UNCONVENTIONAL LIFESTYLES

About a year ago I went to a new doctor for my regular checkup. There was nothing wrong with my old MD excepting she moved to an office 20 minutes further down the road. So, now I sat before a new doc (for me) at the old practice. At the time I was retired for several months. As chronicled in this blog, it was a time of exploration and transition as Martin and I sought to create a life without a work routine. As my new MD went over my chart, she made a comment, one that threw me a little off balance at the time and has been cause for some thought since.

“Ohhhh…you’re retired!”, she said in a tone which made me think I’d done something incredibly wrong, sort of along the lines of oh, you naughty child. “So, young!”, she lamented. “Have you started to withdraw yet?” Withdraw from what?

Obviously, the ‘withdraw’ word gave me pause for thought. Continuing to lament my retired state, my doctor very nicely explained how the best way to retire is to work part-time for a few years and ease into retirement at a later age. I gathered she meant much later than the 61 I was at the time. Considering how most employers today are not that keen on part-time workers and are even less thrilled about providing health benefits for them and then there’s the bugaboo of age discrimination and whether or not employers are really into having older workers around even on a full-time schedule, I thought my doctor’s advice was somewhat unrealistic. She also sounded like my hair stylist did when she told me I was too young to go gray. I fired my stylist.

After several months of ruminating and once again trawling the web looking for information to support the idea that retirees withdraw from society or do not withdraw, this looks like just one more example of an antiquated idea whose time has come to be burned at the stake, drawn and quartered, and whatever else we can think of to dispose of it. While I found lots of online dictionaries touting the meaning of retirement as, you guessed it, withdrawal or termination from work, every article I found was about withdrawal of retirement funds. When it comes to retirement, as always, there’s plenty of info on the financial component; little on the human component.

But, what I did find was a story about a woman named Sue Aiken. At 51, Sue is not retired. The interesting thing about Sue is she lives 197 miles north of the Arctic Circle all by her little lonesome. So, she is about as withdrawn from society as one can get. Oh, she sees people all right. From May through September when she’s running what she calls a remote bed and breakfast for hunters, ecologists, bird watchers and the like. The rest of the year Sue lives alone in the wilderness even facing down grizzlies on occasion. Now, obviously, Sue is living an unconventional lifestyle in the extreme. Does her doctor worry about her isolated state? I doubt it. You see Sue is celebrated for her isolated state and even has a TV show on National Geographic channel called Life Below Zero. One of the comments Sue made about her choice of lifestyle is how just because she prefers to be alone doesn’t mean she isn’t social. I think that is downright profound and something all retirees (and their doctors) should think about. Maybe all of conventional society should think about it. After all, Sue is living her life on her terms. Something most of us rarely do.

Reading about Sue I learned a few things about myself and retirement. For starters, I’m living life on my terms. I chose to leave work at an early age and live an unconventional lifestyle, one of self-exploration. In order to explore one’s inner self, one needs some quiet time. I guess my doctor may look at that as withdrawal. I see it as getting off the hamster wheel to spend time inside my own head. Sometimes I even talk to myself. Spending time with myself has resulted in less stress, being more comfortable in my own skin and discovering talents I never knew I had. As the tagline of this blog asserts, “Retirement is a journey, not a destination.” This is the journey I have chosen because it suits me. It’s mine. It’s personal. I shunned work and certain trappings like fancy clothes, new cars and lots of nights out on the town in favor of jeans and t-shirts, my old beater of a car and home cooked meals. And, just because that’s how I prefer to live doesn’t mean I don’t like people. Why just last week I gave a presentation at the local library on growing herbs. My talk was attended by 59 people who I believe had a good time. I know I did.

Just because someone withdraws from our society’s view of a conventional lifestyle and work life, which our workaholic spend, spend, spend society sees as odd, doesn’t mean they have withdrawn from life…at any age. They’ve simply withdrawn from that life. I’m super happy with my choice and perhaps happier than I have been in my entire life. I get to garden, write and draw. Yes, part of my journey has led to the discovery that I am artistically talented. That, alone has opened up a whole new world for me, a world I never had time for but always wondered about when I worked.

Did I fire my doctor? No. In fact, I recently had an appointment with her and she exhibited a decidedly different attitude toward retirement or, at the very least, my retirement. Maybe my indignation on the last appointment caused some pause for thought on her end. Whatever the case, like Sue Aiken, I’m living life and retirement on my terms. Think about it. What will your journey look like?

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13 comments on “UNCONVENTIONAL LIFESTYLES

  1. As I approach retirement at age 62 ( one year from now ) I am constantly asked “what will you do with yourself?” After a 44 year management career in a very demanding industry I am ready to jump off the corporate treadmill and enjoy the fruits of my labor with some leisure and free time. My doctor tells me the same thing as yours…”62 is too early to retire”. How does she know this? She is an internal medicine physician who never has to travel professionally, only has office hours three days per week and is employed in a clinic enviornment where overtime and middle of the night callouts never happen. My guess is that she will hit age 62 very well rested.

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    • It sounds like you are working in the same type of long hours pressure cooker environment I left behind when I retired. The trick for us is finding meaningful activities to replace that activity. And, that’s what others are curious about because they think of themselves and what would they do with all that free time. Being young at this stage affords you an opportunity to take stock of yourself, your wants, create a bucket list and actually do something or many things you always wanted to do. That’s the real freedom you are going to. And, I think that’s part of what our doctors are missing. Why stay in a pressure cooker just because you’re young when being young is the exact reason you should leave it?

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      • You are spot on and have a very good insight into the retirement process. I look forward to reading your future blogs and as time permits I will be reading through some of your prior publications. A life solely defined by work is a very limited experience. I am more than ready and actually very excited to explore other ways to spend my time…and while I am still in good health.

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  2. This is great! Thank you! When I tell people I’m retiring (Friday!) most people are happy for me. Some, though, seem puzzled. We have to allow that everyone is different; it sounds like your doctor was looking at you through her filter. I hope she has taken that filter off and realized that you are-gasp-happy in retirement! She, on the other hand, may decide to work forever… and that’s OK too.

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    • Happy Retirement Day! You are welcome for the insight. Some of the puzzlement may be more of a how did you pull this off type of question, which is not being verbalized. Regardless, enjoy this time. It is yours. You earned it. Yes, many people are just as happy to continue working and that’s definitely o.k., too. In fact, some start a new career or business as part of their “retirement” plan, doing something they always wanted to do. That’s what it’s really about.

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  3. Kathy, I have been following your blog for several months, and I have enjoyed your thoughtful posts, like this one, about retirement. It is a subject that I have written about on my own blog–and I am pretty shameless in admitting that I have used your posts as a springboard for launching my own explorations.

    I do not know what was in your doctor’s mind, of course, but I offer a slightly different interpretation of her reaction to your status of retirement. Perhaps in asking, “Have you started to withdraw yet?”, she had in mind the symptoms of “withdrawal” suffered by drug addicts when they go “cold turkey.” Some retirees may feel withdrawal pangs, especially in the early years of retirement, craving the “high” that they enjoyed during their working lives. Rather than being critical of you–scolding that naughty child for retiring “so young” –she may have felt genuinely concerned that you might be experiencing an adverse reaction to leaping into retirement instead of “easing into” retirement via a graduated transition of part-time work (assuming that could be an option). Feelings of regret, remorse or grief may be hazardous to your health.

    It is possible that your doctor was not so much worried that you were “withdrawing” into some remote place of isolation from the world, though your comparison with the fascinating life of Sue Aiken was a propos. I applaud your living-life-on-my-own-terms approach to retirement. It is an outlook that I share. I did not retire in order to withdraw from life or to seek isolation. Retirement, as you say, is a journey, but it need not be a journey alone nor into an isolated region.

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    • Thanks John for both the kudos on my site and the different perspective. While my MD was most definitely concerned about my health, she was operating on an outdated perspective of retirement coupled with a focus almost entirely on my age as being too young. On my end I was annoyed with this, most notably due to her under 40 age, thus my assumption she should be operating with the latest and greatest of research and training on current retirement trends. As we talked, it seemed as if I was more up-to-date than she was and due to extensive reading for my blog, maybe I was. Yes, retirement is often initially accompanied by negative feelings as chronicled in my two blogs on Stages of Retirement. This is normal and one of the reasons I started blogging…I want to change perspectives, initiate conversations and thought like this exchange and let people know retirement is not the end of the road as in the past. It is the beginning of a new and wonderful journey. Thanks for joining me on the journey!

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  4. I retired at age 60 after 33 years with the same employer as an HR Director. We had a change in all of the executives and they wanted younger employees. They were not interested in experience or institutional knowledge. In fact, they saw experience and institutional knowledge as a threat. I retired three years early than I had planned. Early retirement has diminished my income including what I will earn in Social Security. Getting another position is not easy when you are older. For 33 years I was a dedicated, team player who treated our “customers” and the staff that reported to me with respect and dignity.

    Retirement has taken months to navigate, but I am enjoying being able to define a new beginning.

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    • One of the most difficult ways to enter retirement is when you are forced to. I left work at 58 after getting Lyme disease, which did not seem to go away. The lingering effects turned out to be post-polio syndrome manifesting itself, most probably a result of the Lyme disease. It took a long time to sort all of this out and get back to my old self. Although I wanted to go back to work and sent out hundreds of resumes, I had only 2 interviews in 18 months. I had one company that wanted to interview me and canceled after viewing my profile on LinkedIn…I figured they did the math. I believe age discrimination as well as myths about aging exist, which is why I write what I do. It is up to us to change the way our society views aging. I’m happy to hear you are defining a new beginning. It took a while for me to let go of the way I left the workforce but it was the best gift I gave to myself. I wish you the best with your new beginning!

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