We were ready for retirement! We had three financial planners (yes, three…hedging our bets you see) tell us we had plenty of money. We had lots of things to do. Me, gardening, gourd art, growing food, painting, reading, writing and 6 grandkids. Martin, bicycling, motorcycling, gourd art, photography, helping me with the six acres and ditto on the 6 grandkids. We were both accomplished cooks who like trying new dishes. We were set!
Then the announcement was made by Martin to his company. I left work two years earlier. I had adjusted and was happily sailing along in a nice routine. I was looking forward to Martin joining me so it was a surprise to both of us when we were overcome by emotion and stress. I trawled the web looking for information about what we were feeling but came up pretty much empty. Most of what’s out there is about money in retirement not how to enter retirement in bliss. So, were we an aberration and everyone else in the country entered retirement living happily ever after?
Most of the retirees I approached with this question spoke merrily about how much they enjoyed being retired. Congratulations rolled in from family and friends, some of whom were retirees, via Facebook and email. And, of course, the oft asked question we received, “How did you do it?” There was even a tinge of envy in the faces of a few who asked. And a very honest few told us outright how envious they were. So what was wrong with us? We were supposed to be happy. Right?
Even I felt a certain sadness at Martin leaving a company he’d worked at for almost 22 years. In some respects his retirement party was more like a wake than a celebration as I realized how many memories and good times we shared with so many at this company. I also realized it was this amazing company which was a large part of why we could retire early. It was hard to walk out the door that night knowing I would never be back. It was hard to say goodbye to co-workers we had known for over 20 years. Even I shared a lot of memories with these people. I couldn’t imagine what Martin was going through.
As Martin’s last work day approached I also began to doubt our numbers. What if the financial planners were wrong? What if we were wrong? What if we didn’t have enough activities to keep us occupied? What if we got bored doing our hobbies everyday? Was it really the wisest thing to leave a working life behind? Retirement is defined as conclusion, ending, termination. It sounded so final. Even though I was at home for two years, with Martin still in the workplace, I didn’t really feel like I was retired. Now it seemed real and scary and doubtful. Now, when people asked, “What do you do?”, the answer would be we’re retired…concluded, terminated, ended…YIKES! The stress continued to creep in.
But, as I voiced my doubts, on occasion someone would step forward and tell me how they, too, had felt moments of uncertainty. I came across the one brave and honest soul in my circle who looked me straight in the eye and said, “Retiring is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Wow! Finally. Someone who made me feel like the sadness of leaving a working life behind was normal. Then, there was the man who told me it took his Dad 6 months to adjust to retirement and how his family worried about him the entire time. Finally, there was the couple who told me it was a transition, an adjustment and it would take time. How much depended on us. For them, it took two years. It took us about 18 months to transition. The key? Finding renewed purpose in life.
If we had a do over, knowing what we know now, we’d do some things differently. Martin has noted how he’d choose the spring to retire because the weather is more conducive to motorcycling, bicycling and hiking, especially in the Blue Ridge Mountains we love so much. Being physically active, getting out of the house more often may have made this easier. I’d want us to take advantage of his company’s Employee Assistance Program for the 6 free counseling sessions they offered. Talking with an expert about the emotional side of retiring may have allayed some of the stress. And, though we traveled extensively for work and find we’re more homebodies, I think a long vacation someplace sunny and warm may have helped us transition. Learning we needed to find a new purpose in life was critical. But, that took some time. Starting this blog put me on the road to a new purpose in life. Acknowledging the activities we were already engaged in may not be enough or the one, was also of critical importance. For those of you who are not yet retired, don’t take anything for granted – learn from my mistakes. Fortunately, we were always risk takers, willing to try new things, take a chance. We also recognize that failure is often the catalyst for success so my advice is try, try again in your search for renewed purpose.
The point in all this is retirement is a huge and I mean HUGE life changing event, not much different from getting married or divorced or having a baby or losing a loved one. It’s change. And, as with any life changing event, it means emotional ups and downs. It means being prepared to roll with some punches. It means good days and bad days until you adjust to a new reality. It means adjusting to new schedules or, with retirement, maybe no schedules. After all, every day is Saturday. So, my best advice is before you retire, regardless of your age, think about how you will make the transition as painless as possible as you reinvent who you are.