Times have changed. Few people today think of retirement as being “put out to pasture.” After all, day after day of hitting the golf course probably would get old very quickly. That’s why most people think of retirement as a chance to begin a new chapter in their lives.

In a USA Today article, gerontologist Ken Dychtwald, the CEO of a research think tank on aging issues, says about half of the retirees today are very dissatisfied with a life of leisure 24/7.

Sure, retirement can offer the life you think you have always wanted. You can take it easy. You can travel. You can explore a brand-new career. A key to happiness is finding something to do that is both challenging and something you will enjoy doing for the long haul.

The reason for that is, according to Social Security Administration projections, baby boomers born in 1946 can expect to spend an average of 18 years in retirement if they are male, and 20 years if they are female. That would be a long time to sit back in a rocking chair.

Explore Your Options in Retirement

In their book What Color Is Your Parachute? For Retirement: Planning Now for the Life You Want, authors Richard N. Bolles and John E. Nelson suggest you ask yourself three very important questions:

What do you really want to learn about, or how have you dreamed of developing yourself? If you were determined to work at something that you absolutely love, what might that be? What have you wanted to do, just for the sheer pleasure of it?

Don’t be one of those people who stay on the job or in the same career niche just because they have no idea what they would do if they were not working. Look for a path that provides both pleasure and meaning for your life after retirement. Most important, look for something that weeds out stress and the obligations you don’t enjoy.

Be honest with yourself. Keep in mind that who you were on the job is not who you are now. That means you are not restricted by past accomplishments or job titles. Determine how you can combine your skills and interests into new work that is rewarding.

Remain in the Workforce

For many, leaving a lifetime of employment and immediately stepping into new work is not a good idea. Chris Farrell is a senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace. In his book Unretirement, Farrell concludes most people need to take a break from their careers before delving into a second act. They need to retire before they can unretire. He believes most people need time from work to figure out what the next stage of life should be.

Most important, decide what you want your life to look like after you retire. For most it is not that daily grind of the early morning alarm clock, rush hour traffic and the tension-filled day at the office. Consider career downshifting, part-time work or self-employment. For some, consulting can offer satisfaction without the demands of a full-time career.

Sure, you can and you should use the skills and knowledge you’ve developed over a lifetime, but “reinvention” gives you permission to strike out into new fields and new challenges during your “second act.” Decide how you can combine those proven skills and interests you’ve developed into work that is rewarding.

How would you like to spend retirement? What might be a challenge but would make you happy? What do you think you would miss most from what you do today and what will you be thrilled to never have to do again? Please share in the comments.

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