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Interview: Mapping Your Retirement: New Options


Mahara Sinclaire

Mahara Sinclaire

People turning 60 today are entering a new stage of life, which could last 20 to 30 years.

"They finally have time to go after their dreams," says Mahara Sinclaire. "They’re starting a 30-year grand finale of really living."

Sinclaire is the author of The Laughing Boomer, an uplifting, practical guide to post-retirement life. The former Vancouver educator speaks from experience; she sold her Vancouver home in 2008, put her furniture in storage and set off to see the world. Since then, Sinclaire and her partner have visited 43 countries, including much of Latin and North America, India, China, Morocco, Europe and Australia.

Her self-published book is available through Amazon and The Laughing Boomer website.

AHB reached Mahara Sinclaire in Cusco, Peru.

Ruth Dempsey: You stress the importance of retirement planning. So how far ahead did you start?

Mahara Sinclaire: I retired when I was 58. It was more a function of when my husband would retire because he was 70, and I could see that he would probably work forever if we didn’t stop. So, we made the decision about six or eight months ahead of time. In the end, it took about six months of active, aggressive downsizing to wind things up.

RD: According to one study, 54 per cent of Canadian boomers plan to keep working at least part-time after retirement.

MS: I am still working. But, of course, I’m self-employed. So, I fit my work into my other activities. As I point out in my book, if people have great careers and interesting work lives, why would they quit?

Boomers say they want to continue working – but on their terms. Some try to sculpt the day-to-day activities of the job to provide more meaning. Others take longer vacations or reduce their working hours. Others become entrepreneurs, stretching their previous work life into short-term contracts or special assignments. There are plenty of grey-haired digital nomads out there – we have met dozens.

RD: You say people’s interests and goals become the nub of their retirement activities. This requires work.

MS: That’s why I wrote the book. I am especially interested in reaching 50-somethings. This is the period when retirement starts lapping at the edges of consciousness. As you say, it takes time to:

  • get in shape;
  • try out different activities; and
  • to reconnect with youthful endeavors.

RD: You devote an entire chapter to home and stuff. Any tips?

MS: Yes, two bits of advice. First, it’s important to ask people what they want from their lives. And secondly, I encourage them to develop a timeline to get some things accomplished.

So often, I’ve observed, people know what they want but they fail to get it because "life" gets in the way. "When I get my house sorted" is their song. People need to be away from their stuff to find out just how unimportant it is.

On a practical level, it is better to move sooner than later. I know a woman in her 70s whose husband died recently. She must now sort through the contents of a very large house. She keeps putting it off, and I suspect it will never be done.

RD: In the book, you describe a vibrant post-working life . . .

MS: Why not? Just because a person has stopped working doesn’t mean they become less passionate about life. Many retired people complain they can’t find the time to do all the things they want to do.

The big difference is choice. They no longer have to do jobs they dislike, and they are free to use their time, as they wish.

True, some people become bored and go back to work, and we’ve heard of others who are lonely and some who die soon after retirement. It comes back to the individual: it is a matter of choice and personal responsibility.

And, yes, it may be harder to meet people after retirement. So, a person who wants to make new friends will have to organize their life to make it happen.

This is one reason I advocate retiring sooner rather than later. People can get a new lifestyle in place while they still have the energy to pull it off.

RD: So what are some highlights of your travel?

MS: Of course, it’s been very satisfying to visit major centres like Paris, the Taj Mahal, the pyramids, Petra in Jordan, the Galapagos and the Amazon.

The people have been amazing. We have developed long-term relationships with individuals from all over the world and all walks of life.

As well, we have learned about the various cultures. We have become keenly aware of how culture, time and place, political structures and world events shape people’s lives. Indeed, we feel profoundly lucky to have been born in Canada and to have had the benefits of a stable democracy and a good education. Even our neighbours to the south have not been nearly so lucky.

Watching the evening news has become a fascinating activity. We are able to relate to the lives of so many more people now.

RD: Traveling can be exhilarating, but tiring, too . . .
bookcover-the laughing boomer
MS: We take it easy between countries. We rent apartments, where we can cook our own breakfast. That way, we don’t have to go out all the time, and we can just relax.

We don’t rush through countries. We stay long periods of time in one place. We also balance longer periods in low-cost countries with shorter more intense periods in expensive countries. For example, we spent over a year in South America.

That said, we have been surprised by how much we like traveling. There are so many more countries we want to visit. It’s also been thrilling to encounter thousands of young people traveling the world – what a great experience for them.

RD: What about costs? In the book, you reel off stories of fellow travelers who managed on very reasonable sums . . .

MS: Long-term travelers don’t plan to stay in vacation resorts, five-star hotels or eat in fancy restaurants every night. Of course, we have done all that, but that’s a fantasy world.

It’s great, if you are exhausted and need a two-week all-inclusive to recharge your batteries.

Also, these experiences may not help you understand a new people and its culture.

Most of the time, I plan a few months in advance. I look for inexpensive cruises, two and three-star hotels near city centres and apartment rentals. With some of the smaller places, we just play it by ear.

People need to know how to find good travel information on the Internet. In 2009, we were lucky to take advantage of phenomenal cruise opportunities. For example, we paid $400 each for a two-week cruise from Lisbon to Sao Paulo, and we paid $529 each for a two-week cruise around New Zealand. We also bought round-the-world tickets, which are a phenomenal bargain.

RD: Arthur Frank (AHB, September/October 2006) says the question middle-aged people need to imagine being responsible for when they are older is: "What have you created out of your own imagination and commitment?"

MS: That’s it, exactly. People are motivated by the desire for autonomy and mastery, as well as the quest to be part of something bigger than themselves. So, imagine a 30-year grand finale! You have time to:

  • launch a new career;
  • learn several languages;
  • develop a musical talent;
  • explore a fascinating new field; and
  • even become an expert.

You can get a university degree, join a choir, travel the world or take up skateboarding or roller-skating.

For some, helping a worthy cause is what fires the soul. Canadians are building schools in impoverished communities around the globe. They are launching scholarships and funding arts projects for inner-city students. Others are using their financial smarts to help countries redesign their pension plans. I explore a host of volunteer opportunities in my book.

The essential is to make some decisions now, while you still have time, and to go out and live your life. I say: be a "go-go", not a "no-go!"