Wisdom

 

Six years ago today I woke up officially retired from the workplace, a new identity waiting to be formed.  Yes, six years!!!  And what a six years it has been.  

Prior to retiring I received lots of advice, most of it very useful wisdom, from people already enjoying a life filled with options of personal choice.  Whether you are now retired or looking forward to it in the future, these nuggets of insight are worth repeating.

The first piece of wisdom came from a couple I volunteered alongside at a local farmers market.  I still remember his face when he told me, “Guard your time jealously.”  In the moment I didn’t realize how many people would be looking at me as a person who needed for them to fill my time.  I found myself thinking of him and his advice again and again as well-meaning acquaintances, friends, even strangers, tugged at me to volunteer or join their organization of choice.  This is your time to use as you choose – guard it jealously!

That said, another piece of advice was to give some of your time to a cause you care about deeply.  I was already giving my time to volunteering at the agricultural extension’s information booth at the farmers market.  So, that one was easy for me.  That was my organization of choice.  I educated.  I taught people how to grow food, to create spaces for butterflies, bees and birds.  I helped people make their gardens and the Earth a better place.  It was fun.  Find a cause where you willingly, happily and whole-heartedly give your time and your being.

That brings me to doing something you love.  Whatever your lifelong hobby, now’s your time to enjoy it even more than ever.  I know people who golf or play tennis several times a week, spend more hours acting at the community theater, make their garden into a show place around their home or turned their art into a source of income.  Whatever it is up the ante.  Keep doing it at a quantum leap.

Then, try something you always wanted to do, but didn’t have the time.  Retirement affords the opportunity to start something new, fresh, fulfilling a dream.  For me, that was taking up watercolor painting.  I wasn’t good at it and didn’t enjoy it, but it led to other art mediums I do enjoy.  With retirement you can start anew as many times as you wish.  This is your moment for adventure!  Failure is o.k.  As a bonus of my adventures, I’ve met many other retirees in daytime art classes.  Some became new friends.

Speaking of friends, realize that many of your friendships will be altered.  The people who are still employed may drift away as your identity evolves.  Or you may drift away from them as you find new acquaintances with a shared interest and time frame.  Your social life will revolve around a daytime persona that is different from the work you.  Be open to meeting new people.

Along with the advice of guarding your time jealously, the second piece of wisdom the couple mentioned above dispensed, “Give yourself two years to adjust.”  It took all of two years and then some for me to settle in.  Others may take no time at all.  It depends on a lot of variables, such as your personality, your attachment to the type of work you did, how you left work – forced out, disability or planned exit, your retirement activities, your mental view and emotional feelings about retiring.  Two years.

Lastly, retirement is an opportunity.  It is not the dictionary definition of ceasing to work; it’s serendipity – the chance to do the kind of work you want to do.  It’s the possibility of tapping into your reserved longings, the savoring of freedom to use your time as you choose.  It’s the prospect of a fresh start in life.  And, I hope this shared wisdom helps you to do just that.

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Should You Downsize?

 

Fifteen years ago my husband and I looked for land to build a second home with the idea it would become our retirement home in the future.  Instead, we found the perfect piece of land not far from our work and activities.  We decided to build our retirement home right away and sell our then-current home.  We downsized.  With aging in mind we chose an open floor plan with wide doorways.  Hard surface flooring, energy efficiency and quality materials also topped the list.

Whether you are thinking of retiring or already retired, the question of downsizing may have crossed your mind.  There are many reasons to downsize in retirement.  Living in a home that fits your new or envisioned lifestyle is not the least among them.  

A smaller home may not feed your ego the way a large home signals success to friends and family.  You’re retired, right?  You’re forging a new identity where you can leave all the outward signs of a large, expensive lifestyle behind along with your work self.  That doesn’t mean you don’t live well.  You live life on your terms however you want.  Think about who you are underneath all the material objects including the big house.  Think about who you want to be and what you want to do in retirement.  Maintaining a large house usually doesn’t top anyone’s list.

A smaller home comes with lower utility bills and a smaller property tax bite allowing more money for travel or hobbies.  Speaking of travel and hobbies, fewer rooms to clean with less stuff to maintain, a smaller home affords time for doing the activities you want to do in retirement.  If you opt for a condominium home, you will pay a regime fee, but enjoy someone else performing the maintenance for the common areas and outer part of the structure.  When you jet off to an exotic destination on your bucket list, no worries about the lawn getting overgrown in your absence.

You may be thinking you need to keep your large home because you anticipate children and grandchildren visiting often.  Be realistic about how frequently they might visit.  How far away from you do they live?  What are their commitments to a spouse’s parents?  What are their work schedules?  Their school schedules?  When our oldest daughter’s large family visits, it is bedlam.  Air mattresses arrive with them, bodies and clothes are strewn everywhere.  That’s now reduced to once yearly as the ability for visits is dictated by school, college and work schedules along with various athletic endeavors like volleyball, baseball and football.  My son-in-law is self-employed and can’t take time off during the height of business.  Do you really need to maintain a three, four, five or six thousand square foot house for a once or twice yearly visit?  You’re retired, right?  Why don’t you go visit them?

I never was one for lots of knick-knacks.  My thinking always was, “Someone has to dust that.”  As a working mother I found ways to limit the amount of time spent cleaning.  I carry that philosophy with me today.  Even with that view, over the last few years I’ve handed plenty of items to my daughters and charities.  By choice my retirement life is more casual.  Gone are the entertainment-type parties and dinners, designer clothes and formal furniture.  Downsizing means decluttering.  In a smaller home there is no room for useless stuff.  In retirement, why would you want it?

Should you downsize?  I don’t know.  As always, that’s a question only you can answer.  I know it works for me.  Consequently, I do think you should consider it.

The Graduate

 

The Graduate of 2018

Born at the turn of the century (does that sound strange?  It does to me.), they don’t have a moniker yet like Baby Boomers or Generation X or Millennials.  Names like Generation Z have been offered up, but nothing definitive sticks.  I have one, a grandson, born in January of 2000.  Last week he graduated from high school as his mother, my oldest daughter, posted on Facebook his time as a caterpillar is over —  time to fly little butterfly.  All the excitement, pomp and circumstance, family celebration party, teary-eyed reminiscences of his mother and promises of a solid future.

 

What advice would I give him?  The same advice I would give someone getting ready to retire.  I believe it’s good advice for any new start in life.

  1. Believe in yourself.  You have innate gifts.  Be confident in your abilities.  Do in life what you want to do, not what others want for you.  There are lots of people out there with lots of advice (including me) on how things “should” be.  Realize that when the “should” word comes out, you are listening to their ego.  Take it for what it is and make your decision for what you want.  Be a little selfish.  Pander to your ego.
  2. Follow your passion.  That old saying  “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life” is true no matter what your age.  I garden on a large-scale.  People often comment to me, “That’s a lot of work” to which I reply, “It’s not work to me.  I love doing it.”  Yes, do what you love!
  3. Never stop learning.  Going off to college or trade school or taking a job, graduation isn’t the end of your education.  People who are life-long learners continue to grow and thrive.  It doesn’t mean you have to take formal classes.  Stay open to opportunities.  Be curious about life in general.  Ask questions!  Investigate what makes something tick. Then, you’ll always have excitement in your life and something to talk about when you meet new people.
  4. Speaking of other people, keep your old friends and cultivate new friendships, too.  Growing up I was a Girl Scout.  We had a little song that went like this, “Make new friends and keep the old; one is silver and the other gold.”  People with strong support systems have an easier time adapting to life’s ups and downs than those without.  Change is inevitable.  Form your posse to help you through the changes.
  5. Exploring the world goes hand in hand with never stop learning.  Even if it’s just the world in close proximity, be curious about what’s around you.  A Realtor friend recently sent me a list of all the summer happenings in the Upstate.  With enough activities to fill a page there’s plenty to do and see in my backyard.  Get off the couch and out the door.  Or explore the globe.  
  6. Enjoy each and every day.  Tomorrow is promised to no one.  Live in the moment being mindful of the sights, sounds and smells.  Touch the world you have in front of you.  Mind-spinning about the future or reliving the past is time lost forever.  Enjoy today.  And enjoy it with gratitude.  Revel in what you have, especially the things that can’t bought.  Materialism is over-rated.  Stuff won’t make you happy. 
  7. Lastly, life is what you make of it.  There will be good times and not-so-good times.  You will meet good people and not-so-good people.  Choose how you will respond or not respond to what or whom you encounter.  Live your life on your terms.  No one knows what’s best for you like you do.  

Fly, little butterfly, fly!

Dedicated to Jake and all the graduates of 2018, no matter where you are in the world.  You are our future.  Get out there and put your dent in the universe!

 

 

Values

Last week someone I barely know leaned on me. Not physically, but mentally and emotionally. As they expressed their values to me in a one-sided conversation of what I “shouldn’t do” with my life coupled with what I “should do” for them, I was reminded of one of retirements’ greatest gifts — the ability to be true to your values like no other time in life.

We’ve all heard the old saying, “Sometimes you have to go along to get along.” To me, no setting requires that more than the work arena. In that venue I would have tried to talk to the above person in the interest of getting along and may have gone along, choking down their shoulds and shouldn’ts. Workplace politics would oblige at least an attempt to give my viewpoint and clarify my perception of their two cents, even as they cut me off mid-sentence.

Fortunately, work days are gone, so I just smiled as I said, “Have a great day!” and walked away. Even in retirement, we don’t completely escape others who want us to adopt their values. But, we can choose to take action based on our values.

While I try not to be judgmental (it’s hard), I also consciously surround myself with people who respect my values and are willing to listen to me as well as me listening to them. Not people who think the same as me. I detest group think (ohhh…there’s the judgmental me). I do my human best to be tolerant of my cohorts’ values. Mutual respect is the foundation of any relationship. That starts with acceptance of our differences, our values and our boundaries.

I have a good friend who I meet with for lunch — she dubbed it ‘munch and chat’. While we have much in common, we don’t always agree. We come from different backgrounds and life experiences. However, we have mutual respect for diverse opinions, making our conversations interesting and our friendship genuine. It speaks to my values of acceptance, trust and respect.

Long, long ago in the 1980s I took a new age type program called Context Training. Everyone at the company I worked for had to take the course. During the three days of seclusion and soul-searching, I learned how our values are created by the context of our life experience. Our values then enter into our decision-making from moment to moment, just like my decision to walk away from the person above or my decision to write this piece today.

Think about what your values are. What is important to you? Knowing what you value provides direction for your life, retired or not. For those of us who retire, leaving work identity behind, understanding and embracing our values, supplies us with a map for our retirement identity. Our values help us create our future.  For example, I value creativity, so it comes as no surprise that I enjoy writing, gardening and drawing. Those make up the three central personal activities of my retirement days.

In my experience, when I find myself dragging my feet to do something with or for someone else, it’s because I’m not being true to my values. If I find myself unhappy, it usually has something to do with ignoring my values. A large part of our happiness quotient comes from being authentic.  Retirement offers the perfect time for us to be exactly that.

Homeward Bound

Last week, as part of my post on retirement lessons, I wrote about choosing where you will live. I didn’t choose my place for retirement as much as stumbled across it as a result of a job transfer Martin took nearly twenty years ago. My friends won’t like me saying this. Some of them even tell me, “Shush. Stop talking about how great Greenville is. We have enough retirees here now.” For me Greenville, South Carolina is a great place to retire. However, not everyone wants to retire to Greenville or anyplace else than where they are at the moment. If you do decide to move, here are a few considerations.

There are all kinds of reasons we choose to move when we retire. According to the US Census, most people move to be closer to family and grandchildren. While we love our families, pinning our retirement location on their location should include both discussion with our family and thought about our needs and wants and their needs and wants. Even then, life has a way of changing the best laid plans.

I met one couple who moved to Greenville to be near their son and daughter-in-law and their two children. Imagine the couple’s surprise after moving hundreds of miles, buying a house and settling into their new surroundings only to have their son accept a promotion that moved his family to Dallas. Ouch! No, they didn’t follow them. Instead they decided to stay here and take an occasional two hour flight to visit them in Dallas.

Conversely, some retirees choose to stay put because of family, only to have the grandchildren grow up and spread themselves in the direction of the four winds. The reality is we live in a transient society, children become adults and create their careers and lives, often moving to where opportunity takes them.

The weather also seems to be a top draw. But, choosing a climate so far removed from what you lived in most of your life may not be a sound idea. I’ve met scads of people who retired from northern or mid-western towns to Florida, only to sell and move to the Carolinas. Locals call them half-backs as this is about halfway between northern states like Connecticut and Florida.

One transplant from the Bronx quipped about his back tracking, “There was something not quite right about sitting around the pool on Christmas Day in your swim trunks.” For native Floridians there is probably something not quite right about trudging through snow on Christmas Day. My point is before you choose to move to the extreme opposite of what you are used to, think about what you will miss about your native climate, scenery and customs. While I don’t miss the frigid January temperatures, I would miss the changing colors of autumn leaves, the cooler dryer air and an evening by the fireplace.

As I mentioned last week, good close by medical care is a must for me. I’m in good health. However, if a heart attack or accident occurs, I don’t want to be out of range of a hospital or ambulance service. I’m tough, but not that tough. Sue of Life Below Zero is definitely more of a risk taker than I am. Hats off to her. Me? I’ll live bolder in more conventional ways. I recommend scoping out the medical care and proximity in your new destination before you make the move.

One of my retirement mantras is never stop learning. While having a college or university nearby is important as part of my cultural experience, so is a convenient grocery store and farmers market for my cooking at home obsession and farm store and nursery for my gardening habit. Although I live in the country all of these amenities are only minutes from my house along with locally owned restaurants and trendy shops. Also consider your partner’s needs, if you have one. Martin can bicycle right out of our property onto roads with little traffic and fabulous scenery.

Additionally, before making a move, look at housing affordability, taxes on property, income, sales and vehicles including boats or RVs. Some states do not tax food; others do. Some states do not tax social security; others do. Consider the cost of your move including the cost of moving household goods, getting new registrations on vehicles, a new license and anything else your new locale may require. Consider, too, the emotional cost of finding your way around, locating a new doctor, insurance company and other services, registering to vote, making new friends, creating a new social and cultural life.

While many retirees move, the truth is most do not, preferring to stay in their climate with the friends, family, services  and activities familiar to them. If you do decide a move is right for you, think of all the implications before making the leap. Otherwise, you may not be homeward bound.

The Downside of Downsizing

Tiny Home Plan

One of the truths about retirement is, if you are a homeowner, the maintenance on your house does not retire with you. After a week of cleaning out gutters, touching up paint, having our roof inspected after a neighbor had to replace theirs due to hale damage, we ended the week with a Friday night emergency electrician call. Our hard wired smoke alarm sounded for over three hours. Putting in fresh batteries didn’t silence it. Neither did turning off the breakers. Martin and I were tempted to pull the detectors out of the ceiling. The sound was deafening.

Fortunately, our roof will last another seven to twelve years barring another hale storm. Who knew smoke detectors are only good for seven to ten years? Ours were thirteen so no surprise they failed, but did they have to malfunction on Friday night? After the electrician pulled them out of the ceiling, he’ll be back on Monday to replace them.

Tired of what seems like a constant repair or replace at the house and just plain curious, coming back from a shopping trip on Saturday, we swung into Lake Walk, a tiny home community. As a rule, we don’t shop on Saturdays. That’s the kind of week we’d had. Between the regular homeowner chores like mowing the field, picking blueberries, deadheading spent flowers and the additional maintenance on the house, a tiny home situated on a local lake with walking trails was tempting. We’d at least take a look to see what this growing trend was all about.

Martin and I were greeted by Randy, the developer and owner of the project. He explained that the residents would buy a tiny home and rent the lot from him for $450 a month. There would be forty-three tiny homes in all on four acres, with an additional eleven acres of trails and a central gathering place for residents to enjoy an evening visiting neighbors on a deck or around an outdoor fire. Set among towering oaks and other hardwoods, it all looked and sounded appealing. He had already sold three tiny homes, including two singles selling their larger houses to move to Lake Walk.

The largest home at 350 square feet plus a, yes, tiny loft, was inviting. Complete with hardwood floors, granite countertops, a fireplace fed by propane and lots of windows providing natural light, I envisioned myself living there — if I had to.

With just about everything built in, gone would be all of our furniture, some of which I’m admittedly attached to. The two bedroom closets would hold my clothes. I didn’t know where Martin would put his. And where would we do our art projects? Keep our art supplies? I suppose we could rent a studio someplace. Ditto for the exercise equipment —gone — to be replaced with a gym membership.

And where would I garden? As if reading my mind, Randy told us there would be community gardens for anyone wanting a space to grow vegetables or flowers. Hmmm…that sweetened the idea. However, there are no garages with tiny homes. Our tools, cars, Martin’s motorcycle and, oh, his bicycle, all outside waiting for hale storm damage in addition to the roof. Ugh! I didn’t like that picture at all.

Although the tiny homes were pretty, the woodsy setting beside the lake serene, I’d seen enough to know this was not for me, not yet. I didn’t even bother to ask if pets were welcome. As someone with seven cats, I thought that would be an issue just because of the numbers. Where would I house four litter boxes in 350 square feet? What about the three that are semi-feral cats used to being outside? The cats, like me, would probably be bored before long in such a tiny space. Then, Martin and I would be complaining about paying rent, neighbors too close for comfort, driving to the gym, paying rent, instead of walking through a door at our house, paying rent for an art studio and me without landscaping opportunities.

Everything has its pluses and minuses. Life is never without a downside and an upside. While caring for a large property and a not so large house takes work and money, where I am right now is where I want to be right now. The tiny home will have to wait.

Freedom

A flag watches over the grape vines

 

This week the United States celebrates another birthday. Since the 4th falls on a Tuesday, it is a long weekend for those workers lucky enough to also take Monday off. Last Thursday as I did my usual grocery shopping for the next month, I passed displays of beach towels and flipflops, towers of soda and beer, end caps filled with backpacks, American flags and fireworks. People frantically rushing to gather goodies for the holiday clogged the aisles. I was reminded of the days when I, in my suit and heels, also rushed through a store at lunch hour or after work to grab last minute Independence Day necessities.

After viewing this scene from my retired perch, I decided I’m also celebrating the personal freedom retirement brought me. For the first time in my life I am not bound to do what society expects of us. Even as a child I did not enjoy the freedom retirement affords me.

Today, there are no parents, managers or other authority figures dictating how I spend my time. The suits and heels are long gone. OK I have one suit and two pair of heels left in my closet for special occasions. But, my wardrobe of choice these days is jeans and t-shirts with loafers, sandals or sneakers. The suit hangs in a breathable bag; the heels are boxed high on a shelf.

Oh, I still have responsibilities. I have to pay the utilities on time, keep a watchful eye on my investments and adhere to a self-imposed budget lest I become a bag lady at ninety. I have to be a good citizen and mind the laws of my state and country, get my drivers license renewed and pay my taxes. But, how I spend my days is up to me. That is a huge responsibility in and of itself. Ingrained in the workaholic boomer generation is the idea that leisure time is wasted time. Freedom just may come with an emotional price.

However, that’s not for me either. I learned a long, long time ago when my workaholic ways caved in upon me, that every life needs balance. I accomplish a lot in my freedom filled life. I also give myself permission to just sit and be for a time each day. Piddling, as my dad called it, is good for the mind and the soul. Taking time to watch birds flutter around the feeders in the back yard while I enjoy my morning coffee is not wasted time.

Accomplishments in retirement are not the same as accomplishments in my past work life. In June I spent a morning trimming grape vines within an inch of their lives. This task is necessary so the vines put their energy into the clusters of grapes. I consider that an accomplishment. Not one that will get me a promotion or a raise, but one that gives me pleasure knowing I will pick clusters of deep purple grapes come fall.

After a day working in my gardens, I always, ALWAYS take a garden tour, strolling leisurely while I admire the beauty. I also consider that an accomplishment. We all need a moment to stop and smell the roses. Otherwise, what’s the point of having them?

This week while workers take a long weekend crowding beaches and camp grounds, turning out for spectacular fireworks displays and enjoying a cold beer around the barbecue, I’m celebrating my successful transition to retirement freedom. Now that is an accomplishment!

 

Getting Old Does Not Suck!

Enjoying my age!

The woman looked at me with what I can only describe as pity as she said, “Getting old sucks.” I started to counter her assumption.  I found it condescending.  Then I closed my mouth. I was already in the middle of a disagreement with her; I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire.

Getting old does not suck. What sucks is the view our society holds about getting old.

We all knew people who didn’t make it this far in life — relatives, friends, classmates, co-workers and neighbors who passed away at a younger age, perhaps even as children. People who didn’t get to fall in love, have a career, reach their full potential, buy a house, the first car, go to college, have children or see children grow or enjoy grandchildren.

No, getting old does not suck. It’s a privilege, a gift.

Yet, people still young, as well as some our age, look at aging as if it’s a disease, at the very least a time of decline, both physically and mentally. I have my share of infirmities, but most are not the result of old age. I had polio at three, which surfaces years later as post-polio syndrome. I also have occasional pain in my lower back, the result of lifting something too heavy for me when I was a mere nineteen. We all have health issues, some worsening from aging. Eventually, the parts will wear out. However, when I see a YouTube of an 89 year-old gymnast vaulting and landing on her feet, I realize the old adage of use it or lose it certainly applies.

Cognitive decline is not inevitable. Recent research and studies at most major universities around the world have shown the adult mind can continue to grow. The brain has plasticity meaning it can form new synaptic connections. We often think of children and young adults as the ones with growing minds. But adults at any age can continue to grow mentally if they exhibit the same curiosity, sense of adventure and learn new things just as they did earlier in life.  These discoveries are changing the view of aging, albeit slowly.

Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, is at the forefront of changing the stereotypes of what it means to get old. We all age. My grandchildren are aging. With kids, we refer to them as ‘growing up’; with over 60’s, we refer to them as aging. We suddenly become seniors, the elderly, the aged, old codgers. We also begin to be talked to as if we were the children, condescending talk.  Talk as if we are incompetent.  Or worse yet, we are ignored. Since I stopped coloring my hair, letting it go to its natural gray, I’m suddenly dear, sweetie, young lady and on and on or I’m invisible altogether.

I took Applewhite’s cue and used a situation as a teaching moment for an early twenties server at a restaurant. I noticed the couple at the next table who appeared to be in their late thirties were called ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’. I’d finally had enough of being called ‘dear’ so I told the server not to call me that. She looked at me puzzled and said, “Why?” My reply, “Because my name is Kathy, not dear. If I were your age, would you call me dear?” She didn’t know what to say. Maybe I raised her consciousness; maybe she thought I was just a crabby old lady. I don’t know. But if we are to change the way old age is viewed, the change starts with us.

Our society views aging as something to be cured or fought as in anti-aging creams and makeups, botox injections, plastic surgery and medications to combat normal body changes that come with maturity. One woman, upon seeing my graying hair, told me, “If I stopped coloring my hair, my husband would divorce me.” I have no idea if their relationship is that superficial, but in our youth obsessed culture, not dying has apparently been known to spark a divorce. Fortunately, we are seeing more and more gray haired models like Cindy Joseph, defying the idea that old is washed up, has been and not beautiful.

Getting old does not suck. Attitudes suck. Do not pity me, feel sorry for me or patronize me. I’m having a good time being old and retired.  You, too will be here someday. And, when you are, stay engaged with the world, realize that your brain still works and can grow, endeavor to try new activities, learn something. Realize you are still beautiful and vibrant. Stay physically active. Recognize ageism and use teachable moments to change attitudes. You are one of the lucky ones. Getting old is a gift. Do not squander it by believing in stereotypes.

 

 

 

Retired Spouse Syndrome

Last Wednesday I joined a small class of Furman University students along with Professor Lorraine DeJong and other retired adults in an intergenerational course about what it’s like to be a “senior” in today’s society. Members of Furman’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) were asked to participate voluntarily in order to bring the experience to life for the students. I signed up for a couple of classes. The subject for the class I attended last week was relationships. While we discussed family, adult children, grandchildren and friends, the segment that caught my eye was retired spouse syndrome.

Researching retired spouse syndrome, I found many articles as well as research in both Japan and Italy referring to it as retired husband syndrome. It’s no secret men have a more difficult time than women when leaving the workplace behind. More of a man’s identity is tied up in his job description and title.

Conversely, women have taken many roles throughout their lives from work to being the main caregiver of children, perhaps even staying at home for a few years while raising them. Women also are more apt to be the caregiver of parents in their later years. And, for most couples women are the ones who maintain the social calendar. As a result women are more flexible about identity.

That said, I experienced unexpected feelings of sadness and loss when I left work. Those feelings were repeated when Martin retired as I also had many ties with his co-workers over his long career at a single company. Admittedly part of my identity was immersed in his identity. When he retired I was no longer the wife of the vice-president.

As Professor Phyllis Moen, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota and author of numerous books, points out, the first two years of retirement can be a time of enormous stress on a marriage. Both men and women experience the strain as they struggle to create new identities, both as a couple and as individuals. While single men and women also struggle, they may or may not have a partner to consider.

Shortly after Martin retired, I had to remind him I was not going to be his only employee for the rest of his life. Suddenly, the way I filled the dishwasher and the time of day I put clothes in the washer was all wrong. Mind you, we have had a marriage of equal partnership where he washed clothes and did dishes, too. We both cook. It was our habit that whoever cooked dinner that night, the other one of us did the kitchen clean-up. This arrangement worked for decades without comment until retirement.

As I have chronicled in these pages, when we retire, our world shrinks. As it becomes smaller, we are sometimes caught up in minutiae. As I’ve also pointed out, it takes about two years to adjust to a new life and discard the old identity. Avoiding retired spouse syndrome requires an awareness of it in the first place. Once you are aware of it, then it takes commitment and communication as a couple to create the identity you envision for yourselves, together and individually.

Oftentimes, we forget the us factor. Us doesn’t mean we are joined at the hip 24/7; it means we honor and respect each other as we forge new identities. Listening is part of the communication, perhaps the most important aspect. One of the tools Martin and I used was the bucket list. We’d made bucket lists before retirement. We made others after retirement. Then we compared lists. It helped to ignite an honest discussion of who we were and who we wanted to be and whether or not our wants meshed. They did.

As for the dishwasher? Martin loads it — every night.  Renewed purpose takes many forms.  And we do laundry whenever we need to.

Is There A Normal Retirement?


It was the end of 2012 when I first started looking for articles on what retirees did to create a happy retirement.  My queries on the web resulted mostly in articles about retirement timing and finances. There was little to be found about a normal, happy retirement.

Last week one of my readers mentioned, “retirement means different things to different people” (thanks for the idea, Walter). That led to my wondering is there a normal retirement? My current search of the web indicates that most people still plan on their date to retire and their retirement income, but not much else.

Gathering information from you, my readers, I’d say there is no normal retirement. While most people plan on retiring somewhere between ages 65 and 70, what they do after that varies widely. I did an informal survey a few years ago with most of you responding about taking up some type of artistic endeavor — painting, writing, drawing, music, dance, knitting, quilting, acting — there is a wide variety of activities covered under the term art.

I know several people who read, read, read and belong to book clubs. They love literature. One woman belongs to three clubs. She can indulge in her passion for reading stories, then gather with her groups for socializing and stimulating discussion.

Besides volunteering there are many retirees who return to work part-time, whether they need to or not. I know of several people who continue working part-time for the social connections, sense of purpose and challenge that work offers. One woman told me, “My goal is to work until I’m eighty.” Her husband of 56 years does not like her working, but the work gives her such enjoyment, she continues at her job. All of these retirees, in fact, have spouses who did not take up paid work in retirement, opting instead to attend classes, continue hobbies, volunteer and whatever else they want to do.

Some retirees choose to just kick back and let each day unfold itself to them. They reason they worked long hours for decades, had bosses telling them what to do every weekday and maybe beyond, wended their way through office politics and satisfying clients and customers. To them, retirement is a long awaited luxury to just be in their own space and time doing whatever comes along.

Some retirees choose to focus on physical fitness, playing golf or tennis, biking, hiking and swimming. Some take up yoga. I know a ninety-year-old who still golfs twice a week.  His mind is as sharp as his physical fitness.  Staying in good physical shape is important for all of us as we age.  Some retirees choose to make it their focus. What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.

Then there are those retirees like me. I don’t ever want to go back to the old grind, but I also need meaning and purpose in my life like I need air to breath. Doing activities that are fulfilling to me is totally necessary to my happiness. I’m a proponent of finding new meaning and purpose in retirement. Admittedly, what defines new meaning and purpose is obviously different for different people.

I also know people who spend most of their day watching TV. One man has three TV’s going all the time on the same channel, so as he moves from room to room he can continue watching his chosen show. Sitting around on the couch in front of the boob tube all day isn’t a life.

With a possible twenty or thirty years in retirement, you may reinvent yourself as many times as you did during your working years. You may end up doing some or all of the above or any number of other activities. You may be content to just float from day to day for a while, then find yourself needing meaning and purpose. You may not want to return to work even part-time, then find yourself wanting to engage again. Retirement is no different, than any other time in your life. It has twists and turns, ups and downs, opportunity knocking on your door and days of wonderful quiet. Whatever you choose to do in retirement is the norm for you. But, for goodness sake, do something.