Advice was plentiful.
Travel, said some of your neighbors. Volunteer, said others.
Most readers who responded to LifeTimes' October request on how to have a rewarding retirement said, in so many words, "Don't retire. At least, not in the traditional sense, as in withdrawing from the world."
Instead, these retirees said, "Stay engaged. Feel needed. Useful. Productive."
They also warned about the importance of maintaining good health and healthy finances.
Most spoke of a yearning to continue "making a difference."
• • •
Gail Olson — whose e-mail moniker is scubaroller because of her love for scuba diving and roller skating — had time to plan, financially and otherwise, before she retired, seven years ago.
She says she never looked back and is thoroughly enjoying this phase of her life.
Olson, 72, threw herself into retirement as if it were a precursor to the zip-line ride she took last year while visiting Roatan, an island off Honduras. That ride sent her speeding down a mountain, suspended from a cable.
In her interview with LifeTimes, this mother of three and grandmother of two suggested combining travel and volunteerism.
The Massachusetts native retired after 17 years as a video technician at WTSP-Ch. 10. But she began to intensify her saving and financial planning about six years before retirement. And during the last year of her working life, Olson started a list of things she wanted to do when she retired.
She ended up with financial freedom and a page full of notes.
Since retiring, Olson said, she has checked off most of the to-do items. Travel and physical activity fill up much of her time: In addition to zip-lining on Roatan, she has snorkeled off Grand Cayman Island, tubed through underground caverns in Belize and gone helmet diving in Cozumel. She roller skates regularly.
She also volunteered at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for four years.
Olson chose a retirement community, Top of the World in Clearwater, precisely for its activities and amenities.
"The swimming pools are great here, although I couldn't get enough people interested in forming a synchronized swim team."
• • •
Aaron Smith's retirement is far less active than Olson's, but no less exciting if you factor in his passion for presidential politics. Smith is one of the founders of the Tampa Bay O-Train, a group supporting Sen. Barack Obama, and is on its speakers bureau.
Smith, 71, says he has always been engaged in the community.
A professor in the School of Social Work at the University of South Florida, Smith retired in 2007 but still does research and writing. He also continues to participate in many of the organizations he has been involved with, such as the Friends of the Library in Hillsborough County.
But for a time after he retired, Smith said, he found it hard to say, "No."
"The first few months I got jockeyed into doing things I didn't really want to do," he said.
Then this divorced father of two and grandfather of six put on the brakes and now carefully prioritizes time and energy.
His advice to others: "Put 'No' in your vocabulary and don't feel bad about it."
But Smith also said it's important to have a passion for something.
A former social worker with years of teaching and clinical experience, he emphasized how important it is to be engaged in — or at least to be cultivating — a passionate pursuit, whether it's politics, mentoring a child, scuba diving, writing or playing golf.
Sustaining such a special concern can be a major source of inspiration, Smith said.
But, he continued, passion doesn't always occur spontaneously: "You have to seek it out."
His work in politics, for instance, makes it easy to get up in the morning, Smith said.
The Tampa resident added: "I haven't had time to twiddle my thumbs."
• • •
Neither has Judy Mancuso.
But much of her focus during the first 18 months of retirement was on stuff that was in no way inspiring.
Mancuso, 62, retired from a high-pressure executive position at GE in Chicago, supervising five managers and 60 customer-service representatives.
She says she decided to "get off the roller coaster and do all the things I never had time for: reading those books, watching those movies, writing those stories, visiting those places and smelling those roses."
The house she bought in a gated community in St. Petersburg, however, had serious structural flaws that weren't discovered until after the purchase was final. So Mancuso, a self-proclaimed workaholic, said she spent a lot of unplanned-for time — and money — on major repairs and the redecorating of her new home.
During that process, the widowed mother of two and grandmother of one suffered a knee injury that required surgery and months of rehabilitation.
"So far, retirement was highlighted by daily stress, recuperating from surgery, wanton spending and a major hit to my nest egg," Mancuso said.
She said she still hasn't managed to control her budget.
But she has traveled with her adult sons and visited friends in many parts of the country.
And she started to mentor a teenager. Then Mancuso joined the Tampa Writers Alliance — and won a first place in the group's nonfiction contest.
Along the way, she volunteered to analyze the roofing bills for her community association.
For Manusco, it seems, there's always another project to take on that encroaches on her desire for spiritual enrichment and to do something that matters.
"I have a burning desire to do something that will make a difference," she said, "and honor the blessings that I have received throughout my life. I just don't seem to find the time to explore various avenues.
"I am very good at making work for myself."
And, she admitted, procrastinating and failing to prioritize her interests.
She has spent more time with friends and family, which pleases her. But Mancuso said she still hasn't read those books, watched those movies or smelled many of those roses.
"I'm thinking I may have to take a job — to get out of the rat race of trying to do everything else I want to do besides working."
• • •
Tim MacAvoy would love to have a job.
He was one of the few readers responding who were like me when I wrote that October column: unfocused, struggling to adjust, without passion or the kind of purpose that comes with preretirement employment.
The time of his retirement, like mine, was not of his choosing.
MacAvoy, now 65, said that his job as a senior systems analyst for an employment benefit company was outsourced to India about two years ago.
At first, he looked for work in his field, but found none. He suspects it was because of his age.
He ended up for a while as a part-time delivery driver for a small company. It didn't pay much, but it was some money coming in.
MacAvoy, who lives in Palm Harbor, has a 401(k) but no company pension.
"My greatest fear," he says, "is that I'll run out of money before I die."
Father of two and grandfather of two, MacAvoy related that a bonus of his full-time job was that he got out and about, got to socialize with people.
That job offered a reason to get up in the morning, he said, but now: "I don't have a passion for anything. I don't golf or fish."
So he is looking for another job, as is his wife, Pat.
Her dinner-preparation business closed about the same time his delivery job came to an end.
"We're flexible. Dependable. Motivated," MacAvoy said with a chuckle. "We want to keep busy."
Retired newspaper columnist Judy Hill lives in St. Petersburg.