The Retirement Comfort Zone

Originally posted on April 1, 2014

Many readers of this humble blog about retiring to Thailand are currently mulling over some basic questions: “When should I retire?”, “Do I have enough to retire?”, “Should I consider retiring abroad?”, “Could Thailand be that place?” All the answers they are looking for about retirement can be summed up by answering one simple question:  “What is my comfort zone?” The question is simple, the answer may not be.

Comfort Zone: a place or situation where one feels safe or at ease and without stress.

We all have lots of comfort zones. If you have an unlimited amount of money then you would always be in your financial comfort zone. If your cash is limited, say you are on a pension or Social Security, then your comfort zone would be determined by your lifestyle. Used to living lavishly? Opps, out of the zone. Have always lived frugally? More chance of being in the zone.

Hyperactive? Uncomfortable being idle and not under pressure? A sedentary retired life would put you out of the retirement comfort zone. Happy having lots of free time and lots of ideas about how to spend it? You’re probably out of the zone if you are now holding a 9 to 5 job, but retiring would put you in it.

Have you traveled much? Seen and enjoyed the different cultures you have encountered in those travels? Then you would have a better chance of feeling “safe or at ease” in the retiring abroad comfort zone. Been mostly a stay-at-home person with limited overseas travels? Living abroad may be more stressful than you can manage unless you can adapt.

Just because we aren’t presently in one of these zones doesn’t mean that we can’t adapt. The most successful of us are the ones who have adapted to the different situations we have been faced with.

Just yesterday a visitor to our house went into the bathroom and we all heard a loud screech. She came running out, face drained white. “I just saw the hugest spider I have ever seen in my life. It was terrible.” she said pointing back at the bathroom door as if the zombies from The Walking Dead were going to come out. “Oh, that big guy.”, I said. “Yes, we leave him alone. He catches all those giant flying roaches. He’s a friend.” I just about had to run and catch her from fainting right there.

You see, I reacted to my first hand-sized Thai spider in almost the same way. But now I have adapted and old “spidey” is well within my comfort zone. My guest has a little ways to go yet.

Living here in Thailand can have many challenges. I’ll throw a few situations your way here for you to see if they fall within your comfort zone or not, and if they don’t, would you be flexible enough to adapt to them

  • Right now it is 101F (38C) and the weather report says it will be the same for the next 10 days
  • I just drank a lemonade that had at least a teaspoon full of salt in it.
  • I was making a left turn this morning and just as I got to the corner a motorcycle zoomed right past me on my left cutting me off and causing me to brake hard.
  • I forgot to tell the waitress at lunch to not put any chilies in my papaya salad. When I tasted it it was so hot I thought I was having a seizure and came one digit short of dialing “191” (the Thai equivalent to our “911”).
  • My next door neighbor decided to burn his dry leaves this morning even though the haze is so thick that the air is literally a solid.
  • While writing this post my Internet went down 3 times.
  •  At least once a year you will have to go to immigration and spend upwards of 6 hours waiting around to renew your retirement visa. And every 90 days you go to the same place to let them know you are still here.

And that’s just today. I have to admit that it took a long while for me to adapt, but currently, all of the above now fall safely within my personal comfort zones.

The Sleep test

There is a way to determine whether the things you encounter in your life fall within your comfort zones. It is called “The Sleep Test”. Here is how it works.

Let’s say you have invested in a stock. When you go to bed that night you toss and turn, worried about whether you have done the right thing of not. Not being able to fall asleep is failing the sleep test. If you fail the sleep test then you are not in your comfort zone and by definition you have not done the right thing.

If you cut your investment in half and then are able to sleep then you’re good. Still not able to sleep? Sell and get out. When you can sleep like a baby then you’re back in the zone. Sleeping babies are always in the zone.

The sleep test works for just about everything. Can’t sleep because you’re thinking about huge spiders, because you can’t get Thai traffic out of your head, because you are so angry about that leaf-burning neighbor, wondering if you should get involved with the young girl who tells you how handsome you are, deciding whether you should buy that house for your paramour and unsure whether she will kick you out after the papers have been signed? If you can’t sleep thinking about any of these then you have a problem. Know yourself, know your comfort zone, adapt or you’ll be an unhappy retiree here.

So this is why I have always advised people who are considering retiring to Thailand to do a staggered retirement first. Come for a short time. Not everything will fall within your comfort zone.

Next come for a longer time. And make sure you come and experience all the seasons here. Maybe you’ll love the heat or maybe you’ll feel like you’re living in an oven. But maybe you can learn to slow your life down, turn on your air conditioner during the hot part of the day and binge watch TV shows and movies while you wait for the coolness of night time (my trick BTW).

After testing the waters here, do you still stay awake tossing and turning wondering if this place is for you. Are you Sleepless in Thailand? Then this may not be the best place for you to retire.  But are you willing to put in the effort to adapt and overcome the problems you encounter so that you can then fall asleep? Then maybe you are in your comfort zone and Thailand is the right place for you.

My hope is that wherever you end up that you fall squarely within your comfort zone and, may you sleep like a baby and, as the Buddhist saying goes, “May you find happiness.”