Impressions from retirement: Three years later and still looking forward

by Michael A. Harper, FAICP, Reno, NV

When I retired in May 2009 after a 32-year career as a professional planner, I authored an article on my immediate impressions of retirement in the December 2009 issue of The Western Planner (WP).  Recently, some of my colleagues on the WP Board have urged me to update my retirement experiences.  There are, of course, some new lessons learned after this period of retirement.


Ready for retirement

I was ready in 2009 for retirement and I’m still glad I made the decision to do so.  There is nothing like having so much more freedom to arrange your daily life and the future than what retirement provides.  My wife and I now indulge in more travel because I don’t have to arrange my time away from the office around appointed and elected body meetings as well as the myriad responsibilities of being a manager (budget season, for example).  I have time to expand my interests beyond the daily office routine (I received many books on different subjects at my retirement event that peaked interests that I didn’t realize I had).  I have time to work on projects around the house (the infamous “Honey Do” list) and not be pressured to complete them over a weekend or during a scheduled vacation. 

Be prepared for some significant adjustments 

Notwithstanding how much I knew I would be receiving after retirement, it was still a shock to actually see it in my bank account.  My wife and I successfully made the transition, but did have to dip into some savings during that adjustment.  If I knew then what I know now, I would have started before my retirement date, living on my anticipated monthly retirement stipend. It took awhile to get used to the once-a-month retirement check after having budgeted and paid bills on an every-other-week pay schedule for over 30 years.  To better address this new reality, I developed a spreadsheet that allowed me to estimate monthly obligations.  In addition, I opened a savings account where I deposit funds for anticipated less than monthly obligations (quarterly home owners fees, quarterly and annual taxes, auto registration, etc.).  
My wife and I quickly realized after retirement that we didn’t necessarily need some of the things we had been paying for when I was making more money.  We became a one car family, dropped annual contracts for cellular phones and only buy time we anticipate needing, do a lot of coupon clipping, and stayed away from long-term contracts for phone and internet to name a few of the readjustments made over the past three years.

Develop routines 

As much as I like the ability of not sticking to an office routine, I quickly found out that if I didn’t establish some type of daily routine when I’m home I felt a lack of accomplishment.  That doesn’t mean I set an alarm clock each morning, but I was surprised how often I still wake up early Monday through Friday. I guess that you can’t take the office routine out of the man/woman even if you take that person out of the office!  I liberally use a ‘to-do’ list to establish some type of accomplishment each week.

Stay involved and contribute

One of the really great things about retirement is my ability to stay involved with the professional organizations which I belonged to before my retirement.  I am now an officer in four professional planning organizations and a member of a local non-governmental organization’s board.  In addition, I’ve been offered the wonderful opportunity of presenting an annual ethics session at the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute’s conference with my colleague, Katie Guthrie, AICP; visited two university planning degree programs as a member of a site visitation team for the Planning Accreditation Board; and presented at two workshops conducted by the U.S. Forest Service.  I have been collaborating on a series of articles with a former student of mine on the state of planning education in Nevada.  The downside is that some of this involvement has been on my dime which does require careful selection of and budgeting for conferences.

Be prepared for changing relationships

One of my laments in the original article was that I would miss the frequent contact with valued local colleagues.  Sadly, this has come to pass.  It’s not really anyone’s fault.  I don’t have the opportunities to see them as often, and my interest in planning has waned somewhat though my interest as a citizen in our government has actually increased.  When I do get together with my colleagues who have stayed in touch, our conversation tends to focus on out-of-the-office family or personal news.  I have been pleasantly surprised, though, that my opinions are actually requested on occasion.  Nevertheless, I have come to accept that I am no longer involved with the issues and politics that my working colleagues must deal with each day they go to work.  This means that there can be a feeling of being outside looking in.  However, I have been grateful that when I visit colleagues for their welcoming attitude by them and at least, I think, a passing admiration that someone they know has successfully retired.

Final thoughts

In the past three years, I have discovered that my interest in planning has lessened.  I still find it a fascinating and worthwhile professional endeavor, but my interest in being completely up-to-date with the latest professional planning initiatives is not as great.  On the other hand, I still take a keen interest in seeing how planning can benefit our communities and ways of life.  I’ve come to better appreciate how planning is a valuable integral part of promoting a better society.  It’s a melding of still being a person who worked in the planning trenches and a citizen who desires his government to use planning to its fullest beneficial potential.


Michael A. Harper, FAICP, retired in 2009 after a 32-year career as a planning administrator. He serves on the Western Planning Resources Board.

Published in the October/November 2012 The Western Planner

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