Retirement Is A Blank Sheet Of Paper

Patrick Foley, CFP

Author, Winning at Retirement

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Back in 2018 when we published the first edition of “Winning at Retirement”, one line from the book went viral and took on an internet life of its own: “Retirement is a blank sheet of paper. It is a chance to redesign your life into something new and different.” A website created a list of “72 Best Retirement Quotes”, and chose those words for the #1 slot.

From there, the quote really took off. I’ve found it on countless similar lists, on memes, and you can even buy it on stationary (shouldn’t I get a royalty for that?):

I use a saved Google search to keep me posted when the quote turns up somewhere. Easily the most fun example happened recently when I found my name listed just under Oprah’s on a list of 101 Retirement Quotes That Will Encourage You to Save.

Why has the quote taken off like this? The cynical answer would be that when a website sets out to build this kind of list they start by googling other lists, and they copy a lot of the same content.

But I also like to think it’s because the concept resonates with people. Retirement is an opportunity for reinvention. In our book, we talk about the fact that life tends to have certain natural turning points. Each time you age into a new school – grade school, middle school, high school and perhaps college – is an opportunity to take on a new persona of sorts. Marriage and career changes also represent reinvention, as does parenting.

But among all of these, retirement is perhaps the cleanest slate of all. The one hopefully least encumbered by obligation, and most characterized by freedom. Retirement, and I use the term in the sense of moving beyond one’s primary career as opposed to necessarily stopping work entirely, typically means a period of significant self-directed change.

Are you going to relocate to another part of the country or the world? Take on a new career, spend more time volunteering, travel, start a business, write a book, or spend more time with family? If you are leaving behind a 40-hour (or 60-hour) workweek, how are you going to fill that time?

It’s an exciting if potentially daunting question. Some people experience a form of writer’s block when they face the blank sheet of paper that is retirement. Some don’t bother to add much new to the page. I urge you not to follow that approach. Think broadly and without limitation, brainstorm, and take chances.

Use the opportunity for reinvention that is provided by retirement to write a whole new and exciting chapter of your life.

Benjamin Hotel
Benjamin Hotel


Patrick Foley, CFP

Patrick Foley, a Certified Financial Planner™ certificant with Baird, has been advising clients toward happy retirements for nearly 30 years.

With his partner Kristin Hillsley, Pat co-authored Winning at Retirement, and Winning at Retirement: First Responder Edition.

He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, two daughters, and their two crazy dogs.