Next Avenue: How do you keep busy in retirement? Here’s a to-do list for your first day

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You’re standing alone on the edge of a cliff, staring off into a vast unknown. Is this you, thinking about retirement?

Or as one man told me during my research into the new retirement: “So I wake up in the morning, go to the fitness club and have coffee at Starbucks while I check my email. It’s 9 a.m. Now what?”

Financially, he could retire. But he’s still working, in part because he likes it, but partly because he’s scared to death.

And he’s not alone.

If you’ve reached 65, the odds (depending on your gender and marital state) can be close to 1 in 10 that you’ll make it to 100. So, if luck and good health are with you, you’ve got a chance of having maybe at least three good decades ahead after you leave your full-time job.

Demographically, we’ve never been here before. This is totally uncharted territory. No guidebooks, and not a lot of role models either. We’re all pioneers.

My Harvard M.B.A. helped me in my business career, but it didn’t tell me about this. So, I’ve been interviewing some 500 men and women, writing and holding workshops, all trying to answer one key question: How do people actually do this new retirement?

The 3 C’s of retirement

Based on what I’ve found out, let me suggest a plan for Day One of retirement:

It’s about the 3 C’s.

Clean out your closet

Really. Now this can be your actual closet(s), or your home office or your garage. The point, Marie Kondo notwithstanding, is to give you something useful to do.

But, of course, it’s not just the physical act of cleaning out these spaces that’s helpful. It’s about the virtual act of making space, clearing out old stuff and giving you a more literal clean slate for building your new life.

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I don’t need to tell you that retirement is one huge transition, especially if — for years, or maybe as long as you can remember — you’ve been used to the structure of worklife and the social environment of the workplace. So, mark the transition physically by tossing out the old stuff. That way, you can make both mental and physical space for the new.

Start to cultivate your curiosity

Now’s the time to explore.

That might be looking into taking online courses or classes at a nearby college — extension courses, continuing education programs and opportunities to audit classes. You could also visit your community’s website to see what recreation and educational programs are offered locally.

Try googling “lifelong learning near me.” You may be amazed at what your search turns up.

If you’re up for brand-name online learning from top institutions, check out the 2,500+ free classes on the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). Or hang out with the experts on cooking, magic, poker, screenwriting and more at ($15 a month).

Or sign up for yoga or Tai chi at the community center.

Or take a hobby for a test drive. You could go to the Apple Store and learn how to edit your photos. Enroll in a painting class, try ceramics, learn glassblowing …. You’re not making a lifetime commitment here. Maybe you were meant to be a wood carver, maybe not. See what takes hold.

Or volunteer by seeing what’s up on, a nonprofit portal listing over 100,000 volunteering opportunities in nearly 100 U.S. cities.

Or plan to visit exotic places you’ve always wanted to see.

Also see: Why having a bucket list can be a big mistake

If you want to combine travel and volunteering, check out a website like, from the world’s largest voluntourism community.

This could be the time to begin reviving your passions. Think back to what you loved as a kid, the dreams you had before you had a mortgage and school tuitions. Join a model railroad club. Dust off the clarinet you’ve kept on the top shelf all these years. Sit down to start writing the novel you once began.

While you’re indulging your curiosity, here’s the third C: Coast 

In other words, on Day One of retirement, talk yourself into taking your time to figure out where life will take you.

Enjoy your newfound freedom and don’t expect to create your new life plan overnight.

Many people take a couple of years — enjoyable years — to get in touch with distant family, spend more time with friends, get back in physical shape, join book clubs or religious groups or political groups. What’s the hurry?

This is your chance to discover, and uncover, the authentic you. Said one woman I interviewed about the retirement she and her husband have begun: “We’re finally living the life we want to lead.”

The word retire comes from the French: “to withdraw,” “to pull back.” Yikes. No wonder we find the idea of retiring uncomfortable.

It’s not about pulling back, it’s about jumping in with both feet. Or, to change the image, about taking wing and soaring off that cliff.

Creating a new life is exhilarating and it’s an opportunity most of us never thought we’d get.

Sure it’s a change of mind-set. Sure, it’s about crafting a new identity. It’s a time to reinvent, to redefine who you really are…to refocus on what you think is really meaningful.

So, when you come back home from the farewell party at the office, prepare for the luxury of sleeping in and then get up to start your next chapter — you’ve got a plan for Day One.

Connie Baher is a writer and lecturer on reimagining retirement, and a sought-after career transition specialist. Author of “The Case of the Kickass Retirement,” she has written for the Boston Globe, the New York Times and other print and online media. She is a Harvard M.B.A., an entrepreneur and a former tech executive.

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