Although most working stiffs imagine retired life to be heaven, “A life of incessant recreation and indolence is enough to drive any business entity like you or me mad after 3.5 years. And after you go mad you get old. And nobody who is old enjoys his retirement,” columnist Stanley Bing wrote in the June 23, 2006, issue of Forbes magazine. “No, in order to make your ostensibly golden years work for you, you have to pursue a strategic plan as rigorous as any you implemented when your hair was as full and bushy as your ambitions.”
While much literature in America focuses on the financial aspects of retirement, all the seniors interviewed for this article — seemingly happy and well adjusted — had secrets of their own to share for how to transition successfully to the next stage of life.
1. Plan Your NextMove Well
“Prior to your retirement, five years before the actual date, you should travel to places that might be your future retirement home,” said Earl Sharfman, who retired with his wife, Barbara, to Scottsdale, Ariz. “Before you buy you should rent and live in that community you’re planning to retire to. Living there for a while, you have the freedom to get up and move, and you have the advantage of living in the community that’s going to meet your future needs.”
The Sharfmans had intended to move to Florida, staying on the East Coast to be near their children. But after their daughter, Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman, moved to Arizona, they followed.
“I couldn’t imagine living in Florida now,” Barbara Sharfman said.
2. Keep Busy
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, 94-year-old Cera Gordon goes to aerobics. On Tuesdays, she has mahjongg, and on Thursdays and Saturdays, she goes dancing.
“I’m always the oldest person wherever I go,” she said.
Lorraine and Ira Kurtze are rather busy in Las Vegas, where they moved three years ago. There are the live shows — they get free tickets — dance clubs and an endless stream of visitors from the East Coast.
“I don’t know how I did it when I was working,” Lorraine Kurtze said. “Here I get up, I sit outside and have my coffee on the golf course [which is her backyard], go to the gym and then go out. I think the clue is to go places and meet people.”
The Kurtzes also travel often, visiting their son in California and daughter in New York.
“Everyone teases us we need a camper, not a house,” Lorraine Kurtze said.
3. Take Another Job
“The goal now is to be able to stop climbing the ladder and start making a difference, to trade money for meaning, to have the latitude to work on things that matter most,” Marc Freedman writes in the book, “Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life” (Public Affairs, 2008).
That’s what Palm Springs snowbird Rabbi Yaacov Rone does.
“I may be retired in the sense that I don’t go into work, but I do things that are very rewarding,” he said.
The Conservative rabbi, who worked as a congregational rabbi for 27 years and then was involved in organizational work, volunteers with State of Israel Bonds, the New York Board of Rabbis’ chaplaincy division, the Jewish National Fund and other projects — about 20 hours a week.
“Truthfully, to me retired means not having a 9-to-5 job or a fixed schedule,” Rone said. “It doesn’t mean sitting around and playing golf. It means being very active and giving back to the community.”
“Volunteering is a way to transition to retirement,” said Linda Zweig, coordinator of volunteer services at Jewish Family Service of the Desert in Palm Desert.
Zweig oversees 70 volunteers, healthy seniors ages 60 to 70. Her volunteers visit the elderly, lead Shabbat for them and build relationships.
“These are retired people who volunteer along with their mahjongg and their golf,” she said.
The relationships benefit both the volunteer and the visited.
“It’s for someone who wants to give back,” Zweig said. “It’s not for everyone.”
5. Put Yourself Out There
“I couldn’t stand being alone,” said Marge Gordon, whose husband died suddenly 11 years ago. “I had to put myself out there and be active and make friends.”
Gordon, a Midwesterner, lives in Sun City in Palm Desert, but as a Hadassah chair, she gets out a lot, including traveling often to visit her family in Northern California, Florida and China.
“People never know where to find me — I could be in China or in Florida,” she joked.
She knows many seniors who “climb in their shell,” but it doesn’t make them happy.
“I have one good friend,” Gordon said, “if I don’t drag her by the hair, she stays in all day.”
6. Don’t Count on Your Children for Happiness
“People miss their families,” said Helene Pine, family life education coordinator at Jewish Family Service of the Desert in Palm Desert, a Chicagoan who came to the desert after living in Los Angeles for 32 years. She lectures to retirees at Sun City about how to adjust to the change of retirement.
“They have this fantasy that they would see their children and grandchildren more if they were near them, but our children and grandchildren are busy with their own lives,” Pine said.
Her advice is to surround yourself with friends.
“Being with people,” Pine said, “is the most important ingredient in anything.”
7. Be With Your Partner
“You want to know the secret to a happy marriage?” Jean Palestine asked in a loud mock whisper. “I have two words for you: Ignore him.”
She’s kidding — sort of. Palestine has been happily married to Arnie for 59 years. The real secret to their happiness is mutual respect.
“Jean knows everything and everyone,” said Arnie Palestine, 86.
“Look at his art, he’s so talented,” said his 80-year-old wife, gesturing to the watercolors, oil paintings and sketches that fill up every wall of their two-bedroom condo — even a hand-painted mural outside.
“We don’t take pictures of our kids,” she added. “We love our kids, but I’d rather look at my husband’s artwork.”
8. Find New Love
Marge Gordon said she refuses to be part of the “casserole brigade” — the gaggle of older women who bombard senior bachelors. But she has a friend in Palm Desert who went on JDate shortly after her husband died.
“She met a rabbi from Portland, and they became an item,” Gordon said. The rabbi boyfriend was killed in an automobile accident, and the friend “went right back on JDate again.”
9. Take on New Challenges
“As continued engagement and purpose serve as a fitness program for the body and the brain, life expectancy likewise continues to climb,” Freedman writes in “Encore.” That’s why Pine, the therapist from Palm Springs, likes to take on a new challenge every year.
“I decided at the age of 50 I was going to learn something new every year,” she said.
When she turned 50, she learned how to swim. Over the years, she has learned computers, knitting, crocheting and, last year, they started round dancing.
“I like adding new energy into my life,” Pine said.
10. Stay Healthy and Fit
“To practice good health, you have to start way back,” said Earl Sharfman, a former U.S. Navy man who has the handshake and posture to prove it. “As we change we should change the manner in which we eat — the food we eat and the amount we eat.”
Exercise is key, of course, and it’s never too late to begin keeping in shape. Sharfman coaches high school wrestling in Scottsdale.
“The dinosaurs didn’t survive because they didn’t adapt,” he said. “We must learn to adapt” physically, emotionally and spiritually when transitioning into retirement.