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The View From Unretirement: Planning for retirement? Taking care of these 4 things can help you succeed

Now that I’ve plunged into unretirement at 65 — no longer working full time and instead freelancing, volunteering, mentoring, traveling a bit and taking better care of myself — I’m looking for advice about this new stage in my life and for tips to help others unretire.

Fortunately, I found two people with plenty of good ideas and just interviewed them via Zoom for this column.

They’re Ted Kaufman and Bruce Hiland, both 82, married and authors of “Retiring? Your Next Chapter Is About Much More than Money.” (Proceeds from the book are going to charity.)

Kaufman is a former senator from Delaware, Joe Biden’s former chief of staff back when the president was a senator and head of Biden’s presidential transition. He now splits his time between Vero Beach, Fla. and Wilmington, Del. Hiland is a former McKinsey management consultant and chief administrative officer for Time Inc.; he also lives part time in Vero Beach; the rest of the time, he’s in Middlebury, Vt.

Ted Kaufman (left) and Bruce Hiland

Photo courtesy of Bruce Hiland and Ted Kaufman.

Incidentally, Kaufman and Hiland — who met in grad school — have each retired more than once, as you’ll see. Here are highlights from our conversation about retirement and unretirement:

Richard Eisenberg: How did the book come about?

Ted Kaufman: Six or seven years ago, we were in Vero Beach. We spent time playing golf and drinking coffee and things like that. And there was one issue that kept coming up. And that was that a lot of our friends, we felt, were failing retirement. They had done an excellent job of figuring out their finances, but when it came to what they were going to do when they retired…

So, Bruce and I felt we should do something about this.

Richard Eisenberg: What do you mean by ‘failing retirement?’

Ted Kaufman: One of the first things you see in people that fail retirement is they fail to change the rhythm of their life. You have to change the rhythm of your life.

Richard Eisenberg: Bruce, how did you change the rhythm of your life in retirement?

Bruce Hiland: I changed the rhythm of my life the first time I tried to retire. I was in my late 50s, and I had been commuting from middle Vermont to New York City every other week, working for the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange until he retired.

Trying to change the rhythm of my life then was interesting because we bought a fun farm up in Vermont. So, I was able to stop doing all my brain work and do physical labor. That was a wonderful break.

It didn’t last too long, because the incoming [stock exchange] chairman called and said ‘Get your ass back down here.’

The second time, when I finally decided to really get out of New York, was after 2001. I moved into the Vermont culture and was able to do a lot of things that I wanted to do at the pace I wanted to do it. I was in charge of my time.

And then the third time when I finally did retire three years ago, it was a very, very smooth thing.

Richard Eisenberg: How busy are you both now?

Bruce Hiland: As busy as we want.

Ted Kaufman: Now, when I sit down to read the newspaper, I read the newspaper. When I go out to work in the yard, I take my time.

Richard Eisenberg: I think for a lot of people who’ve worked for decades, it’s easy for them to lose their identity and they start to wonder, ‘Who am I now?’

Ted Kaufman: That’s absolutely spot on. You have to realize that your identity and who you are is going to change.

Bruce Hiland: This is why we emphasized in the book that the changes we’re talking about dealing with are truly profound.

The financial planning is nice and clean; you have spreadsheets that show what you’ve done. But here we’re talking about people’s core makeup.

You’re going off on a new journey and your journey’s different from everybody else’s and it doesn’t lend itself to spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. When are you going to retire? What are you going to do when you retire? Where are you going to live? How are you going to live? That’s serious stuff.

Read: Not sure where you want to live in retirement? Check out MarketWatch’s personalized tool

Richard Eisenberg: For a lot of people, it’s not only a new journey, they don’t have a map to find how to get there. Right?

Bruce Hiland: Exactly, I can recall going into bookshops and 90% of the books about retirement were either completely about money or largely about money.

Richard Eisenberg: Speaking of the nonfinancial parts of retirement, you write about four things retirees need to take care of. One is to take care of your body, which is obvious. But the others aren’t so obvious.

Bruce Hiland: Take care of your brain, take care of your heart and take care of your soul.

Ted Kaufman: Those four things are the key to whether you’re going to be successful.

Richard Eisenberg: How should people take care of their brains?

Ted Kaufman: Sudoko, crossword puzzles, anything that keeps you from watching TV.

Richard Eisenberg: What exactly do you mean by ‘take care of your heart?’

Bruce Hiland: Most people are going to jump to the physical assumption. What we’re talking about is the kind of heart that beats faster when one of your grandkids graduates from college and when you see a friend you haven’t seen for a long time. And so it’s focusing on relationships. Some of your relationships may need some work.

Ted Kaufman: As you get older and start losing friends, the socialization thing becomes an even more important part of a successful plan for retirement.

Bruce Hiland: You’ve not only got the challenge of making up for the good friends you’ve lost, you’ve got to find new ones and stay in touch with younger people.

In the book, one of the rules a retiree we interviewed had was: Keep in touch with young people. That makes a big difference for satisfaction, and just simply being aware of the world.

Richard Eisenberg: And what about taking care of your soul?

Ted Kaufman: The soul was really kind of hard to get our hands around. We’re not telling people that they have to go to church or any of that.

Spending some time reading a spiritual book or going to a service or listening to a sermon — I just can feel it in my body.

Richard Eisenberg: Is finding meaning and purpose and volunteering part of taking care of your heart and your soul?

Bruce Hiland: Yes. A few years ago, I began working with dramatically underprivileged fifth-graders, going to two fifth- grade classes once a week, The sense of meaning that I got out of it was just remarkable. It was frosting on my already rich cake.

Richard Eisenberg: One of the hardest things I’ve found in unretirement has been figuring out a schedule. What’s your advice on that?

Ted Kaufman: One of the best ways to keep your eye on the ball is to take a really hard look at your schedule. You can sit down and look at your schedule for the last week and ask yourself: ‘What did I do for my body?’

If you pick up your schedule and haven’t worked out in three weeks, you can’t say to yourself you’re taking care of your body, right?

I think the schedule is kind of the best way to see how you’re doing in retirement.

Richard Eisenberg: You wrote in the book that, in retirement, you took flying lessons and tried painting, but the painting didn’t go so well. Can you talk about those things?

Bruce Hiland: I was successful at flying lessons and markedly unsuccessful at drawing lessons.

The flying lessons came in my second try at retirement. It was to have a skill that took total control of every sense you have.

Richard Eisenberg: What happened to painting?

Bruce Hiland: I went to one series of lessons here in Vero Beach at the art museum the first year. The second year, I went back and it was the same instructor, and I could see the look on his face. I took him aside and I said ‘I can’t tell you how gracious you’ve been, but I can’t do it. It’s not in my genes.’

Richard Eisenberg: How would you grade yourselves on how you’re doing in retirement?

Bruce Hiland: I’d say B+. My instincts are still there for rushing around.

Ted Kaufman: I think I’m doing pretty well.

Readers: If you have thoughts, concerns or questions about unretirement or want to tell me about your experience, I’d love to hear from you. I suspect what I hear will lead to future topics for this column. Please email me.

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