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 So, she is about as withdrawn from society as one can get.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?