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.”

Peer Pressure

When I think of peer pressure, I usually think of my teenage grandchildren. Yet, strangely enough, I’ve encountered more peer pressure in retirement than I thought possible. Oh, it’s not the type of pressure kids face like being hassled to smoke a cigarette or drink alcohol or experience an illegal drug. Rather it’s the push by peers to join the activities they enjoy assuming you will enjoy them, too. Or it’s the pressure to take part as a volunteer because volunteers are needed by their chosen organization. Or, it could be the person likes your company and may want to further the friendship by doing more together.

In just the last few weeks I’ve been asked to join book clubs, a monthly mahjong game, a gym, another writing group, a gardening club and a political action group. While I may certainly enjoy all of those activities, if I said, ‘yes’ to any or all of them, what is important to me would be swallowed up. In the past, saying, ‘no’ was not one of my strong points and sometimes it still isn’t. Why we agree to do something we really don’t want to do is usually based in our wish to keep the relationship.  Thus we try not to offend the other person by saying, ‘no’ to their request.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was busy nearly going down in flames because I didn’t say, ‘no’ often enough, I learned a valuable lesson. I learned to say, ‘yes’ to me. This twist in my thinking made it easier to turn down the requests to join in too many activities. Not to sound mean, but I also figured out sometimes I was agreeing to partake with someone I didn’t really enjoy being around. My wish not to hurt another person’s feelings was taking a toll on me.

How did I arrive at this change in thinking, making self-love (not selfishness) a priority? I remember a spring day where I sat on the couch recovering from pleurisy. The night before Martin drove me the six blocks from our house to the local hospital. I didn’t think I was having a heart attack, but the hospital staff did. Describing chest pain and difficulty breathing got me an immediate wheelchair ride to the inner rooms of the ER where two nurses shoved oxygen tubes up my nose and took my pulse and then blood gases. Finally, a chest X-ray revealed inflammation of my lungs. Whew! In comparison to a heart attack, pleurisy sounded good. The ER doctor told me rest, rest, rest.

The thought of a heart attack scared me. Between naps, I spent the next day in deep retrospection of what my life was at the time. I likened myself to a small plane in a fiery nose-dive about to hit the ground, exploding into flames upon impact. This was not the first time I was in a nose-dive going down in flames. But, I knew it had to be the last.

As I sat in my internal revery that afternoon, a friend, who knew I was home from work sick, called to ask me to watch her eight-year-old daughter as “something” had come up that she just had to take care of. To my surprise I heard myself telling her I couldn’t possibly watch an eight-year-old in my condition. When she coaxed me with how quiet her daughter would be (I knew this kid was not quiet), I said, “Look I know you’re in a bind, but I’m also in a bind. I need rest. I have to take care of myself first.”

Even as I said it, I felt guilty, selfish. Yet, after we ended the conversation, I felt empowered. I felt good. I had said, ‘yes’ to me. That’s when I realized the operative word in these situations isn’t ‘no’; it’s ‘yes’… ‘yes’ to me. I needed to say, ‘yes’ to me and clear my life of activities and relationships that were not passionately important to me.

Although that may sound selfish, participating in activities because we feel we ‘should’ can take a toll on our psychological well-being. I call participating in activities we ‘want’ to partake in self-love as these are the activities that feed our spirit. Conversely, if an activity drains your spirit, it needs to go.

With the possibility of so much unstructured time in retirement, it’s more important then ever to know what you want, what is best for you and how to say, ‘yes’ to your priorities. In order to stay focused, write it down. The bucket list is a good place to start creating your agenda. If you are unsure about an activity, ask yourself if you are truly passionate about participating in that activity. With an unambiguous agenda it’s easier to set clear-cut boundaries with our peers. And, that helps us limit peer pressure at any age.

Crabs In A Pot

 

 

Crabs in a Pot

Crabs in a Pot

Growing up on the shore, we sometimes went to an inlet from the sea with an old bulkhead. As the tide went out, we searched for crabs clinging to the decaying wood. Back home in my parents’ kitchen, my younger brother and I played with the crabs on the floor as my mother boiled a large pot of water on the stove. Once the water came to a full rolling boil, my Dad put the crabs in the pot. It seems cruel to me now, but as children my brother and I liked to watch the drama of the crabs in the pot. You see, one of the crabs always tried to climb out of the pot while the other crabs pulled it back in until they all boiled together providing quite a show.

It wasn’t until I took the Dynamic Aging Program at Furman University that I heard crabs in a pot used as an analogy to describe people who are aging in the way our society expects us to age. According to the program creator, Dudley Tower, Ph.D, most people today just follow the expected norm, retiring to a life of leisure where they play golf or cards, travel, do a little volunteer work or whatever activity they choose to occupy their time, until they slowly decline mentally and physically, sliding little by little, day by day, inch by inch, toward death.

We expect to take care of ourselves by following a healthy diet, doing some type of exercise but, believing, inevitably, we’ll need assisted living and eventually, maybe, probably nursing home care. Prior to my mother’s death several years ago, she spent the last three months of her life in a nursing home. After visiting her with my husband and youngest daughter, as we rode the elevator down to the ground floor, I said to my daughter, “If I ever have to be in a facility like this, it is my express wish that you just shoot me.”

As dreary and desperate as that sounds, my view has not changed. So, the story of the crabs in a pot resonated with me. But what is the alternative? Is there an alternative? We all know we are all going to die. As my father used to say, “Nobody gets out alive.” Then, of course, he’d chuckle at his little joke. In fact, most of us have probably lived our lives based on societal norms and expectations of how we should behave. We went to school, grew up with little push back, got a job, got married, had kids, bought a house with a mortgage, raised the kids, advanced in the job and finally, here we are, retired. And, now, we are following the normal model of aging, retiring to a life of leisure and slow physical and cognitive decline until we have to go to a nursing home. In other words, we are waiting to slowly boil to death like crabs in a pot. Ugh!

Now, for the alternative to what was the normal aging experience for our parents and grandparents. People are living longer with more and more people in developed countries living to be 100. Retiring at 60 to 70 years of age could leave you with 30 to 40 years until you die. Think about it! If the idea of spending 20 to 30 years playing golf or mahjong or traveling or gardening or whatever and then going to assisted living followed by nursing care, is your idea of a great life, that’s entirely up to you. But, wouldn’t you rather do something more exciting?

I asked myself the question, “What would you do with the last third of your life if you were not afraid?” It is self-imposed limitations that hold us back. Self-imposed limitations are something we attribute to ourselves out of fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of ridicule, fear of whatever we are afraid of. What would you do if society, your friends, your family, your neighbors didn’t expect you to live a life of leisure until your world becomes smaller and smaller and you decline further and further? Would you go back to college, start a new career, open a business, learn a new skill, follow your heart, resurrect a childhood dream?

The last third of life offers a freedom like none we have ever experienced. What others think about what we do with our lives really doesn’t matter. We can let our imaginations soar. We can take some behavioral risk. Our society, however, does not readily support personal development as we age. Someone who is 20 or 30 or 40 or even 50 is expected to continue developing on a personal level. It’s a given, the same as society’s expectation of decline for our aging population.

By the time we hit the big 60, we are expected to slow down. We start hearing the ‘at your age’ mantras. Oh, yes, we hear on occasion about the 79 year old weight lifter with a great set of abs or the 89 year old gymnast still vaulting off equipment like a teenager or the 98 year old publishing a first book. Why aren’t we all striving to do something we always longed to do but never had the time to pursue?

Because we believe the aging euphemisms about slowing down, about being too old to do this or that. As children, we all had dreams. We all learned new things every day, day in and day out. Aging dynamically requires more than taking care of our health. It requires that we look inside ourselves and resurrect our thirst for learning, our thirst for living on our personal edge and maybe a dream or two. We really won’t know what we are capable of as we age until we throw out society’s expectation of aging.

Shortly after retiring, it occurred to me that retirement was not all it was cracked up to be. Sure, I enjoyed the honeymoon after leaving work, when everyday seemed like an extended vacation. It didn’t take long, however, for disillusionment to set in. I missed the challenge and excitement and camaraderie that work provided. Yet, I didn’t want to go back to work, at least not the traditional work place.

Instead, I resurrected a dream and have been pursuing it ever since. My dream was to be a writer. Long, long ago life got in the way. Having to support a family and taking a different career path, I gave up my dream. Shortly, after retiring, with the power of the internet, I started my own blog. I became a writer. Recently, I started taking courses in writing to sharpen my skills. I decided to seriously pursue writing as a craft. And, now I’m writing my memoirs along with some short stories. I may or may not find a publisher. I may have to self-publish. It doesn’t matter. What matters are the possibilities I am creating for myself.

 
I am feeling more alive and excited about the future than I have in years. I’m more mindful of what I am doing with my life. I have goals. I have a vision of how I want the rest of my life to play out. I am aging dynamically. And, that is the alternative. We can meet society’s expectation of how we will age or we can chart a new course, throwing away previous models and maps. How about it? Are you going to be a crab in a pot? Or, will you be the one who scrambles over the side to freedom? Come on…dream a little dream or two.

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.

THE LUCK OF THE DRAW

Native American in pencil

Native American in pencil

Since I was traveling this week, I’m reposting a previous post from July 2014.  I hope you enjoy it a second time around.  I’ll be back next week with a fresh post.  Until then…

We need purpose in life. That is a given. And, that is one of the challenges we face throughout our lives. Retirement is no different. While you lived your work life, you probably reinvented yourself many times, developing new skills, taking on a new position or switching careers altogether. If you looked for a new job at a new company, you probably threw yourself into job hunting, updating your resume, looking at different companies and opportunities. This may have been a very exciting endeavor giving you a renewed sense of purpose. During this time, you may have also taken on the role of spouse and, then, parent. More transitions, adjustments and challenges as you wended your way through these new roles. Though stressful at times all of these provided purpose in your life.

Now, you have waved goodbye to the regular work life and the kids have flown the nest (hopefully). And, as some of you have written, retirement is not all you dreamed it would be. Setting aside the normal transitioning, disillusionment, grieving the good parts of your old work life, in order to reach a state of renewed purpose, put yourself in the same mode you did when you went after a new position, a promotion, a job with another company. Become open and exploratory. Prepare to reinvent yourself in order to re-purpose your life. The sooner you do this, the sooner you will find satisfaction with your retired life.

A reader recently mentioned how they would love to hear more stories about people successfully transitioning into retirement. So, would I. If you have a story to tell, please pass it on.  To get us started, here’s how I found retirement bliss or Atchley’s Stage 5 of a Retirement Routine. It took me about two years. For some it will be shorter; for others, it may be longer.

If you don’t have a bucket list, make one. Though it’s become something of a cliché these days, the bucket list is a very useful tool for getting your dreams down on paper. I have my bucket list and, for those of you who have been with me for a while, you know one of my dreams was to take classes in watercolor painting. I didn’t expect to become world famous or even be all that good as I never thought I had any artistic talent. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised or felt the disappointment I did when the class turned out to be a disaster. But, being the trooper I am, I decided the real problem was not knowing how to draw.

On a whim, I signed up for a drawing class. Then, the little voice in my head started saying things like, “Who are you kidding? You can’t even draw a smiley face so what makes you think you can draw anything at all?” Doubt, that destroyer of dreams, would not get out of my head. I decided to cancel. But, my dear husband, talked me into sticking with it and giving me an out. If, after a couple of classes, I felt the same as I did with watercolor, I would just drop the course.

'Bella' in pencil

‘Bella’ in pencil

Well, I never dropped it. Instead, by the fourth class, it was exhilaratingly apparent that not only can I draw, but I am talented. Since then, I have taken two more classes, moving on to pen and ink and colored pencils. I spend hours upon hours drawing. I’ve made new friends. In addition to the art, I enjoy the camaraderie with the other students.

I’m looking forward to more courses this fall with a new instructor and other perspectives. I have not felt this much excitement about a discovery of my personal abilities since I was 16 and took my first journalism course. Learning to draw has changed my life. And, think about it, I almost didn’t even give it a shot. What seems like a masterstroke from the outside, I know was nothing more than the luck of the draw. I tried something that stuck.

‘Autumn Joy’ pen & ink pointillism

If you are carrying around old notions about your likes and dislikes or what you can or can’t do, discard them now. If doubt clouds your thinking, kick doubt to the curb. Henry Ford once said, “Think you can, think you can’t; either way you’ll be right.”

Reinventing yourself, repurposing your life requires an openness to new possibilities. It requires a willingness to try new activities. It requires taking some risk. In order to be a success at anything, you have to be willing to fail. After my perceived failure with watercolor, I didn’t want to fail again with drawing. It was easier to cancel then to face the possibility of another mistake. But, in retirement, all bets are off. Put yourself out there today and find your purpose. And, send me your story.

The Joys Of Not Working

A 'work' day of hiking

A ‘work’ day of hiking

Last weekend was a long weekend for workers in the United States as our country celebrated its birth on the 4th of July, Independence Day. Sacrosanct among holidays, it is one of those dates modern day Congress has not fooled with to deliberately make it into a three-day weekend. It happens only by the rotation of the calendar as was the case this year. Before I retired I looked forward to such a weekend. Oh goody, the 4th is on a Monday this year! No longer do I think that way.

After all the fireworks, parades and barbecues were over, Tuesday morning America’s workers returned to the grind, while I slept in, lazed around the garden after breakfast with my cup of coffee, picked blueberries and finally headed into the woods to do some real work. Ahhhh, the joys of not working, the pleasures of real freedom.

As a child older members of my family often told me the story of The Ant and the Grasshopper. The Ant and the Grasshopper is one of Aesop’s fables, which trumpets the strong work ethic of the ant while denigrating the grasshopper’s laziness as he fritters away summer only to starve during the winter months. Raised on a strong work ethic highlighted with stories such as this, I always found it difficult to be anything but productive.

Wasting away my hours at any time of the year in the manner of the grasshopper is never happening for me. It is not in my make up. Neither, however, am I the previous corporate ant, who dutifully put in a long productive work day week after week, month after month, year after year. It took a couple of years to re-program myself to enjoy days of simply browsing, from reading a good book to strolling through my garden to leisurely watching the sun go down. I also enjoy my more ant-like productive days of writing, working in the garden or hiking one of the trails in the local state parks. Eventually, I developed a new mindset mid-way between the ant and the grasshopper.

Among the joys of not working is not having to ask a superior’s permission to take time off to partake in the activities you love doing. You can do them every day. Even if they are work, they don’t seem like work because you are doing what is pleasurable to you. Another of the joys of not working — work is not work. And, another joy — you have no superiors.

With freedom also comes responsibility. That, too, can be a joy. Though it may seem daunting at first to fill your previous work hours with activities of your own making, savor the luxury. Few people on Earth get to experience the joys of not working. Revel in your accomplishment. Luxuriate in the ability to choose or not choose, to do or not do, to bore yourself silly today or find something to do heretofore unknown to your senses. You are no longer a worker looking forward to a three-day weekend and perhaps loathing the return on Tuesday. You are free! Enjoy the joys of not working.

Six Ideas For Finding Your Retirement Life

Part of my retirement identity

Part of my retirement identity

Research in several western countries tells us that people who enjoy the most success in reaching retirement happiness are also those who enjoyed a work/life balance. In other words their entire identity did not hinge on their work or work title. They were deeply and passionately involved in their off time with hobbies and interests. When they retired, they had a safety net of activities to continue full-time in retirement.

In our “what do you do” society, someone who hitched their identity to their work title may have a tough time kissing that title goodbye because with it goes their sense of purpose and worth. I’ve written about the importance of finding a new purpose and meaning in your retirement life. Some of us can be totally happy doing whatever life dishes up each day. Most of us need a sense of purpose. Something we care about deeply and passionately.

For example, wherever I lived I built and left a beautiful garden. Even after putting in a ten-hour day at the office, there were times when you could find me at work in the summer garden when darkness fell. Martin would teasingly ask if he should bring me a flashlight or was I coming in for the night. Decades later, I still feel the same passion for gardening.

I’ve talked to many, many retirees who have a full calendar. Yet, they are still not happy. That’s because busy work doesn’t cut it for them. They may be the ones who, if asked “what do you do?”, will surely tell you all about what they USED to do. They will trot out their old work identity like a trick pony, bragging about all their accomplishments, living in the past. These folks need to get a life! A retirement life.

There’s a part of me that wants to say, “If you haven’t found your passion yet, you probably never will.” However, there’s another part of me that believes people who were workaholic probably focused so much on their work they never saw, or perhaps ignored, their cues for passionate work. Now, they are stuck. Stuck in retirement with no place to go.

If you are stuck not knowing how to go about finding your retirement life, here are a few ideas to get you unstuck.

1. Most people have a bucket list of activities they wanted to do in retirement. These are usually the things they always wanted to do, but never took the time to do, because they were too busy working. Then, they retire and still don’t make the time for these activities. I’ve listened to several people who tell me chores gets in the way!!! What!? You have time to do the dishes but none to smell life’s roses? Be brave, macho, you go girl or guy, pretend you’re Nike — Just do it! The dishes can wait.

2. Learn to recognize self-imposed limitations and send them packing. If you find yourself saying things like, “I don’t think I’d like that” or “I know I’m not good at _________ (you fill in the blank)” or “my friends and family would think I was crazy to try that” or any one of many other forms of self-imposed limitations, stop the negative talk in your head. Kill off the “yeah buts”. Replace them with “YES I CAN!”

3. Go back to your childhood. You spent the first eighteen years of your life trying something new and learning all the time. Learning and experiencing was a full-time job. What did you like doing as a young person? What got you excited? What got your heart pumping and put a smile on your face? It’s no secret I loved writing. That’s the passion I reignited in my second childhood also known as retirement. Revisit your early years for clues about what might rev your engine now.

4. Realize it’s never too late. There are people out there in their eighties and nineties who are living their dreams. You, too can become one of them if you follow your heart instead of your head. Change your attitude to one of seeking your passion. Then, invoke numbers 1, 2, and 3 above.

5. Stop trying to fill up the calendar with busy, busy. Sometimes, the most important activity we can do is nothing. All stop. And listen. If you are constantly creating white noise in your life, how can you possibly hear your own heart beat? Sometimes I just be. No reading, no writing, no gardening, no classes, no working in the woods, no lunches or dinners with friends, no visits with family, just nothing. Nothingness. Just sitting with myself, me, my real self and letting whatever comes in, come.

6. Get yourself some business cards and put your new title on it. I got cards when I started this blog shortly after retiring. I listed myself as a Writer/Blogger. Be inventive. You could be World Traveler or Life Adventurer or Seeker of Fun or RV Road Warrior or Golfer Extraordinaire or Textile Artist or History Buff or Second Childhood Experiencer or whatever you fancy yourself.

Ultimately, you are the only person responsible for your happy retirement. You can do this by living with purpose to find purpose. Research has also shown us the happiest retirees are self-directed, self-motivated. No one has to tell them what to do with their day or their life. I like that. Retirement is a gift. Unwrap it. You might be surprised by what you find.

Who Am I Now?

On January 3, 2013 I posted a blog entitled “Who Am I”. The post reflected my struggle to figure out who I was without my work identity.

At a recent social event Martin and I were asked the new acquaintance question of “What do you do?”

Martin looked at the questioner and said, “We’re retired.”

In 2013 I realized that what I did to make money wasn’t who I am. And, three years into it, I know retired isn’t who I am either. Retired is nothing more than a description of my social status.

According to the Huffington Post, Laura Carstensen of the Stanford Center on Longevity said, “Older people today are like pioneers of a new life stage, trying to find their way.” I believe the answer to who I am lies in Carstensen’s statement. As you can tell in the pages of this blog, finding my way has taken up a lot of thought space. I not only think about it and write about it, I read a lot about it.

Filling out forms during the last three years, mainly in doctors’ offices and colleges offering continuing education courses, I’ve filled in the occupation slot with the word retired. After the evening when our new acquaintance asked the usual question, I hesitated over such a form. If retired is my social status, who am I? Staring at it, I realized I carry business cards with me saying I’m a writer/blogger. Should I put that in the slot for occupation?

Yes. As a description for how I occupy my time, the answer is I’m a writer/blogger. However, from a philosophical view, I’m not a writer/blogger either. That’s just another label to describe what I do with my time. The reality is I am who I have always been _ an experiencer of life.

While life experiencer may not be an answer I’d give to someone at the next party I attend _ although it may liven the conversation _ it sums up who we all are at the end of day. We are all going through life at every stage, whether it’s paid work or not, just trying to find our way. We are experiencing life. We may all be pioneers at some stage, in any given circumstance.

Retirement is no different. Whether we write, garden, paint, cook, golf, travel, bicycle, take classes or we were an engineer, lawyer, banker, teacher, medical, office or manufacturing worker or whatever, we are all travelers through time separately and together.

Who I am is changed from who I was three years ago when I wrote the first post, the same as who I was then had changed from my previous working self. Identities, labels, names, titles will continue to change as I experience life at this stage of my journey through time. This, of course, is why I believe retirement is a journey, not a destination. Life is a journey. Retirement is simply a continuation of your life’s journey. How you live it and who you are at any given time is up to you.

Putting Your Dent In The Universe

 

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The universe as seen from the Hubble telescope

Everyone has unique potential because everyone has innate talents just waiting to be used by the universe. For example, while cleaning out a box of keepsakes a while back I looked at my second grade report card (yes, I still had it) and noticed how I excelled at spelling and grammar, not so good at arithmetic. Spelling abilities later led to A grades in English, which led to Journalism classes and a stint as copy editor of my high school newspaper. See, even as a child my gift for verbal acuity was clear, innate. Retirement is a time to discover or rediscover talents, passions, gifts. We only have one chance to put our dent in the universe. If you haven’t done that to date, your last third of life is your last opportunity.

A couple of weeks ago a reader, Paul Wilkes, sent me a copy of his most recent book Your Second To Last Chapter. Paul has written some twenty books so writing a book isn’t unusual for him. However, what he writes about in Your Second To Last Chapter is in keeping with much of what I spout on this blog.

Paul’s small but insightful book chronicles his feeling empty and unfulfilled in retirement until he found, yes, I’m going to say it again, new meaning and purpose. The cover catch phrase “Creating a Meaningful Life on Your Own Terms” sums it up nicely. Paul already had a very enviable gig as a visiting professor at a university, a supporting role to his wife, Tracy’s volunteer work and the ability to travel to far off destinations. Yet, he felt something was missing in his life.

Then, on a month-long trip to India he serendipitously met a former street beggar at a home for girls. Her story and the conditions at the home would tug at anyone’s heart strings. But, Paul decided to take a small step to help the girls’ home. What began as a quest to obtain mattresses for the girls, so they wouldn’t be sleeping on straw mats laid upon a concrete floor, turned into a full-fledged passion to change their lives completely. In doing so, Paul changed his own life, filling up the empty place inside him.

While we are not all cut out to raise huge sums of money and wend our way through the logistics to transform a home and educate children living in deplorable conditions, we are all cut out for something bigger. Oftentimes, in my life, while going on my merry way, something happens out of the blue, something unexpected, which if I stop and listen, may change my life or someone else’s life or both.

I call this a personal Black Swan Event. Technically, a Black Swan is an unexpected, surprising event with huge cultural changing influence on the world in general. Behind a Black Swan Event is an outlier. For example, Bill Gates is an outlier, a person, who through their actions, brings about a world-changing event, such as Gate’s software to run personal computers. We all have events in our lives that, in hindsight, changed our personal trajectory.

I’m no Bill Gates, but I have done a few things in my life, which changed some other lives. For several years I helped raise money and planted garden beds at a domestic abuse shelter. I pleaded with friends and neighbors, business connections and anyone who would listen to give. I called and emailed state and Congressional legislators to support bills to thwart domestic violence. A starving cat eating bird food off of a rock wall behind my house led to my rescuing many, many cats.

I did not seek out these causes. They just knocked at my door and I chose to open it and let them in. There are others I turned away from because they did not speak to my passion.

Another event that knocked at my door was the creation of this blog. I know from your comments and emails, I have helped more than a few of you figure out some things about retirement or, at the very least, know there is more to retiring than having enough money. Writing a blog was not even a tiny seed of a thought in my mind when I retired. My personal frustration with finding answers to what I was feeling led me to dust off my innate writing talent and launch the blog. Then, you found me. Thank you for the following! I humbly hope I continue to offer insights and ideas of value.

Finding our passion is not easy. Even if we approach this quest with an open mind and heart, the answer can elude us. Our society is one of accumulating stuff, spending money to make ourselves feel better about the emptiness gnawing at us or to add a moment of pleasure or excitement to our lives.

That moment, however, is a flash in the pan as the feeling, the newness of our purchase quickly wears off. Ditto for retirement adventures such as traveling the world or buying an RV to see the country. I’ve spoken to plenty of retirees who spent years in the retirement honeymoon stage of enjoying themselves with travel, golf, tennis, book clubs, art or whatever. Then they woke up one day like Paul Wilkes and said, “I feel empty. Now what?”

None of these leisure activities put our dent in the universe unless, of course, we take them, somehow, to creating something meaningful, purposeful. All they do is take up a patch of time and temporarily fill the hole in our soul and help fuel the economy, making Wall Street happy, but doing little to permanently fill any personal void. With the possibility of living to be one hundred becoming more and more likely, you could spend ten years playing and still have twenty years or more left to put your dent in the universe. Then what?

If you are one of the people voicing disillusionment with retirement, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is there something I did as a child or teen that excited me yet I never thought it possible? We all had childhood dreams. You may have an adulthood dream but backed away from trying it for fear of failure. I met a man last year who didn’t go to college until later in life because he thought he wasn’t smart enough. He thought he would fail. Conversely, some people back away because they fear success. How will they handle their dream if it actually materializes? Will they be able to step up to the plate and keep their success afloat?
  2. Do you give up too easily? Paul Wilkes talks about the obstacles, the set backs, the mistakes. His passion for what he is doing moves him forward. We never know what we are capable of doing unless we try.
  3. Speaking of trying, are you willing to try new activities until you find your passion? Or, do you place self-imposed limitations on yourself? Being open is imperative to finding your passion. Remember the old adage ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’? Keep going until you find the activity that sets your soul on fire.

If you are spending too much time on busy work, if you are spending too much time meeting people for coffee or lunch, if you find yourself watching too much TV, if you find yourself depressed in retirement, if you spend money on stuff you don’t need, if you find yourself bored, if you’re complaining a lot, if you don’t like your life, if you don’t have an activity that feeds your soul, then take the leap.

 
Get out of your comfort zone. Be open to finding your passion. Be open to listening to life as it whispers to you about how to use your unique potential. We only have one chance to put our dent in the universe. Don’t blow it!

TOP 10 AND OTHER OBSERVATIONS

A few weeks ago a reader commented, “I would love to read about your top 10 listing of things that have filled your time during retirement that you love!!” Hmmm…Did I even have a top 10? Especially a top 10 that I loved? This reader’s comment definitely sparked my thought process. Years ago, when retirement was but a dream, I read an article advising retirement wannabes to have at least 14 different activities to fill their time or face an unhappy retirement. I remember thinking, “How can anyone have that many hobbies, volunteer organizations, games or sports, family occasions, travel or whatever to add up to 14 different activities?” It seemed fantastical, unrealistic, to say the least.

Retirement today is not what it was for our grandparents or even our parents. I believe we are in the forefront of a cultural shift in the way we view aging (stay tuned for another blog on this subject). I read again and again at https://www.growingbolder.com how people are breaking the mold by pushing the boundaries and limitations our society has set for its aging population. As people eschew the notion that retirement means relaxation and seek, instead, to find further meaning and purpose in the last third of life, yes, I do believe there will be less busyness to fill our retirement hours and more personal evolution. Each evolution is very personal. The way you stretch yourself is different from the way I stretch myself. And, as always, the activities with my husband, Martin and our family is at the top of the list…wife, mother, grandma. That said, below is my Top 10 List.

1. When I retired, I asked myself, “If you were not afraid, what would you do?” So, number 1 on my list is this blog. It was a leap into the unknown, which, because of you, my readers, has returned so much more than I give.

2. A lifelong love instilled in me by my parents, is gardening. Landscape gardening, vegetable gardening, fruit gardening, herb gardening, gardening, gardening, gardening.

Summer Garden

Summer Garden

3. Another newfound love in retirement, a surprise of surprises, is drawing. Trying new mediums, attending art classes, enjoying the company and community of other artists has opened a new vista.

Pencil Drawing of Portia

Pencil Drawing of Portia

4. As a Master Gardener volunteer, I found a volunteer organization where I truly enjoy being involved as it uses my skills as a presenter and teacher. A fun Saturday morning is working the Clemson Extension Master Gardeners booth where I tell people how to improve, grow or manage their gardens.

5. As you read in my last post, being a student at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Furman University is another retirement discovery leading to learning new skills or just plain having fun like the felting or card making classes I took. It’s also led to new friendships and engagement with other retirees.

6. Well, here’s an out of the ordinary activity. Bush Whacker is what I call myself when engaging in the endeavor to clean up our jungle of a woodland. With pine beetles destroying our Virginia Pine and pine blister taking care of anything they fail to chew, I am clearing the small pines, thousands of them. Taking my battery powered chain saw into the damp, dark woods and releasing the oak, maples, beech, dogwood and hickory from their pine prison has proven to be a form of meditation for me. As sections are cleared and apparently dormant wild flowers spring up beneath the remaining canopy, I am awed by the beauty of Mother Nature.

7. I am an admitted foodie…growing, cooking, canning, wine tasting or anything else which has to do with ingesting yummy stuff. Martin and I even tried winemaking and may give it a go again in the future. Like many other things in life, it isn’t as easy as it looks. On our first try, after the hydrometer slipped from my hand, shattering on the kitchen floor, we admittedly just gave up. Last year, the harvest from my 90 feet of planted wine grapes helped feed the wildlife on our property. No wonder the raccoons sported such beautiful coats this year!

Homemade Peach Pie

Homemade Peach Pie

8. Taking a cue from my older sister, I took up knitting as a winter hobby although it’s now extending into the warmer months. Amazed at what I can create with a ball of yarn and two needles has inspired me to create more lovely things. Occasionally, I join a sit n’ knit group, along with a neighbor, at a local Alpaca farm and knit shop. If you join one of these groups, don’t take anything too complicated to knit as it’s more of a social meeting with not so much knitting accomplished.

9. I cannot leave out my role as a cat lover, rescuer, caretaker, spoiler. I LOVE cats! Also known as the Zen Masters, cats are brave, loving creatures who just want to be loved in return. No, I have never met an aloof cat. I am the self-proclaimed ‘Cat Mommy-Slave’ even taking our three indoor cats outside for a 30 minute walk every day that weather permits, which is most days. After about 30 minutes, everyone heads for a door to the house (who says you can’t train cats?) and then it’s snack time followed by nap time. See, Zen Masters.

10. Last, but (sigh) should not be least, is exercise. I now walk an average of 4.33 miles a day either in my neighborhood, on my 6 acres or hiking in the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains and working in the garden and woods. While I love the views and seeing nature on my hikes, I can’t say this is an activity I really love but it is an activity I do out of love for myself.

After thinking about all the things I do, I could probably get to the fourteen activities I read about years ago. I also love to read, take an occasional trip someplace, go to trendy little towns with trendy little main streets and browse their trendy little shops. And, I love having lunch out with friends or going to a wine tasting at local wineries or visiting public gardens and arboretums for inspiration. So, there you have it…my Top 10. What’s yours?