For a Happy Retirement, Be Like Bill Gates

Microsoft's founder has found fulfillment in semi-retirement after leaving his career, and you can, too, if you follow his lead.

(Image credit: 2014 Getty Images)

Netflix has an outstanding documentary on Bill Gates called Inside Bill’s Brain. It’s especially relevant for today’s retiree.

The documentary is not about the rise to power of one of the world’s richest men. It’s not about the wars that were fought in the boardroom of Microsoft or the antitrust litigation. It’s not about the rise of personal computing or Bill’s impact on technology.

It’s a more personal look at the man, his wife, his relationships and his life after his successful career. What does Bill Gates do with all his extra time? What is he doing after Microsoft?

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So many people today face down retirement as a daunting challenge, wondering how they will succeed in this next phase of their life. Where will you spend your time? Where will you find meaning? Where will you find fulfillment?

Here are my top takeaways from the Gates documentary for today’s retiree:

Carve out space to think.

Bill Gates at the peak of Microsoft would go on what he called “think weeks.” He would go out on a weekend retreat by himself in the smallest and most spartan of accommodations. With a fridge full of Diet Coke and a bag full of books, he would get away, alone to read, write and think.

He continues that habit today in earnest. Now running his foundation and using his resources to fight global health issues, getting away from it all is still just as important.

Maybe retirement allows more time for a “think week.” Maybe that self-exploration and self-discovery will calm your spirit and bring clarity on this next phase. In the retirement rush to go out and travel the world — set aside some time for you — some peace and quiet. Take time for yourself to clear your head and think about what you really want in retirement.

Sometimes simple is better.

The minimalist accommodations on Gates’ retreats demonstrate that not everything needs to be five star to be thoroughly enjoyed. Reflecting on his life — some of the greatest joys were the simple things.

Joy in retirement might be tennis with a friend, or a canoe on a calm lake. It might be joining a hiking club, tent camping in the desert or a good book by the pool.

Happiness is not always about the glitz and the glamour. Valuing the little pleasures around you in retirement can bring joy.

Value and invest in relationships.

Watching Bill’s relationship with his wife is inspiring. Their closeness, how they work together and trust each other.

Gates works more closely with his wife at the foundation than he ever did working at Microsoft. It’s their shared vision and passion that gives that work more meaning.

Maybe retirement is a new time to reconnect with your spouse or partner? Maybe reconnect with an old friend or get closer with a grandchild?

Retirement offers the time to allow you to reconnect and establish deeper relationships with those you value most.

Spend time doing something worth doing.

Some might argue some of Bill Gates’ best work happened after his career at Microsoft with his foundation. You might not have your own family foundation, but your contribution doesn’t need to stop when the paycheck does.

You can consult the professionals of tomorrow. You can coach and mentor. You can let your voice be heard on Twitter. Create a blog or a podcast. Write a book.

My own grandmother never published anything before she retired. After retirement, she finally had the time to write.

When you retire, you’ll have time to do things that you think will make a difference or things you find personal value. Follow those instincts. Know that the technology exists today to help you make it a reality in ways not available to the generations before you.

Keep learning.

I’m fascinated by Bill Gates and his desire to learn and to grow. Despite all his accomplishments, he’s still trying to understand more and find areas where he can make a contribution.

Being a lifelong learner can bring extra fulfilment in retirement. Maybe it’s time to learn a new language or audit a college class. Maybe you’ve been an attorney all your life but could find great joy in watercolor classes.

Understand that fulfillment in this phase takes some effort and some time, and often the most active retirees are the happiest.

People who approach retirement often spend a significant amount of time thinking through the financial numbers required for retirement. As important as that is, preparing for the psychological adjustment of retirement also deserves significant attention.

Scot Landborg is an investment adviser representative of, and securities and advisory services are offered through USA Financial Securities Corp., Member FINRA/SIPC. A registered investment adviser located at 6020 E. Fulton St., Ada, MI 49301. Sterling Wealth Partners is not affiliated with USA Financial Securities. CA License #0G89727


Investment Adviser Representative of USA Financial Securities. Member FINRA/SIPC A Registered Investment Advisor. CA license # 0G89727


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Scot Landborg
CEO - Senior Wealth Adviser, Sterling Wealth Partners

Scot Landborg has over 17 years of experience advising clients on retirement planning strategies. Scot is CEO and Senior Wealth Adviser for Sterling Wealth Partners. He is host of the retirement planning podcast Retire Eyes Wide Open. Scot is a regular contributor to and has been quoted in "U.S. News & World Report," Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, Nasdaq and Investopedia. He also formally hosted the nationally syndicated radio show "Smart Money Talk Radio."