Opinion: Why my retirement won’t include a ‘bucket list’

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I just turned 62. That’s the milestone age when so much of the magic—and the decision-making—of retirement begins to happen.

For the record, although I recently left the workforce early to pursue a long-simmering passion for writing, I won’t be starting Social Security payments early. Nor—unless something changes health-wise—do I intend to begin distributions from my IRAs any time soon. Before I go down those two routes, I plan to live off my taxable-account savings and minimal dividend income for as long as I can.

In the meantime, I’m busy pulling together my “challenge list” of things I want to experience and achieve in the years ahead. Note that I call this a challenge list, not a bucket list—a term I find horrid. Do we really want to be counting down a list of to-do items before we kick the bucket?

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Not me. I want to be stretched in the years ahead. I want to be learning new skills and plumbing unexplored parts of myself, as well as the world. I want to be doing things that demonstrate to me, and maybe to society as well, that age is nothing but a number. People shouldn’t limit what they try just because of the year they were born.

After all, we stretched ourselves in our working careers. Why should we stop now that we’re no longer clocking in? Research has consistently shown that seniors who engage in stimulating activities—ones that challenge their bodies and their brains—tend to stay sharp and vital longer.

Read: The millions you have saved for retirement aren’t worth much if you aren’t healthy enough to enjoy it

William Shatner just flew into space at age 90. My mother keeps herself mentally sharp at 89 by reading the paper every day and doing 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles.

My own challenge list is a mix of experiences, activities and goals that will push me in new directions, physically and mentally. I’ve already started to tick some items off the list.

The first challenge I set myself was a big one. On the first day of retirement, I hitched my 30-foot trailer to the back of my F-150, threw the dog in the back seat (she jumped in, actually), and set off on a month-long, cross-country adventure to Colorado.

Read: A couple who earns $220,000 a year with almost no debt thinks they never have enough — how can they see things differently?

It’s something I’d wanted to do since my middle son moved to Denver three-plus years ago to take a job after college. Since my girlfriend had to work, and none of my retired friends wanted to do something so crazy, I took the trip solo. And it was incredible.

There’s nothing like spending the whole month of September in Colorado to kick-start a new, creative phase of your life. The big skies. The rugged mountains. The broad vistas burning with the gold and reds of fall foliage. It all gives you a sense of life’s possibilities and our limitless human potential.

Will I do a cross-country RV trip solo again? Probably not. Driving home alone for 31 hours over 3½ days, with a three-ton travel trailer hooked to the back, isn’t easy.

But I did it. I met the challenge and came back charged up and feeling good about myself. I call it repassioning. First item on the challenge list—check. What else is on my list?

  • I want to write books, and hope to get a few of them published. My first nonfiction book, The Long Walk Home, will be published early next year by Blydyn Square Books.

  • I want to publish articles and blog posts like this one. And look here—I’m doing it.

  • I want to sharpen my photography skills.

  • I want to learn Canva or another design program so I can do my own graphics and visuals for my personal blog.

  • I want to do a road-biking trip through the French countryside and hike in the Scottish Highlands.

  • I want to go fly fishing in Canada and Argentina.

  • I want to get into yoga.

  • I want to keep jogging and get as much mileage as I can on this arthritic left hip of mine before I submit to getting a new one.

And on and on. My challenge list grows every week. I’ll never get to all of them, but that’s all right. The point is not so much accomplishing all these things as setting them out there and giving them a shot.

When it comes time for me to kick the bucket, I want to make sure it’s a big bucket I’m kicking. And that it has plenty of dents from all the places we’ve gone together.

This column first appeared on Humble Dollar. It was republished with permission.

James Kerr led global communications, public relations and social media for a number of Fortune 500 technology firms before leaving the corporate world to pursue his passion for writing and storytelling. His book, “The Long Walk Home: How I Lost My Job as a Corporate Remora Fish and Rediscovered My Life’s Purpose,” is forthcoming in early 2022 from Blydyn Square Books. Check out his blog at PeaceableMan.com. His previous article was Reclaiming My Life.

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