For more than 20 years you've been double-timing uphill in the mud, literally and figuratively. Military life has been an all-consuming, challenging, and often grueling career. Now the drill instructor will command halt and order "As you were," and you must resume your former activities as a civilian.
Retirement means you lose structure, status, and a well-defined role. Further, the lack of family separations, which so often disrupted your life, places different demands on your relationships. On a brighter note, the Surgeon General points out that as the external demands on your time lessen, you can engage in new occupational, social, and recreational activities. With an average age of 42, military retirees are primed for these liberating new experiences.
As you disengage from the service, think about what experiences and career aspects were the most satisfying. Target activities that will satisfy you in a similar way. Include pastimes that offer variety, physical, intellectual, and creative outlets and balance opportunities for social contact with private time.
The need for supplemental income and a pursuit that provides challenges and structure may lead you to a second career. Your installation transition assistance office can help with all your job-hunting needs. For pay with a higher purpose, participate in a program such as AmeriCorps or local politics; appointed and elected positions are available at all levels of government.
For a higher purpose without pay, volunteer work offers opportunities to make life better for others and can be tailored to your availability, interests, and capabilities. Check with local hospitals, schools, libraries, churches, and parks and recreation departments for ways to serve your community. Many national organizations have local chapters, including the American Red Cross, Volunteers of America, Volunteer Talent Bank of the AARP, the YMCA, and YWCA.
Learn something you've always wanted to, or finish that degree that's been shelved due to back-to-back deployments. Colleges, libraries, and even some high schools sponsor seminars and lectures, and usually have modest fees for retirees. Combine learning and travel through Elderhostel, which provides room, board, courses, and tours for up to two weeks throughout the world.
Traveling can accommodate any income. Take your own car or RV, or a bus, train, boat, ship, or plane. Go as close as a nearby lake or travel overseas. Travel with family, friends, or tour groups.
For an inexpensive and interesting twist, try a home-swapping vacation. If you traveled frequently on active duty, it'll be important to take occasional trips without your spouse. Many vacation facilities are available through MWR. AARP and AAA offer their members special packages and discount rates.
Exercise and Health
Let your feet do the traveling for an activity well suited to the military retiree. Sports and exercise were an important part of your active-duty routine and you should continue in retirement. Without exercise, you can become depressed and irritable, and of course overweight; plus, you might find it hard to sleep at night. Be sure to keep going to the doctor regularly, too.
Hobbies fall into four categories — studying things, collecting things, making things, and doing things. Usually just sideline activities for relaxation, hobbies often turn into expensive, obsessive-compulsive, time-gobbling monsters.
To avoid the monster pitfall, start small and just dabble in something that interests you. Borrow or rent equipment and buy only necessary basic materials. Then, if you decide to pursue something else, you aren't heavily invested and your family won't threaten to disown you for spending every waking hour in your workshop.
Or a hobby can just grow naturally … if you like working with your hands, you might enjoy raising exotic plants, doing carpentry, electronics, or boat-building. If you enjoy communicating, you might get into video, writing, or performing. These activities might stay hobbies, or they can turn into an enjoyable and lucrative second career.
Reconnect With Family and Friends
Throughout your career, deployments and temporary duty kept you away for months at a time. Now you can spend quality time with those you love and have left behind so many times. Participate in their interests; let your life revolve around theirs.
Retired Marine Corps Colonel Drake Trumpe explains that he didn't fully appreciate his wife until he had time to focus on their relationship.
"I was very focused on my career and took for granted what I had at home," he says. "When I retired, I realized I'd been living with my best friend for all those years and didn't know it. Now our life is focused on the two of us … we bike and play golf and tennis together. Joyce and I do everything together. It's the best thing that ever happened to us."
Retirement can be the best thing that ever happened to you, too. Savor the freedom from the rigidity and difficulty of military life and the opportunity to grow as a person, and enjoy new and different experiences. But don't allow a life of unrelieved leisure to become endless hours of TV viewing interrupted only by the occasional trip to the refrigerator.With a little self-examination, creativity, and planning, your retirement can be even more fulfilling than your illustrious military career.