We have all these fantasies when we are getting ready to leave work. The excitement. The fun. The joy of just doing what you want as it occurs to you. It is a bit like Disneyland when you dream of it.
But what happens when you actually live it? Well…
That’s like Disneyland, too–at least at the start. But it’s the reality of an actual trip to the Magic Kingdom in how things play out.
Yes, there’s Adventureland–all the exciting things you want to do that you’ve been waiting to experience. Yes, there’s Sleeping Beauty’s Castle–where you are special (if you book and pay for that experience). Yes, there’s Mickey’s Toon Town–where you can act like a kid and no one raises an eyebrow. Maybe you will even do the Star Wars stuff–or maybe you’ll pass because of the crowds (but on a mega cruise ship or in a busy city you’re visiting, not in Disneyland itself).
But there are two things about actually living your “Disneyland retirement” that are starkly different than the still-at-work fantasy: it wears you out, and it’s fake.
Anyone who has actually gone to Disneyland (or Disneyworld for that matter) knows the trip typically involves a lot of planning, a significant amount of expense, and days of nonstop effort to make sure that you’re having the maximum amount of fun. You fall into bed each night. You rub peppermint lotion on tired feet and aloe vera on sunburned arms at the end of the day to be ready for the next day. You eat anything you can find because finding it is more work than when your refrigerator is within arm’s reach. You walk and walk and walk and wait and wait and wait. You love it. You pull it off for three or four or five days.
Then the fantasy starts to wear thin. Do you really want another ride, even if it looks like the Matterhorn? Do you need anything else with Mickey Mouse ears on it, even if your five year-old granddaughter is begging for it like her life depended on it?
You start to notice this magical place is a business. You become aware of the “cast members” (staff), cleaning up trash and trying to keep order in the crowds. You are a customer. It’s not real magic. It’s a consumer enterprise. Buy your ticket and stand in line (literally!)
All this is fleeting with a real trip to Disneyland. It’s a short period of time, and it’s easy to dip back into the fantasy to have fun while you’re there. But in “Disneyland retirement” the timeline is a whole lot longer. There, you will eventually surrender to the fact that you need something more authentic–more substantial. Why?
A trip to Disneyland is a vacation. The idea is to step away from your normal identity for a short time for fun–to recharge. Then you go back to being the Real You. With actual retirement, trying to live as if you were an extended trip to Disneyland isn’t satisfying because you give up your real identity to do it. That’s why vacation doesn’t work as a full time, long term gig. Retirement needs to be custom fit and an honest reflection of who you really are. You need to build it out of the stuff that really makes a difference to you, not off-the-rack, one-size-fits-all adventures day in and day out.
The Real Deal still includes a lot of fun. It might be fishing with your grandson rather than riding around a fake lagoon on a fake paddlewheeler. It may be creating a garden instead of walking through one carefully maintained along the Grand Promenade. The genuine experience will last longer and resonate more deeply than the commercial version. It might not be as flashy as the theme park variety, but it will feel right for you. (Then again, it may be a wilder ride than anyone concocting the commercial version could have imagined.)
Don’t buy a ticket and wait in line. Customize what you decide to do from Day 1 of your retirement. It works a whole lot better if you make it your own.