I spend a lot of time thinking about retirement. Not so much mine, although I should. No, my focus is typically on the retirement of the families we serve, radio and podcast listeners, and people who read my books. My mind is constantly attempting to solve for “x” in the many unique retirement equations that present themselves.
Plenty of these scenarios involve financial planning: savings, allocations, income investing, Roth IRAs, etc. It’s tough to enjoy retirement without ample means to do so. But over the years, one of the most essential pieces of the retirement puzzle has become clear: Core Pursuits.
I immerse myself so deeply in the topic that sometimes I forget that not everyone knows what core pursuits are. It’s a good time for a refresher.
Core Pursuits: Hobbies on Steroids
Core pursuits are like hobbies but more powerful—the activities that make your passions burn. They bring you excitement and fulfillment while you’re doing them. They may even get you out of bed in the morning. Imagine the happiness potential of this concept. You got out of bed for most of your life because your alarm was buzzing, and you’d get fired if you didn’t. In retirement, you can wake up of your own accord, eager to tackle a core pursuit.
Core pursuits aren’t just for current retirees. People in their thirties, forties, and fifties would be well served to discover them, too. The sooner you begin development, the better. In addition to upping your happiness quotient, they help you save and invest more efficiently. The logic makes sense—you can winnow your expenditures when you have a specific purpose. Trim the fat and keep the protein.
Which endeavors you designate as core pursuits matters far less than that you have nominated them in the first place and regularly fostered them. Whether volunteering, singing in the choir, painting, traveling, taking college courses, playing tennis, or playing golf, these are core pursuits if they bring you happiness. Filling up your time with cherished habits sets you up for a fulfilling retirement.
To some folks, this is a no-brainer. Not because they’re loaded with a quiver full of core pursuits but because they’re under the impression that happy retirements are effortless. They assume the pesky career is the only obstacle between them and pure joy. This notion, my friends, is fool’s gold. A comfortable couch and free time will not get you across the happy retirement finish line. You have to have a purpose. You have to know what you want to do before you can enjoy doing it.
The research for my book, You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think, uncovered that happy retirees have an average of 3.6 core pursuits, while the unhappy lot has only 1.9. The difference between jubilant and melancholy is less than two core pursuits. That’s how critical each one is to the bottom line. No matter how far away you are from calling it a career, now is the time to build your arsenal!
Core Pursuits: Building Blocks
“I found out retirement means playing golf, or I don’t know what the hell it means. But to me, retirement means doing what you have fun doing,” said legendary actor Dick Van Dyke. I couldn’t agree more, and it’s not just because golf has developed into one of my core pursuits. I believe the most essential ingredient for a happy retirement is doing what sparks joy in your life.
Core pursuits are the building blocks for happiness during your post-career years. I get questions regularly about how to develop them. For someone who doesn’t already have a list, 3.6 can sound overwhelming. Folks wonder how to compile that many. I understand the angst. Determining what you will do for the next thirty years can be daunting.
To help, my team and I created our own Core Pursuit Finder. It quizzes you about preferences to narrow down your interests and generate suggestions. It did a pretty decent job of analyzing me—offering solid, logically concluded recommendations. It also served up some “off-the-wall” ideas in case I felt adventurous. Give it a try and see what comes your way!
As inspiration, allow me to share a story about my dad. In 2020, he retired after forty-three years of working as a veterinarian. He sent a letter to his clients, which is on point with our topic. In it, he wrote, “While stepping away from veterinary medicine is hard, as many of you know I have a few other interests that I look forward to pursuing (geology, Civil War medicine, fencing, leatherwork, fox hunting, trail riding, woodworking, sewing, time-traveling through historical reenacting (Civil War, Revolutionary, Pirate), music (guitar, singer-songwriter), art, cooking, cowboy poetry, and more! I also look forward to spending more time with our family (four grown children and eight growing grandchildren) and supporting my wife Anne’s interest and career in pottery and equine pursuits.”
I may be biased because he’s my dad, but I love this letter. It’s chock-full of exciting and outlandish core pursuits. Pirate reenactments?! He retired with a purposeful, clear picture of how he’d spend his newfound freedom. That’s what I want for all of you.
A few years ago, I surveyed forty of my coworkers, asking for the most memorable core pursuits they’d come across while working with our clients. It was a fun exercise, and we created quite a list.
Most of them fell into four categories. There was part-time work, like teaching, consulting, and decorating. Then there was exercise and health—hiking, biking, swimming, and walking. The arts were significant, with cooking, painting, and music making up a chunk of the list. And then there was adventure, such as travel, cruising, RVing, piloting, and sailing.
Take a look and see if you recognize anything from your life.
The truth is that no list will encompass everything because there are infinite possibilities. The only limitation is your creativity and openness to trying new things. Incidentally, that limitation is also the key ingredient.
Some hopeful retirees might read this and decide to try everything under the sun. There’s a great new show starring Eugene Levy called The Reluctant Traveler, where he travels the world doing things far outside his comfort zone. If it sounds appealing to take a sleigh ride to an Arctic TreeHouse Hotel for ice fishing, husky sledding, and vodka sipping, go for it! Or if you’d rather just start a book club in the comfort of your home, that counts, too!
The key is to find at least three or four core pursuits. Anything less just won’t cut it. I want you to be a happy retiree. Find a purpose and make it happen. As Mister Rogers once said, “Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” Take advantage of your new beginning!
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