Remember that TV show from the ’80s and ’90s: Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous?

Chances are your retirement won’t be like that. Mine isn’t. That’s not really surprising, because my working life wouldn’t have interested Robin Leach, the program's host either.

It’s strange how our society builds up these unattainable images of what a successful retirement looks like. According to a collage — a barrage, really — of images from a variety of marketers, today’s retirement is like:

  • Christmas morning, when you open gifts that are just what you always wanted
  • Your best birthday ever
  • Achieving inner peace while doing yoga
  • Achieving outer success while playing tennis or golf
  • Doing a bit of consulting, not because you need the money, but because it’s great fun and because that active and experienced brain of yours is in such great demand
  • Opening financial statements that confirm you’re really quite rich
  • Flying to Tahiti, or Paris, or Stockholm with your good-looking close friends
  • Getting up every day for the next 30-plus years and doing it all over again

Sorry, but that’s not a real picture of the retirement most people have, including mine. Instead, I think it shows a distorted view of what can be — and for most retirees, is — a beautiful and fulfilling life stage.

I’ve been fully retired for just over a year and my impressions of retirement’s early days are that it’s a period of stops and starts.

Things I’ve stopped since I retired:

  • Seeing myself as a human resource
  • Getting too little sleep
  • Eating unhealthy snack foods. (Well, “stopped” is perhaps too absolute a word; I’d describe it to a police officer as a rolling stop.)
  • Being deadline-driven

Things I’ve started since I retired:

  • Recognizing that our finances aren’t the biggest part of our happiness in retirement
  • Listening more to my wife, Anne Marie, and valuing her companionship more
  • Exercising regularly and eating healthier foods (thanks, Anne Marie)
  • Forgetting some aspects of my former work life
  • Redefining myself. During my school days, the school curriculum set my priorities for me. In my working days, my job description and my annual/quarterly performance goals were my priorities. In retirement, what are my priorities? That’s up to me to decide and I’m still working on the answer.
  • Figuring out how to make myself useful to the planet and the people on it
  • Finding it easier to resist retail temptation. (I ask myself: Would I rather have that gizmo at the hardware store or a nice meal out the next time we go on a trip?)

Looking back at my retirement party on Dec. 3, 2010, I’m glad that the cake read “Happy Retirement Dave,” instead of Robin Leach’s famous send-off: “Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams!” So far, I’ve found that every day of my retirement has been happy. And that’s in spite of the fact that there have been very few days spent consuming champagne, caviar or other people’s dreams.