What Will You Do In Retirement?

Last week Mike wrote to ask me for a quick answer to the question, “What are you going to do when you retire?” Mike plans to retire in three months. I often receive the related question, “What do you do all day?”. Jan of retirementallychallenged.com (thanks Jan) gave Mike a succinct answer, “Whatever I want.” While it’s true we can do whatever we want in retirement, I think there is more behind the question than mere curiosity.

I know that not everyone reading this blog is a baby boomer, but most asking the questions are baby boomers. We’re a generation that hasn’t thought much about stopping what we’re doing. Many of us are still workaholics. We invented the youth culture — remember ‘don’t trust anyone over 30’? Now 10,000 of us are turning 65 every day of the week.

Boomers have always been the huge train coming down the track. Our numbers caused a boom in the building of hospitals, schools, housing, cars and other stuff. We still want everything on our terms, including retirement. Therein lies the rub. We don’t know what our terms look like. We ask the soon-to-be-retired in the hope of finding answers for ourselves.

Unfortunately, many haven’t saved enough to retire outright and will have to continue working at least part-time. Others have the money, but never developed any hobbies or passions. Their lives revolved around work and family. The go to activities in retirement are travel the world, golf, travel the country in an RV. Those activities do not appeal to everyone. The questioners are wondering what the Mikes of the world are going to do hoping to get some insight into what they will do. There is gobs and gobs of information on financial planning for retirement, but very little on living a retirement life.

The truth is we don’t ever really retire. It is my experience that we save enough money not to have to go to a job to earn a living. However, we still need meaning and purpose in our lives. Our jobs provided much of that along with our social identities and structure. Retirement means we have lots of unstructured time with which to create a new role designed by us for us.

A couple of nights ago Martin and I talked about the question. We are engaged in activities we did not have on our bucket list or story board. Some of the activities we did envision never came to fruition. We don’t care that they didn’t. We wear jeans and t-shirts most days. I kept one dress, one skirt, a couple nice slacks, blouses and jackets. Oh, and two pair of heels. The rest went to charity shops. No more concerns about dry cleaning, polished shoes, polished nails, calendars, to do lists for work and home, juggling appointments, clients, office politics, satisfying the boss and spending weekends running errands. And no rush hour traffic! I let my hair go grey and get it cut every ten weeks instead of cut and color once a month.

To me this is the answer to “What are you going to do when you retire?” :

“I’m going to leave my work role and identity behind. I’m going to explore who I am at my core. I’m on a mission of discovery. I’m going to fail at times, but that’s o.k. I’m also going to succeed. It is both frightening and exhilarating. The possibilities are endless. I’m never going to stop learning. I’m stepping outside my comfort zone. I’m reinventing who I am and may do that every few years.”

And, as Jan says, “Whatever I want.”

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It’s Not All Doom and Gloom

Nearly a year ago I wrote this piece. I think it bears repeating as there is much to be grateful for as we age.

There are benefits to aging. It’s not all doom and gloom. Currently, I’m dealing with a situation again that eight years ago made for a lot of angst in my life. Today, the second time around, it’s not exactly ho-hum, but I have the attitude of ‘it is what it is’. I slept through the night, no tossing and turning over possible outcomes. Sitting here this morning, relaxing with my mug of coffee and surrounded by three of my zen masters (read cats), the benefits of aging is what is on my mind. Here are a few of my thoughts:

1. The words “life’s too short” take on real meaning. While I used to mouth those words, my type A personality couldn’t stop thinking about how to mitigate a given situation. With age I’ve come to understand what I can control and what I can’t. I control what I can. The rest I leave fluttering in the wind without worry.

2. I’m grateful for the ability to experience aging. We all had people in our lives who didn’t make it this far. Disease or accident claimed their lives early. My oldest brother was killed in a car accident. He will be forever twenty. Old age is a gift.

3. I care a lot less about what I wear and how I look. Oh, I still take care of myself. But, my wardrobe consists mainly of t-shirts, jeans and comfy shoes or sandals. When I worked, along with business attire, I put on full makeup every day, styled my hair. Now, I throw on some mascara and blush if I’m going out, pull my hair back into a ponytail and off I go. And, I let my hair go grey. Twenty years ago grey hair and wrinkles bothered me — no more. I’m free!

4. Along with the confidence to sport grey hair and wrinkles, aging has brought more confidence in general. I was always a decision maker. No sitting on the fence for me. But, with age I am more confident in my decisions as being the right ones for me. I’m concerned with what my husband thinks and how my decisions affect him. Otherwise, I don’t think about it much. No one knows what’s best for me like me.

5. Speaking of decisions, there are fewer to make. Life is less complicated. I have fewer roles. Other roles have changed. My working self is gone along with concerns about the company, my clients, my employees, my manager, my time, my commitment, my dress and my decisions. While I’m still a mother, my children are adults, on their own. I’m a grandmother who can enjoy my role without most of the demands of parenting.

6. I no longer live for the weekend. Every day is Saturday. My favorite days are Monday through Friday. Those are the days of the week when I like to go places. I don’t have to deal with crowds or rush hour traffic. Rarely do I have to stand in a long line to check out at a store, get a good table at a nice restaurant or see a show. I can sleep late if I feel like it or get up early if I feel like it. I make my schedule based upon my preferences, not someone else’s.

7. I want less stuff. I’ve figured out what’s important in life and it isn’t the accumulation of things. Relationships with my spouse, family and friends are important. Even my pets are more important than any material thing I could acquire. Doing the activities I enjoy is important. Giving of my time and myself to someone else is important.

These are a few of the benefits to aging I thought of. What are the benefits you see in your life?

A Stress-Free Retirement

Ahhhhh…retirement. Free at last from the stress of the workplace. No more stressing over meeting deadlines, competing for promotions or absorbing yet another policy change. No more training sessions for a new job and you better get it right or the boss won’t be happy with you. No more demanding co-workers, supervisors or customers to face every work day. Life will, instead, be a perpetual weekend or better yet, a vacation.

During the last two years I’ve met several people who retired earlier than planned due to the stress of being in the workplace. Stress happens when people can’t take one more thing. As the pressures pile up, they feel a lack of control. Overwhelmed.

Many, many years ago I read how the administrative assistant of the company CEO is under more stress than the CEO because the assistant has less control over their day. The CEO is the person at the helm, calling all the shots, and, therefore, feeling more in control. After all, the CEO gets to tell their assistant and everyone else in the company what to do, when to do it, how to do it. And, the employees aren’t necessarily told why they are doing it…just get the job done! Their perception is a lack of control while the CEO enjoys the perception of control. The idea of leaving all of that pressure behind as you enter retirement is, indeed, enticing. It’s also just another perception as the pressures of work are replaced by new pressures in retirement.

What would we have to stress over in retirement? Well, to the surprise of even those of us who believe we have enough money, the number one stressor is money. That constant feeling of insecurity lurking just below the surface of everything we do, as we check our portfolio, watch the ups and downs of the stock market and ponder our choice of financial advisor, is stress.

A close second to money is our health. Some of us retired due to health issues, which may be the result of stress in the workplace. My doctor told me most illnesses are the result of inflammation in the body brought on by stress. Or you may have retired in excellent health only to be diagnosed with an unexpected condition such as diabetes, heart disease or even cancer.

Then, there are other people. Other people, it seems, is the number one stressor for the population overall and yes, other people are still a stressor in retirement. Heck, you may even find yourself stressed out by your spouse. After spending a lifetime apart during most days, to suddenly be together 24/7 may be overwhelming at first. But, remember, you are ‘other people’ to someone, which means you are someone else’s stressor. And, then, there’s the big question of, “What am I going to do that has meaning and purpose for the rest of my life?”

There is no such thing as a stress-free retirement just the same as there is no such thing as a stress-free workplace or a stress-free life. Toward the end of one Dynamic Aging class, our instructor brought in a stress coach, Donna Donnelly, to talk to us about stress as we aged. An enthusiastic and fun presenter, Donna not only provided lots of insight into the stress conundrum but infused the class with laughter. Laughter, it turns out, along with sex, is a major de-stressor as the extra oxygen produced goes to the brain. Extra oxygen is part of the relaxation response of deep breath from the abdomen, smile, relax.
With the invention of the MRI, we now know these activities light up both sides of the brain. They increase T-cells, which boost our immune system, helping us to fight off disease as we age. Smiling cuts down on stress. The brain knows when you smile because the corners of your mouth turn up and your lips part a bit. Your brain likes that warm fuzzy feeling smiling evokes and releases neuropeptides, which fight stress. If you’re not used to smiling, guess what? According to Donna, if you aren’t a smiler by nature, stick a pencil in your mouth and your brain will register that as a smile! Sound silly? If you imagine seeing people walking around with pencils in their mouths as they go about their day, it probably is, but, then again, just the thought of that image can put a smile on your face…sans pencil.

Besides smiling, here are a few other things you can do to reduce stress, many of which you probably know but now is the time to practice them, if you’re not already:

1. Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal, taking time at the end of each day to name the things you are grateful for in that day. It could be as simple as seeing a rose bloom in your garden or taking a walk around the block with a friend.

2. Accept change. If you are someone like myself, who needs the perception of control, use the Serenity Prayer to let go of the things in life you can’t control, which, by the way includes most things.

SERENITY PRAYER
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

3. Practice mindfulness. Staying in the moment, actively engaging with your environment of the moment and letting your thoughts and emotions arise and dissolve away, will help you let go of the past and keep you from worrying about the future.

4. Put together your support system. We all need other people, especially as we age. Family, very close friends and community groups all provide support. And, don’t forget pets. They also form part of our support system. My cats always know when something is off. They gather around and hang out to cheer me up.

5. Find stress relieving activities. Yoga, meditation, journaling, gardening, a walk around the block or a hike through a nearby park can all relieve stress. Find your stress reliever and use it as your go to when you feel stressed out by life.

6. Get plenty of sleep. As we age, that seems to be a tough one for some of us. However, it is even more important than ever as it keeps our brains functioning at top capacity. So, aim for at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.

Even though retirement will never be stress-free, it can be a less stress time of life if we focus on the positive and adopt the above practices. Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives. Nor the most intelligent that survives. It’s the one most adaptable to change.” Be a person who adapts. And, don’t forget to smile!

It’s Not All Doom And Gloom

 

There are benefits to aging. It’s not all doom and gloom.

Currently, I’m dealing with a situation again that eight years ago made for a lot of angst in my life. Today, the second time around, it’s not exactly ho-hum, but I have the attitude of ‘it is what it is’. I slept through the night, no tossing and turning over possible outcomes. Sitting here this morning, relaxing with my mug of coffee and surrounded by three of my zen masters (read cats), the benefits of aging is on my mind. Here are a few of my thoughts:

1. The words “life’s too short” take on real meaning. While I used to mouth those words, my type A personality couldn’t stop thinking about how to mitigate a given situation. With age I’ve come to understand what I can control and what I can’t. I control what I can. The rest I leave fluttering in the wind without worry.

2. I’m grateful for the ability to experience aging. We all had people in our lives who didn’t make it this far. Disease or accident claimed their lives early. My oldest brother was killed in a car accident. He will be forever twenty. Old age is a gift.

3. I care a lot less about what I wear and how I look. Oh, I still take care of myself. But, my wardrobe consists mainly of t-shirts, jeans and comfy shoes or sandals. When I worked, along with business attire, I put on full makeup every day, styled my hair. Now, I throw on some mascara and blush if I’m going out, pull my hair back into a ponytail and off I go. And, I let my hair go grey. Twenty years ago grey hair and wrinkles bothered me _ no more. I’m free!

4. Along with the confidence to sport grey hair and wrinkles, aging has brought more confidence in general. I was always a decision maker. No sitting on the fence for me. But, with age I am more confident in my decisions as being the right ones for me. I’m concerned with what my husband thinks and how my decisions affect him. Otherwise, I don’t think about it much. No one knows what’s best for me like me.

5. Speaking of decisions, there are fewer to make. Life is less complicated. I have fewer roles. Other roles have changed. My working self is gone along with concerns about the company, my employees, my manager, my time, my commitment, my dress and my decisions. While I’m still a mother, my children are adults, on their own. I’m a grandmother who can enjoy that role without most of the demands of parenting.

6. I no longer live for the weekend. Every day is Saturday. My favorite days are Monday through Friday. Those are the days of the week when I like to go places. I don’t have to deal with crowds. I can avoid rush hour traffic. Rarely do I have to stand in a long line to check out at a store, get a good table at a nice restaurant or see a show. I can sleep late if I feel like it or get up early if I feel like it. I make my schedule based upon my preferences.

7. I want less stuff. I need very little.  I’ve figured out what’s important in life and it isn’t the accumulation of things. Relationships with my spouse, family and friends are important. My cats are important.  Doing the activities I enjoy is important. Giving of my time and myself to someone else is important.  All of this is more important than any material thing I could acquire.

As I sit here finishing my coffee, these are a few of the benefits to aging I thought of. What are the benefits you see in your life?

Will Decluttering Make You Happier?

 

Clutter

Last week a friend sent me an email with a message about days gone by when, instead of throwing something away when it broke down, our parents generation fixed the item. That’s how I grew up. We repaired shoes, lawn mowers, televisions and washers. My friend’s email also reminded me how every spring we took part in the ritual of spring cleaning, opening windows after a long winter and clearing away the season’s accumulation of dust and grime. Today, in our material driven economies, we tend to hang onto all kinds of things, broken or not, which may not add anything purposeful to our lives, but take up plenty of space in both our homes and our minds.

It must be all the years I spent as a real estate broker, looking at garages crammed so full the family cars wouldn’t begin to fit in them. While I no longer take part in a spring cleaning ritual, each January I have my own ritual of decluttering. Since retirement, that is one habit I have not changed. Why? There are lots of reasons to declutter.

1. Decluttering helps me start the year off fresh, clear and focused. Without excess stuff in my desk, closets, art work space and garage, I can focus on what matters most to me. Activities like writing, drawing and gardening can take precedence without having to sort through clutter to find what I need. Everything has a place and is in the place it should be. Whew! I can relax and not only enjoy these activities but have time for my spouse, family and friends.

2. Since I donate what I no longer need or want, it also helps those less fortunate in my community. Clothing, sports equipment, home furnishings, eyeglasses, cell phones and other electronics can be put to good use. Some people hold a garage or yard sale and make a few extra bucks. I’d rather give it away and use my time for activities that hold more meaning to me.

3. Clearing unnecessary items also clears out places for the dust and dust mites to accumulate. That’s right. Dust mites _ ick. As someone suffering from allergies, including an allergy to dust mites, I’m all for reducing places for the little darlings to accumulate. So, allergic or not, decluttering may also help you breathe easier.

4. While you’re decluttering, take a clue from our parents’ generation.  Take the time to fix the fixable. I learned years ago how decluttering removed a lot of life’s little annoyances. Fixing things has the same effect. Even a broken shoe lace can nip at the edges of your subconscious mind clouding your thoughts. Replacing burnt out light bulbs, smoke alarm batteries, weed whacker string, filters or anything else you have waiting for attention clears your mind for more important thoughts, like what are you going to do today to change the world?

5. Once you declutter and make a habit of decluttering yearly, you’ll find that you actually accumulate less clutter during the year. Why? Because you start looking at the accumulation of stuff differently. You start asking yourself, “Is this an item I really need or will I end up donating it next year?” I find myself living a more minimalist lifestyle. I am decidedly knick-knack adverse. Every time I look at something pretty or cute in a store, I think to myself, “Who’s going to dust that?” My answer is always, “Not me.” Then, I put it back down and walk away. Decluttering changes your mindset.

While I can honestly say decluttering probably hasn’t made me happier, it has made me saner. Every time you buy more stuff, you bring home a thing, which needs cleaning, maintenance, storage and, potentially, fixing. The more things you have, the more things you have to suck up your time with busy work. Is that what you want in retirement? Busy work? Or do you want your remaining years filled with work that really matters to you?

A decluttered life is a less harried life. Instead of feeling like Alice chasing the White Rabbit down one hole after another, I feel relaxed when I know exactly where to go to lay my hands on the scissors or the battery charger or my drawing pencils or whatever. I feel good knowing my time is spent on more productive activities that enrich my life. And, I love it, absolutely LOVE it, when the smoke alarm batteries are changed before the darn things start beeping at me, always, ALWAYS some time around midnight. Now that I think of it, avoiding that annoyance is cause for happiness!

WHAT’S YOUR RUSH

During a horse-drawn wagon tour of Charleston last year, our entertaining driver told us a story to highlight the slower paced living of the city. As the story goes, sometime in the first half of the twentieth century, a New Yorker moved to Charleston and, stuck in late afternoon traffic one day, he began to beep his car horn in an apparent effort to move the traffic along. Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, well-known artist and Charleston native, was passing by on the sidewalk. Verner stopped to ask him what all the fuss was about. Finding the man had no place in particular he was required to be and admitting he enjoyed living in Charleston, she responded in true laid back Southern form, “Well, if you’re where you want to be, what’s your rush?” Upon hearing this quote, I whipped out a little note pad I carry with me, wrote down the words, which I typed up when I got home and taped to my bathroom mirror as a reminder to slow my life’s pace.

When I say slow my life’s pace, I’m talking about taking the opportunity to savor life. I’m talking about finding a meaningful life. For those of us with the good fortune to leave the traditional workforce behind, this time in our lives is a gift. Even if we choose to use this time to continue working, whether it’s starting a business we always dreamed of or working part-time at something entirely new to us or working as a volunteer supporting a cause we care about, it is a time when we are living by terms we create. It is a time when we have the space to focus on what really matters to us. The trick is to avoid filling up the space with sheer busyness simply because that’s what we are used to doing. Part of the transition from work life is realizing the frenetic pace, which often accompanies working is unnecessary. And, it probably always was.

Many people live busy, busy lives accomplishing all kinds of things but those lives are often unfulfilled. Their lives appear satisfying on the surface. I have met many people who moved at light speed from one appointment or meeting to the next, often read emails or opened snail mail while “listening” to other people, proud of their multi-tasking abilities. They dashed from work to their kid’s ball game or a community commitment, gobbling dinner on the run. There were public accolades added to their resumes. But, sitting down with them, for a rare moment of introspection, often revealed they were largely unhappy as their success propelled them to just chase after more, leaving them with an empty feeling at the end of the day. One of the challenges when you retire, as in all of life, is stopping this busyness long enough to listen your own heart and head. This is a time for inner focus. So, I made a conscious effort in the last year to slow the pace and think about what I really found important in life. The result has been a much richer, rewarding life.

Firstly, I realized not everything is important. I can let a lot of things go, which in the past would have been a source of annoyance. When I worked, I was highly organized. Everything would be done, every item had a place and was in its place both at home and work. My car was spic and span, my hair always “done” and my outfits put together. I scheduled appointments for everything for the entire year. My life today is much more relaxed, less focused on things, more focused on people, pets and activities I enjoy doing.

Secondly, speaking of people, I realized there are certain people who are the most important people to me. While I was never in the habit of letting someone into my life just because they happened to show up at my door, I did have relationships with people who were no longer in synch with me. Conversely, I also realized I had relationships with people who were not that keen on me. In the last year, I think I’ve had the good grace to let both go. The most important person in my life is my husband, Martin, and that is the relationship I pay the most attention to. It has not always been the case. And, transitioning to being together 24/7 was its own challenge but our relationship has never been better.

Thirdly, I realized I was still acting a bit like I did when I worked, wanting to accomplish as much as I could and try everything on my bucket list all at once. But, at the end of 2013 I looked at my list and said, “What do I want to do this year?” I decided to try something new each year for as long as I can and focus on that one thing. This year is the Year of Drawing, which I first did fall 2013. Yes, I will most likely continue doing art for the rest of my life but this year I’m not muddying the waters by adding this and that on top of it. As a result, I feel more centered, less scattered than ever before. And, I’ve accomplished more than I ever dreamed possible with this one activity. I still garden and write, two other activities I enjoy, volunteer with the Master Gardeners Program, hike, walk and do the usual, but by not adding anything else new, I have found balance.

After all, I am where I want to be…retired. So, what is the rush?

PRACTICE NOT DOING

Another New Year and I deliberately chose not to make any resolutions. In past years I almost always had a resolution or two. Or three. Or four. Like most people, 80% by the latest figure I read somewhere in my reading travels last week, I didn’t keep my resolutions. Well, maybe once in a great while. So, this year is the year of no resolutions. Instead, I’m choosing a different path.

The thing I wanted most in 2013 was for the transition into my retirement journey to be made. Understanding there is a period of adjustment to a new life style didn’t make the journey any easier. There seemed to be constant stress over money and health issues and Martin and I being together 24/7. The budget I so trustingly established in December 2012 went to Hell in a hand basket somewhere around mid-year. I was in a constant health watch mode as everything from multiple yellow-jacket stings to a mystery allergic reaction (stress?) sent me to the doctor’s office again and again. Happily, somewhere around the one year mark of our retirement anniversary I reached the moment in time where I stopped stressing and started enjoying. Miraculously, retirement was suddenly fulfilling, stress free. This transition didn’t happen by accident. It took a certain mindfulness to achieve.

Traditionally, October is the month when I do a quick and dirty assessment of our income taxes. If there are any surprises, knowing about it gives me a couple of months to make adjustments before the wolf…er…IRS is at the door. It also affords the opportunity to sort through files and be sure I have receipts to date. Yes, I’m organized and its effortless really because I’ve been doing it for decades. One shortfall in my organizational plan is a college type notebook of blank paper I keep on my desk. This is where I write lists, reminder notes and squirrel away slips of paper with more notations, pictures and whatever else I don’t have a file for. This year as I sorted through the minutia I pulled out a paper with a saying I’d come across much earlier in the year. Apparently, it didn’t resonate enough at the time for me to try to internalize its meaning. But, that sunny day in October it hit me with a punch and I mean a whopper of a punch.

I read a lot. Somewhere, I read this quote by Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu and jotted it down. “Practice not doing and everything will fall into place.” What does that mean? Am I supposed to turn lazy and do nothing? And, take my taxes for instance, nothing will fall into place if I’m not organized and on it. Not only did I read the quote again and again, turning it over in my mind for meaning, I did what any internet surfer would do, I Googled it. After reading about the life of Lao Tzu, who lived about 600 years before Christ, I came across an analysis of some of his quotes. This one means life has a natural flow to it, including the ever constant and dependable change. In fact, change is inevitable. Yet, as human beings we like our comfort zone so another constant is our inevitable resistance to change. How many of us have worked someplace where a change occurs and, without fail, someone will say, “But we’ve always done it that way.” Wailing, complaining and resisting all the way, they make life miserable for themselves and everyone around them perhaps even to the point where they are fired. Tzu’s philosophy says resistance to life’s changes and the natural ebb and flow only creates strife, pain and sorrow. Instead, accept what is. Let reality be reality. Allow the natural order of things to move forward without resistance. Acceptance creates a less stressful life. Hmmm…Was finding a fulfilling retirement simply a matter of acceptance of what is?

I began asking myself, on a scale of one to ten, how bad is this issue or that issue? Is there anything you don’t have right now this minute such as housing, food, clothing, even good health? Is there anything in your life right now this minute which is truly a crisis, a problem? Mentally, I assigned a number to each issue that arose. If the issue was put in perspective, well, then, it didn’t seem so bad. Yes, being stung by 8 yellow jackets and having your hand swell to the size of a small cantaloupe while a red streak courses its way up your arm is scary but it isn’t cancer. With my changed view, stress just seemed to evaporate as I put the stuff life dishes out in perspective, accepting it. What is, is.

Resolutions? No. I decided to just keep following Tzu’s philosophy. Resolutions are unnecessary. No sweat here. Instead of being a week into the New Year and already casting my resolutions aside, feeling guilty at letting myself down, in 2014 I’m just continuing to practice not doing. Heck, I might not even look at the tax file next October.

A DAILY LIFE

OK! I’ve been derelict two weeks in a row. I didn’t post on my appointed Monday date with you. Please forgive me. I’ve been galavanting around the southeast, didn’t have anything I felt post worthy to put out there and so, dear readers I’m a derelict. That said, this experience made me think of yet another great thing about being retired…I can spur-of-the-moment, or not, take off to parts known or unknown. So, when one of my sisters and her partner decided to make a trip south on the spur-of-the-moment (they’re also retired), we were able to say, “Hey, stop by for a visit”, with little upset to our routine. Yes, even in retirement we have a routine. Routines add structure to our lives and it’s structure which makes the special moments special. That doesn’t go away in retirement.

After years of getting up at the same time, getting ready for work in much the same way each day and having to be at your desk, office, station, work site at a specific time, suddenly all of that comes to a screeching halt. You can sleep in everyday if you want. You can get up and throw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt or hang out in your pj’s ’til noon or all day. You have no place to go unless you manufacture a place to go. You have nothing to do unless you create something to do. So, part of challenge in retirement is how will you create structure. Why? Do you really want to spend the next thirty years of your life sleeping in and sitting around the house in your pj’s doing nothing more than watching the tube, surfing the net and leafing through magazines waiting for the special moments?

After placing in the state time trials, the question Martin has been asked most often in the last week is, “So, what will you do now?” It’s also similar to an often asked question since we retired, “What do you do all day?” And, therein lies the rub. After 40 years or more of someone telling you what to do all day, there is suddenly no boss. There are no corporate directives. There are no promotions to a higher level. There are no new products to roll out. There are no employees bringing you problems to solve. There is no job description. There is no company policy manual. There are no rules. Only you. In retirement it’s up to you to determine your fate. That, folks, is probably the number one challenge of being a person of independent means.

Martin has already decided he won’t be competing in the national time trials. He’ll continue to ride for exercise and the company of a local group of cyclists. He’s already exploring taking a college course or two in photography and/or painting with acrylics. We can always find something new to challenge our brains and satisfy our creative vision. But, understand this. Determining your fate isn’t one big round of finding something creative or challenging to fill your days. Your days also need some of the usual. The everyday. The oftentimes mundane. Because one of the things which has also vaporized with your work life is structure. Maybe not entirely but a significant amount of your routine is gone.

When working, long weekends and vacation days often become moments when we do something special in between the structure of work. Structure is the juxtaposition which creates the excitement of say racing in the state time trials or running a marathon. To be sure, there’s the structure offered by laundry, grocery shopping, house maintenance and family obligations. The latter remains even in retirement. Although for us, shopping and errand running on the weekends and evenings has been replaced with doing those chores early morning weekdays when the stores are pretty close to empty. Now we do laundry whenever the hamper is full. House cleaning is whenever we feel like it or to motivate ourselves, we invite someone for a visit or dinner.

But, back to our daily life and the importance of routine. After years of dinner sometime between 6:30 and 7:30, in our new life, we enjoy starting dinner early and eating around 5:30. Structure. Thanks to a little diluted orange cat named Carmen, Martin still gets up in the morning around 5:30 to 6 a.m. Carmie doesn’t realize Daddy doesn’t go to work anymore so, she sticks to the routine she was raised with, meowing at the bedroom door in anticipation of Martin rising and giving early morning pets and breakfast. I sleep in until Martin brings me a latte bedside around 7 a.m. That’s right, girls, he makes me a latte every morning…structure! Even our choice to age in place on our six acres provides routine, albeit different routines during the different seasons. With an overgrown woods looking like something the Prince had to hack through to reach Sleeping Beauty in the castle, winter’s routine is bushwhacking. This time of year with summer approaching, mornings are spent picking berries and vegetables, deadheading flower beds and doing chores in the garden. Then, there’s house maintenance like cleaning gutters, painting the house trim, fixing a leaking toilet and all the other things you now have time to do yourself instead of paying someone else to do it for you.

So, no matter what you plan for retirement. Skydiving. Bungee jumping. Spending a year in an RV traveling the country. Going to Europe or Hawaii. Sailing the seven seas. No matter what you plan for excitement or challenge, in order to make it truly exciting, you’ll need a daily life of the usual, the everyday and mundane. you’ll need structure and routine. However, even if you have a blog to write, you can take off spur-of-the-moment to parts known or unknown.

ROSEMARY, PARSLEY AND THYME

“I think careful cooking is love, don’t you? The loveliest thing you can cook for someone who’s close to you is about as nice a valentine as you can give.”

– Julia Child

As an ice storm bore down on the south recently, Martin and I hunkered down at home. Grateful to no longer be working, we settled into the luxury of being able to stay put while we waited out the storm. On a cold winter’s day there’s nothing better than a pot of something aromatic and tasty simmering on the stove. Equally appealing is something warm and crusty baking in the oven. So, as the wet, cold stuff began to fly through the air, I dashed out to the garden to pluck some rosemary, parsley and thyme from my garden. Back in the warmth of our kitchen, Martin sat by the fire snuggling a purring cat. I diced onions, celery and green pepper. I chopped rosemary and parsley and blended my version of creole seasoning, filling a hot pot for jambalaya as I worked. The aromas wafted through the air, even as the hood vent sucked the fumes outside perchance for a lucky neighbor to enjoy. At first, we talk mostly about the storm, marveling at how great it feels to be home instead of having to drive on ice today. As I mix flour, yeast, water and rosemary for bread, our attention turns to how many meals we’ve cooked together and for each other.

Long, long before retirement, way back when we were first married and our kids were young, Martin and I started cooking together. As young marrieds we explored all types of cuisine finding excitement in seemingly exotic ingredients as we tried ethnic and regional dishes. We subscribed to early cook’s magazines and put cook books on gift wish lists. Once, years before almost anything could instantly be found online, Martin even chased down the author of a Chinese cookbook after we failed to find it at any of the area bookstores. Responding to his request, the author sent us an autographed copy of her book, which today is well-worn and splattered with the makings of many a great meal. Since there was also a time when it was impossible to find fresh herbs in the grocery store, I ordered seeds from a catalog and started a herb garden. That first year, thinking they looked like weeds, I yanked out all the basil seedlings. But, no matter what, after a long day of work, we enjoyed coming home to make a great meal together, sharing our day’s adventures while we enjoyed a glass of wine in the heart of our home.

As we became more accomplished cooks, it became apparent we each had our specialties. Despite our large library of cook books and recipes, we were also adept at improvising, making meals while we loosely followed a recipe or, perhaps, using only our experience. As I perfected my herb gardening skills and expanded to vegetable gardening, our choice of fresh ingredients outside our back door offered up new opportunities to improvise. As our individual repertoires grew, it was only natural the one with whichever specialty would take the lead while the other assisted. We worked in tandem even as we allowed for one or the other of us to take the lead on any given night. And so it was, as we shared our day thousands of times over and over and over again. In retirement, this ritual has not changed. No matter how we’ve spent our day, together or apart, at the end of the day we come together to cook a great meal with each other, for each other, and just talk, for the love of cooking and for the love of each other.

DIAL IT DOWN

I worked at one time or another with people who prided themselves on being able to multi-task. They would work on the computer while supposedly listening to an employee or talking on the phone. These were the same people who would cram their calendars full of meetings, rushing out the door to get to the next venue as they pulled out their cell to answer voice mails on the way. Lunch was often just another meeting or grabbed on the run, if at all. I didn’t live quite that frenzied a work life but I did pedal as fast as I could to balance work and home. I’m organized. And my goal on both ends was to be as organized as possible so I would have more time with my family as well as a snippet now and then of me time.

My weekends were spent meal planning, grocery shopping, cleaning and doing laundry, all of which were a family affair. I guess that was the family time I wanted so badly. We’d all troop to the grocery store walking the aisles, filling the cart and checking off the list. I told myself that by spending the weekend prepping for the week at home I could relax on week nights. The truth was my frenzied weekends allowed me to work longer hours. At some point I realized I was no longer stopping to smell the roses. One supervisor told me I could get more done before 2 p.m. than most people could do all day. That should have been a wake up call! I was a workaholic. Both at work and at home I pedaled as fast as I could, absent from my own life. And, at times, I was a stressed out mess.

So how do you dial it down? It took years for that to happen and when it did, I was racked with guilt, feeling lazy. Dialing it down is tough for a couple of reasons. First you’re surrounded by a world where just about everyone else is moving at the speed of light. Yeah, they’re a stressed out mess just like you but most people think that’s the way life is. We’re now into at least a third generation of frenzied living. The idea that Grandma and Grandpa didn’t live this way is not even on most people’s radar. So when you slow down, especially at work, you may be seen as lazy, a loser, no longer a player, which leads to the second reason it’s tough to dial it down…you. Can you make the transition to a simpler reality? Do you have the mental and emotional strength to get off the bicycle and just walk while everyone around you continues to pedal as fast as they can? There are things you can do to transition to a simpler life.

If you’re not in a position to all out retire, you can opt for a new career. Most of us aren’t doing what we wanted to do in life. What was that for you? Is money the reason you aren’t doing what you dreamed about as a child? If so, you’ll have to look at dialing down your financial obligations. Selling the big house (and the big mortgage) may be part of the package. Less to clean, heat, cool and pay taxes on. So will be getting rid of the vehicle that requires a vehicle loan. Your European or even Mexico vacations may become staycations. But exploring your own town or state can be more fulfilling than laying on a sandy beach in a foreign country. Your kids may have to work part-time while going to college, which will look good on their resume. You may also have to find new friends. The true friends will be there no matter how nutty you look when you give up your big corporate job to farm or paint or become an x-ray technician. They’ll be your friend even if you trade in the SUV, the boat and the vacations for a used Toyota Corolla and drive to the nearest state park for a staycation.

Even though we’ve downsized and simplified, my husband is still pedaling some days. Recently we had a family dinner. While the rest of us were sitting around enjoying antipasto and wine, I looked out to see Martin sweeping the porch. He hasn’t stopped the perpetual motion yet. I have to remind myself it’s only been two months since he retired. My point is this. Even after making all the changes in your life to simplify, to slow down, you may find it takes a tremendous amount of determination to actually do it. Why? We’ve lived at light speed for so long now that anything else seems unnatural. It seems unnatural to actually have face to face conversations without gadgets to look at. It seems unnatural to just sit and enjoy a setting sun or the view from the garden or back deck. It seems unnatural to just curl up with a book and have complete quiet without checking emails or talking on the cell. So, prepare yourself to be prepared to struggle with dialing it down. It’s OK. Eventually, you’ll get there. It took me 18 months to dial it down and I still pedal some days. But the days where I spend a bit of it piddling around, guilt-free, are getting easier to take.