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.

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A Daily Life

 

This post originally appeared June 26, 2013.  It has been updated.  One of the surprises of going back and reading posts from a few years ago is how much my writing has improved!  The more we do something, the better we become at doing it.

 

Up until recently, I had a blogging routine. I wrote my weekly post on Friday. On Saturday morning I got up, edited the article, then posted it. That routine was broken when I decided to write a book. Writing a larger piece required a new routine. Routines are important, even in retirement. Routines add structure to our lives and it is structure which makes it possible to meet challenges, accomplish whatever we set out to do and makes the special moments special.

 
After years of getting up at the same time, getting ready for work in much the same way and having to be at your desk, office, station, work site at a specific time every day, suddenly all of that comes to a screeching halt. With retirement, 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 pajamas until 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.

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?

After placing in the state time trials, the question Martin has been asked most often 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. In retirement it is up to you to determine your fate. That, folks is 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 his own enjoyment. 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 often times 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 become moments when we do something special in between the structure of work. Structure is the juxtaposition to 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 is replaced with doing those chores early morning weekdays when the stores are 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.

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 care that Daddy doesn’t go to work anymore. 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, 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. Summer 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 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.

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. You will need structure and routine. And, even if you have a book to write, you can take off spur-of-the-moment to parts known or unknown.

Are You A Caregiver?

To Do List

To Do List

Some of my best ideas for posts come from friends, family and, of course, my readers. A friend, who is in the process of finding nursing home care for her 92 year old mother, suggested I write this post on caregiving. With reader comments about their caregiving responsibilities, it’s a subject I’ve looked at before. Admittedly I avoided it because caregiving is such a broad subject with many layers. Where to begin? I decided to begin with the caregiver, a many layered and varied subject in and of itself with as many scenarios as there are people.

According to caregiving.org in 2015 there were nearly 44 million unpaid caregivers in the United States alone. With 10,000 baby boomers arriving daily at their 65th birthday, that number is expected to rise. Boomers are not only giving care, they are needing care. However, caregiving.org reported 1 in 10 caregivers were over the age of 75. Forty percent of caregivers report the care as being a high burden for them and higher hour (44.5 hours a week) caregivers are stressed. The physical burden, especially at an older age, appears to carry a larger emotional burden as the hours of caregiving amount to that of a full-time job with little or no time for a personal break.

As a wife and mother I’ve been in the role of caregiving in the past, one that comes as a natural part of raising children or caring for a spouse recuperating after an accident. Most of the caregivers are, in fact, women. I can imagine that as we age and find ourselves caring for someone, we may not view ourselves as caregivers. It’s what we have always done for family or sometimes, even friends.

I’ve known many people, like my friend, who are either caregiving directly or are responsible for arranging caregiving. It is a complicated subject. There is no one size fits all. Some people are caregiving for an aging spouse or other relative or friend, while others are continuing the care of handicapped adult children and others still are taking on the upbringing of grandchildren. Some retired not expecting to be in this role.

Earlier in the summer I had the pleasure of having one of my grandchildren visit for two weeks as he accompanied Martin and me on a trip to Michigan to visit our oldest daughter and her family. An active, engaging seven-year-old caring for him takes a lot of energy. There are the usual undertakings like making sure he is eating his vegetables or getting a bath or off to bed at a prescribed time to the unfamiliar activities of assisting with the technical gadgets this generation carries with them as a matter of course. Then there was keeping track of him, keeping him occupied, making sure he is spending his time well. I found myself more tired in the evening. What was a snap when I was thirty takes more effort for the aging me. And, I wasn’t having to be concerned with school, financial responsibilities or healthcare.

This reminds me of a conversation I had a few years ago when I was interviewing the local Alzheimer’s Association as a volunteer for United Way. The woman representing the organization remarked about how stressful the role of caregiving is for the caregiver, impacting their quality of life and even their health as they care for their loved one. Support and a respite, if only for a few hours a week is important. Depending on the extent and duration of the caregiving, it can be stressful, especially as we age.

According to the Center for Disease Control more than half of caregivers said they do not have time to take care of themselves and almost half said they are too tired to do so. It’s easy for me to say because I’m not in that role, at least not yet, but this brings to mind one of my favorite sayings, “Put your own oxygen mask on first. Otherwise, you may not be able to help the other passengers.” If you are in the role of being a caregiver, it is important to take care of yourself so you are able to continue to care for your loved one. Otherwise, what will happen to them if you leave this world first?

That means eating well balanced meals, finding time for some exercise, getting your immunizations, health check-ups and taking any medications you may need. A support group where you can share your story and network for needed services can provide some relief for the stress. Is that easier said than done?

As I mentioned above, caregiving and receiving care is expected to take on more significance as baby boomers age. This generation’s huge numbers is expected to be an opportunity for companies in the healthcare and senior care industries. Most of this generation wants to age in place using in-home services. Realistically, they may not have the financial capacity to go to assisted living facilities.  Aging in place may not be by choice but necessity.

As also mentioned, some of my readers have written comments about caregiving responsibilities. I’d like to hear from any and all of you who are engaged in caregiving be it a spouse, parent, adult child, grandchildren or friend. Caregiving runs the gamut of taking someone grocery shopping, to the doctor or doing some housework to being responsible for attending to all physical and personal needs, finances and even some medical or nursing duties.

For starters:  What are your responsibilities?  How does your caregiving impact your hours for taking care of yourself?  Do you have time for activities you enjoy like a hobby? Do you feel burdened by caregiving responsibilities or is it something you enjoy doing? Why is that? Did you expect to be in this role when you retired or did it catch you by surprise? If you didn’t expect to be a caregiver, how did it change your retirement? Do you consider yourself in good health? Has being a caregiver caused your own health to decline? Do you feel more stressed or is caregiving just one more hat to wear? And whatever else you want to comment about.

Let us know what it’s like on the front lines of caregiving. Tell me your story.  I’ll post your comments and pass your observations on to others in a future post. Your story may help someone else.

Stop Caring About What Others Think

A few months ago I saw a bright pink plastic rabbit head ring on the finger of a woman I recently met. Obviously, full of life and living her life her way, she also sported the dark red hair of the unorthodox among our younger generations. The ring looked like something my five year old granddaughter, Sophie, would be wearing _ not someone in my age group. “I love your ring.” I said. “Thanks. I’m not dead.” She replied. I laughed and told her, “That’s what I tell people who think I’m a little out there these days. I’m old; I’m not dead!” In return, she said, “I’ll believe it when you dye your hair purple.” While I haven’t taken up her challenge and most probably won’t, I instantly admired this woman for her courage to be herself.

All of us are concerned with what other people think of us, even if we don’t consciously acknowledge that concern. How we act, what we say, how we dress are all tied up in the human desire to belong. Most of us want to be accepted and liked by others. Part of that want is our survival instinct. Long, long ago when our ancestors depended upon the tribe for safety and food, humans conformed to ensure the tribe continued to accept them.

Fast forward to our modern times and our modern retirement. After leaving our work tribe behind, comes an opportunity to be less concerned about what other people think of us. An article in Huff Post/50 about Dick Van Dyke turning 90, quoted the actor as saying, “As you get older you care less and less about what people think.”

When I was younger, I was concerned about how I dressed and what came out of my mouth, especially at work. I wore lots of grey, beige, black and navy suits _ conservative for the conservative industry in which I worked. I called myself a little brown bird trying to blend into the forest. I was concerned with conforming and fitting in. Van Dyke’s statement hit home with me as I realized how much I’ve changed since retiring. This bird is free and flying!

Retirement can be a time of self-actualization, of freedom to say and do what we want, a time of creativity. While we still need to act with a certain amount of decorum in order to glue our society together, the way we dress, the people with whom we socialize and what we do with our time is entirely up to us. We choose how we engage.

Someone once told me, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” This interesting little twist on perspective is freeing, no matter what your stage of life. Even though I often told people trying to force feed me their advice, “No one knows what’s best for Kathy like Kathy,” I also often worried about coming off as rude or arrogant. After all, and this holds especially true for women, we were taught as children to play nice and get along.  Being a ‘nice girl’, or boy, all the time can rob you of being yourself. Experience taught me to follow my personal drum beat to a certain extent, but survival in the corporate jungle was still my priority. Age and retirement has given me the gift of not caring who thinks what about my life.

It takes courage at any age to follow your heart and mind but the reward is living a fuller life, living your life, not someone else’s life. Life is entirely too short not to be true to yourself. Once I left the world of work, a shift in my outlook began. I didn’t stop caring about my appearance but I did stop caring about what someone else thought of it. I also speak my mind more freely and just shrug off any raised eyebrows.

In retirement I am more my authentic self than at any other time except, perhaps, childhood. Maybe that’s what retirement is _ a second childhood. I freed myself from the constraints of what others think of me. Instead of looking at what the outside world thinks of what I do and say, I’m looking inside myself. The only person you can ever please fully and unconditionally is yourself. You will never please all of the people all of the time. So, don’t even bother trying. If, like me, you spent time thinking about what others think of you, stop. This is your time. Take it without guilt. Fly, little bird, fly!

Just for fun!

Just for fun!

On second thought, maybe I will add just a little streak of purple to my hair.

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, some of which may be the result of stress in the workplace. My doctor has said 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, cross wise, of course, 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. Engage in 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. Cat naps are ok, too.

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!

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?

UNCONVENTIONAL LIFESTYLES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glory Days

What is it about the past that it takes on a rosy glow for many people as they age? Was our past really so much better than our present? In my sixth decade I notice more and more people of my generation and older looking back longingly at the good old days. As I listen to those wistfully reliving their youth, it was a simpler time where everyone respected everyone else, crime was nearly non-existent, jobs plentiful in a soaring economy and the good times just went on and on. Their remembrance of their past is often contrasted to a perceived gloomy future riding on the heels of a problem ridden today.

Decades ago when my mother was close to my age, she remarked about an old friend wanting to get together to reminisce about the good old days. At the time I thought my mother was being a bit of a cynic as she went on to say she had no desire to relive the past. She didn’t believe it was all that wonderful. Today, I tend to agree with her but in a things are better today than they were in my youth sort of way. But, if people from my mother’s generation glorified the past as much as people from my generation, is this a phenomenon which occurs with each generation as we age or is each decade really better than the previous or each 100 years really better than the previous 100? I doubt 1914 was better than 2014. I doubt 1940 when my mother was a young woman was really better than 1980 when her friend wanted to revisit the good old days. Each moment in time is fraught with its problems and its excellence. So, why do we look back in fondness and yearning for the good old days?

As a baby boomer, when I look back to my youth, I remember social turmoil as minorities and women fought for their civil rights. I remember limited opportunities for women. When I entered the management training program at a local bank, I was told to my face both at work and by men and women in the community how I was taking a job away from a man with a family. Gee, I guess my husband and two kids aren’t a family. See, I can be cynical. I remember horrible diseases where there was no vaccine to spare child and parent from the specter of death or disability, including the dreaded polio, which I had at age 3 and managed to escape relatively unscathed. I remember a communist under every bed as we kids lined the school hallways scrunched down on the floor as air raid sirens blared a practice run in the shadow of the atom bomb threat. By the time I was 10 we didn’t line the hallways, but got under our desks as if that would save us. I remember seeing violence on the news every night as leaders were assassinated, Soviet tanks crossed borders, the civil rights movement erupted with bombs, tear gas and murders and the Vietnam War grew into a colossal loss of life. I remember an economy which unraveled as gas prices soared sending us into a long recession coupled with runaway inflation. Were there good times? Yes! There were great times. But, the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s were also not as rosy as some portray those decades. So, why are some boomers putting on the rose-tinted glasses as they view this particular past?

I think Bruce Springsteen hit it out of the park with his song, “Glory Days”. All of the people he sang about longed for the days of their youth when they were riding high or life lay before them fresh, new and awaiting. Late teens and twenties seem to be the age most people gravitate to with their stories of good old days. For some, it may be early thirties. I’m one of those early thirty types. When I think about the past, there’s a time in my life starting at exactly age thirty where the entire world seemed to open up for me. It actually evokes a very pleasant feeling all warm and fuzzy, eternally rosy. When I think of this time, I get that warm feeling as my mind fills with wonderful memories. It was an exhilarating time of high success as my career took off. I jetted all over the country for my job. We made money, money and more money. Our kids took piano and ballet and played softball and basketball. They went to the best schools in the area. We went out to dinner at tony restaurants, were invited to parties where celebrities were also on the guest list, took vacations and belonged to local museums and art centers. We bought beautiful homes, cars and furniture and were what was known at the time as yuppies. The dreams and possibilities for our future seemed endless as we rode this huge euphoric wave of personal and material success. The pictures in my mind and the warm feeling filter out how stressed I was as I scrambled to meet the obligations of career, spouse, family and community with little or no time for me. In the end, it was a time when I went from soaring heights to nearly going down in flames. However, my filtered view of that time in my life doesn’t appear to be all that unusual.

As we age, it seems to me we have experienced plenty, enough to make us feel as if our moment in the sun is over. No more euphoric waves to ride. It’s akin to that mid-life moment when we say to ourselves, “Is this all there is?” But, as it is in that moment, so it is in this moment. The biggest challenge in retirement is finding activities which challenge us mentally, emotionally and physically. We can choose to be a bit jaded, cynical, worried about today and the future and seek comfort in our glory days. Or, we can choose to seek fresh, new horizons. It is up to us to fire the engines one more time and search for a reason to get out of bed every day, greeting the sun with excitement for the possibilities of today. While it is fun to reminisce and it is essential for passing on family history to the next generation or getting to know a new acquaintance, recognize the past for what it is, the past, with all the good memories, flaws and imperfections. Instead of reimagining the past, use your imagination and energy to create a glory day today.

SHOULD YOU JOIN AARP?

During the last year I’ve read a few articles posted on other retirement blogs and in magazines asking this same question. Should you join AARP? All of the articles, like most information about retirement, focus on the financial aspects of becoming an AARP member. In other words, are the discounts on travel accommodations, insurance and restaurants worth the $16 per year membership fee? Every article ends up saying for the most part you can get the discounts anyway just by virtue of your age as many companies give senior discounts starting at age 55 or 60. So, instead of flashing your AARP membership card, simply flash your driver license with birth date and you receive the discount without spending an extra $16 a year to get it. If you’re looking at AARP strictly for discounts, this is probably true, unless you’re in the 50-54 age range, in which case, joining AARP at 50 may get you some discounts you won’t otherwise receive. But, I didn’t join AARP for the discounts. And, I think there’s a financial aspect being overlooked in these articles.

When Ethel Percy Andrus founded the American Association of Retired Persons in 1958, I was only knee-high to a grasshopper just learning how to spell in Miss Niles’ first grade class. Spelling retirement wasn’t even on my radar much less what it meant. For Andrus, however, it meant taking up the cause of aging persons seeking dignity, quality of life and, yes, health insurance. In 1958 she saw a need to expand the organization she founded in 1947 for retired teachers seeking health insurance. At a time when health insurance was pretty much non-existent for older Americans, Andrus approached many insurance companies looking for one that would insure retirees. This, folks, is what AARP started out as and still is, a lobbying organization for older people. Retirees. Seniors. Persons of independent means. Whatever you want to call us. AARP is a voice for us in Washington and even some other parts of the world. Spending $23 million a year on lobbying efforts and with nearly 40 million members, it is one of the largest lobbying organizations in the U.S. AARP makes the aging in America a powerhouse to be reckoned with and listened to. Having graduated from Miss Niles’ first grade class to baby boomer rabble-rouser, making my voice heard in Washington, even as I age, is the main reason I shell out $16 per year to be a member of what is now officially only known by the acronym AARP.

Yes, I like the discounts I use from time to time. I like the magazine and newsletter I receive. And, since I’m also on the information highway, I like receiving financial, health and lifestyle newsletters in my email inbox. I particularly like their advice on movies made for adults (get your mind out of the gutter…they’re referring to intelligence and maturity). How else will I know which flicks are trending now and worth watching? Yes, I could trawl the web, Google this or that, and probably come up with the same info. But, being a little on the lazy side, I’m willing to shell out the $16 for someone else to do it for me. And, included in this bargain is a membership for your spouse, no extra charge. But, the biggie…a gargantuan lobby.

While some believe AARP’s agenda is too liberal with its focus on hunger, income, housing, health insurance and isolation, the organization certainly keeps the needs of older people in the minds of our politicians. And, with the money and sheer numbers, it’s enough to make any aspiring politico think about what could happen in the voting booth. With a family history of longevity on my side, I figure I have about 30 years left on this planet. And, being part of a generation who is used to having its way in the world, I have no intention of leaving my voice behind with the workplace. So, when I read about the financial ups and downs of paying out $16 a year, that’s $1.34 a month rounded up, I think there’s a financial component not being addressed. Just think if there was no AARP. Do you think our friends in Washington would hesitate to rip Social Security and Medicare to shreds? I don’t know the answer to that. But, I do know I’m not willing to chance it, not for $16 a year.

For information on joining AARP, go to AARP.org.

THE BEAST

Most adults have one or have access to one. They come in various colors, sizes, shapes and, of course, horsepower. I call mine The Beast. It’s really a very zippy little reddish bronze 2006 Mazda 3 approaching 90,000 miles. But, it can suck money out of my bank account faster than it can zoom zoom down the highway. It constantly needs to be fed, maintained, insured and taxed as expensive personal property. And, now, it also needs repairs. As I zipped down the highway a few weeks ago, suddenly…thud, jerk, AT and engine lights on…ugh. After arriving at my destination, a ride fraught with anguished looks at my dash and praying there would be no more thuds or jerks, I called Martin for reassurance.

And, then, one dealership appointment later the diagnosis was “reading no codes”. You know, everything’s electronic these days. So, if a machine tells the mechanic it can’t find anything in this machine, The Beast, we all believe the diagnostic machine. Independent thinking and the good ol’ days of a person ferreting out what’s ailing The Beast are gone. But, fear not, I left with a list of things the machine did find wrong with The Beast along with an estimated cost to repair of $775.

My dealer, wanting to give me the best possible customer service, followed up with two automated phone calls affording me the chance to hit a button, speak with a live person and make an appointment for said repairs. And, just in case I hadn’t gotten the phone calls, they sent me a couple of emails as further reminder. Best of all, the sales manager sent me a letter via the ever reliable old fashioned US Postal Service, telling me how the dealership was short on premium inventory like The Beast and if I traded it in, I could count on them to give me a good deal on a new beast or one of their premium used beasts. Premium used beasts? Hmmm…wait just a minute. You just told me you’re short on inventory, which is why you desperately need The Beast so, my choices on premium used beasts must be non-existent. And, besides, if I’m going to trade for another premium used beast, why don’t I just keep the premium used beast I have? And, one other thing, how is The Beast premium anything when it needs repairs?

Oh, I see, you’d have a chance to sell me a shiny new beast. Whoaaaa Nelly. A shiny new beast would not only need to be fed and maintained, my insurance and beast taxes would increase. Oh, sure, it would be a while before it needed any repairs but how would I pay for it? I’d have to rob my retirement nest egg or worse yet, have a beast payment. A loan!?! I’m adverse to loans. They cost even more money. What with interest and all. While I ruminated on all the ins and outs of new beast versus old premium beast needing repairs, suddenly, thud, jerk, stuck in third gear, AT and engine lights on and me praying I’m not about to be sitting on the side of the road with The Beast broken down. Luckily, as I came to a complete stop at a red light, The Beast calmed down and once again I made it to my destination.

I don’t usually procrastinate but it took me a week and two more experiences including thud, jerk, stuck in third gear before I called the dealership and said, “O.K. I’m coming in.” This time, the machine found “codes” in The Beast saying the electronics weren’t sending the automatic transmission the proper signals. So, now, a well-trained human could actually go to work on The Beast, costing me just another $525.79 to get rid of the thud, jerk, stuck in third gear along with the annoying engine and AT lights. Yes, I had the other repairs done, too. You see, by procrastinating, I hung out long enough for the dealership to send me a Halloween Spooktacular Savings email taking 10% off any recommended service through year-end. And, big picture, I only had to rob my retirement nest egg for a fraction of the cost of a new beast or about 3 beast payments. I’m still debt-free. And, with only 88,000 miles on it, at only 7,000 miles per year and periodic repairs, The Beast should last me another 10 years. That’s right. I plan on being an old lady driving a junker beast. But, the really, really, really good news…I’m retired.