new friends that arrived in Vancouver in their camper truck that we met in Yukon in June, and who are in the midst of traveling the world for the past 8 years, Christmas came quickly.  We had several get-together dinners with friends and families.  Our son did not come home for Christmas, but with technology like Skype, distance does not matter to our family bonds.  With the recent terrorist threats around the world, cheap air tickets were everywhere to be had. We bought return air tickets to Paris for $670 each for next May, and we were able to complete our detailed trip itinerary and booked all the hotels within a few evenings.  We tried to fit a trekking trip to Ladakh, India for next September with my sister-in-law and her partner, but the timing did not work, and we decided to visit Madagascar, Mauritius and Reunion instead.  We have now 2 trips 85% planned for 2016, plus the one that we are leaving tomorrow afternoon to United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, and Qatar!

We’ve had a busy and hectic 2015, and we are looking forward to potentially more positive changes next year!

Happy New Year!

2015-2016 change represents the new year 2016 three-dimensional rendering

 

Decluttering & Becoming Minimalist

When we decided to sell our 3,600 square-foot house and downsize to a 1,300 square-foot townhouse, we knew that we had to get rid of a lot of stuff that we have collected over the past 22 years.  We already got rid of all the toys that we have bought over the years when the kids outgrew them.  And we regularly donate our gently used clothing and household items to the Big Brothers and Developmental Disability Association.  But we still had lots of memorabilia, old camping equipment, obsolete electronic equipment, seldom used kitchen applianceP1070627s, and old photo albums.

Once we listed our house for sale, we had no choice but to sort all of our furniture and personal stuff into 4 categories: keep, sell, recycle, and garbage.

Soon, we are answering calls and emails from potential buyers from Craigslist, and driving endless runs to the neighborhood Value Village and to the city dump.  Lucky for us, we made about $3,900 from selling the piano that our kids learned to play music, large furniture such as our king-sized bed and teak wood bedroom set, numerous book shelves, stuff stored above our garage ceiling and basement, and much more.  We felt good donating many useful household items to Value Village.  The memorabilia was the most difficult stuff to let go, but we learned from a friend to take photos of these items such that they will remain in our memory but will not take up space in our new home.

After the whole exercise was done, we felt much “lighter” and not weighed down from all of our stuff.  We have read about being minimalist, and we actually took steps to declutter our lives for better lifestyle.

Here’s an interesting blog article about 21 Surprising Statistics That Reveal How Much Stuff We Actually Own.  We found it hard to believe that “Americans spend $1.2 trillion annually on non-essential goods”, in other words, on items they do not need!

We are so glad that we have undertaken the effort to simplify our lives and not be consumed by “consumerism”.

 

 

Housing Decisions

One of the big decisions when contemplating retirement is deciding where to live after retirement.  There are many options: 1) stay in the present home, 2) downsize and buy a smaller house/townhouse/condo, or 3) rent a house/townhouse/condo. With 2 of the 3 options above, one can also choose to move to a different city, or to a different area within the same city.

There is an article in today’s Vancouver Sun that talks about the rising demand for high-end seniors housing among Chinese-Canadians and Chinese-Americans, which is breaking the stereotype that Asian seniors want to live with their children. Traditionally, “multiple generations living under the same roof is supposed to be ultimate symbol of the Confucianist ideal of filial piety”, but nowadays, they prefer to live, eat, and shop close to one another instead.  Those who stay together in one house is doing it because of cost and shared resources.  Development companies are now building more upscale senior homes and marketing them as lifestyle experiences.

Our family have never considered to live together under one roof. Our son, like us when we graduated from university, wanted to experience living in a different city (he is actually experiencing living in a different country).  Our daughter also wanted freedom away from her parents.  For us, we like the idea of renting a strata home so that we don’t have maintenance issues.  We also calculated that it is more cost effective to rent than to own based on the high real estate prices of Vancouver.  There are lot less taxes, utilities and expenses with renting, and we feel that we can do better investing in financial assets than sitting on a large equity on a house. Renting also allow us the flexibility to try living in another area of Vancouver, or store our belongings to travel for a year or two.  So, renting turned out to be our decision for now.

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The Start of our Downsizing

P1070642A major impetus for retirement considerations for most people is adult children moving away from the family home. Ours came exactly one year ago when it so happened that both of our children announced that they will be relocating elsewhere.

Our son, upon graduation from Oxford University’s MBA program, got a permanent job posting at an investment bank where he interned during the summer.  He was very excited about the new opportunities living across the pond. He got his work visa approved, and in no time, we are seeing him off to London, England at the airport.

Our daughter got fed up with the increasing long commute to VGH where she worked, and decided it was time to move out and rent a condo to share with her boyfriend.  With their good paying jobs and references, they had no problem getting a nice condo to rent in the heart of Olympic Village.  And in no time, we were helping her move her stuff out of our family house where we lived over 23 years.

With the knowledge that there will be only the two of us living in our large 3,600 square-foot, 3-level house, we contemplated about selling our house, moving to a condo, and changing our lifestyle.  We saw a “For Sale” sign in one of our neighborhood houses, and was surprised that it sold in less than a week.  We took the name and phone number of the listing real estate agent, and after the first interview where we talked about the pros and cons of downsizing and the crazy high prices of Vancouver real estate, we set in motion our decision to downsize.  And this is one of few reasons that the “Next Chapter Journeys” got started.

 

At 60, It is Time to Take “Carpe Diem” Seriously

An article published by Fred Vettese (Chief Actuary of Mornell Shepell) on the National Post yesterday talked about the high probability of a healthy 60-year old man suffering a critical illness or die before they turn 70.  As per the table below, the probability of this happening to a man between 50-60 years old is only 18%, but for a 60-70 year old, it climbs to 36%.  For 70-80 years old, it is 56%, and for 80-90 years old, it becomes 82%.

Risk of Illness or DeathThe critical illness may be life-threatening cancers, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or loss of independent existence.  So, even though that a healthy 60-year old man is expected to live to about 85, the disability-free life expectancy (DFLE) is a lot lower.  And supposedly, the number of unhealthy years is increasing, mostly due to the poor North American life style decisions that we are making.

This article should make us think about eating better, exercising regularly, and minimizing stress.  Furthermore, we should re-evaluate our retirement plans on the basis of our disability-free life expectancy rather than our total life expectancy.  If we think our DFLE is low, then perhaps retiring earlier and spending our money in our 60’s while we have our health should be a priority.  The article’s conclusion: “The words carp diem apply at any age, but never more so than when we turn 60.” is a good one.

 

How to Know When to Retire?

Floreana Island, Galapagos
Floreana Island, Galapagos

At times when I chat to my wife about how I can’t wait to retire so that we have more free time, play more badminton or do more traveling, she would say that I am wishing my life away.  She says we already have lots of free time, and that we play badminton 3 times a week, and we travel 3 to 4 times a year.

Not that she would get bored after retirement, but she feels that she still enjoys her work at the office, the social interactions with her co-workers, the recognition she gets from doing a good job, and the vibrant atmosphere of working downtown. I guess I cannot argue with that.  I feel the same most times at work, but there are times when I day-dream about spending more time outdoors (especially during sunny days), more badminton (to improve after entering a competition), or more travels (when I look at my travel wish lists).

When receiving a paycheque is no longer the prime motive for working, then one must decide whether the time spent at the office is better off in spending on pursing our passions. Perhaps your major passion is work, then there is no need to think about retirement.  To most people though, it is a trade-off of how best to spend the remaining time we have on this earth.

I just finished watching a TED talk about “Want to be happy? Be grateful” by Brother David Steindl-Rast. He talks about how every moment given to us is a “gift”.  He says: “By experiencing, by becoming aware that every moment is a given moment, as we say. It’s a gift. You haven’t earned it. You haven’t brought it about in any way. You have no way of assuring that there will be another moment given to you, and yet, that’s the most valuable thing that can ever be given to us, this moment, with all the opportunity that it contains. If we didn’t have this present moment, we wouldn’t have any opportunity to do anything or experience anything, and this moment is a gift. It’s a given moment, as we say.”

So, it is probably time to retire when your job is no longer bringing you happiness, or if you think pursuing something else will bring you more happiness.  Is spending 8 to 9 hours a day at the office the best use of our given moments?