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?

NEVER STOP LEARNING

Last Thursday, Martin and I attended the Spring Term Back to OLLI Reception along with two of our neighbors who decided to become members as well. We sipped tea and nibbled on cookies and talked with many people we didn’t know before the reception and anticipated the start of classes this week. Now, the week is here where I start a writing class and Martin begins Carving 201. What is OLLI? Well, last May as I looked for new and exciting ways to spend my time, I searched the web for things to do in Greenville, SC for people 50 and older. Expectations were not high for anything out of the ordinary. But, I was in for a real surprise. In a short time online, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Furman University (http://www.furman.edu/SITES/OLLI/NEWSFROMOLLI/Pages/default.aspx) popped up among the usual senior living choices. As I visited the site and read further, I could feel my excitement and anticipation mounting. The discovery of a lifelong learning center dedicated to people 50 and over right in my backyard was more than I could have hoped for when I started trawling the web that morning. By the time I finished reading the OLLI pages, Martin and I were headed to the car and the Furman campus. Although it was the end of the 2014 school year, our visit to the Herring Center convinced us to join OLLI in the fall. As we enter our third term no less enthused than we were last May, never stop learning has never held more meaning for us. The good news is this. There are 119 OLLI campuses throughout the U.S. and there are colleges and universities throughout the world with adult learning opportunities.

In 2000 The Bernard Osher Foundation (http://www.osherfoundation.org/index.php?olli) made a decision to start doling out multi-millions to support lifelong education centers on campuses across the U.S. so mature adults (that’s us) would have access to continuing education classes, which met their needs. In other words, fun classes in photography, art, history, literature, technology and exercise that were non-accredited but just for, well, fun. With million dollar endowments now handed out to 119 campuses throughout the country and at least one OLLI established in all 50 states, the Foundation is not currently giving further endowments. However, the impact of what has been accomplished by this generous gifting cannot be underestimated. For a generation looking to reinvent itself after leaving the workforce, OLLI offers the opportunity to continue learning new skills, take up new hobbies, soak up new ideas and make new friends. For those with skills to share, there are teaching and volunteer opportunities. If you are looking for renewed purpose and meaning in your post-retirement life, continuing to learn new things is the place to start exploring your next move.

But, what if you don’t have an OLLI in your backyard or even in your part of the world? Every developed country has colleges and universities. In Europe and Great Britain programs similar to OLLI are called University of the Third Age or U3A. Other colleges offer adult learning in the form of accredited courses only but you may enjoy applying yourself toward receiving a certificate or grade. My alma mater, Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) offers a Lifelong Education Program, in which students take the University’s courses on a non-accredited but graded basis at a reduced tuition cost. In the State of South Carolina, residents 60 and older can take courses at state supported colleges tuition free, although, they have to pay an application fee and pay for any materials required for the course. Look for similar options in your part of the world. Most institutions of higher learning also offer lecture series, plays, concerts and sporting events. Affiliating yourself with a local college, with or without continuing education or adult learning courses, may open new doors in other ways.

Don’t assume it’s out of your financial reach, but costs do vary widely, so do your homework up front on the financial requirements. I pay a $50 per year membership fee at OLLI Furman. Paying for classes individually runs $50 per course but, I bought a one year course package at $210 for 6 classes. That’s $35 for an eight week course, a bargain. The University also offers Friday Bonus Events, which are tuition free with students covering the cost of any materials. Then, there’s also Lunch and Learn Tuesdays, where students bring a lunch and listen to area speakers talk about various subjects. This Friday I’ll be hiking the Jocassee Gorge, one of the most wildflower rich areas of the world, in search of spring ephemerals. My cost? Chipping in for gas as we’re carpooling from the University. The cost of membership includes access to the University library, a boon for readers. And, tickets for many cultural events are as little as $10. Additionally, we are in a technological age where many colleges offer courses online and free. You’re not likely to meet people in that forum, but you can learn new skills.

Then, there are the things you gain, by entering college life, which really can’t be quantified. First of all, you have a chance to get outside that comfort zone I keep harping about. You know, the zone that keeps you in a rut with little or no excitement in your life. Remember, all the things you are comfortable doing today were probably outside your comfort zone when you started doing them. Try taking something at a college or university, which you, never in a million years, would dare to try. Here’s your chance to open new neural pathways and exercise your brain. Go ahead. Do it! Secondly, you will meet other people and you may even strike up new friendships. While you may not normally walk up to a stranger and introduce yourself, the classroom environment is conducive to doing just that. There are people with all kinds of interesting backgrounds and lifestyles attending classes. And, they are there looking for the same thing you are, a connection with people and learning.

Just as the concept of working for the same employer for forty years has become outmoded, so is the idea that we stop learning after we retire. Continuing to learn new things, meet new people and engage in the world around us will keep us active and sharp-minded as we age. And, there is no better place to begin than at a local college or university. Now is the time when you have the hours to put into learning a new skill or taking up a new hobby or filling your mind with new ideas. Can you imagine your grandparents seeing how the world has changed and what has been offered up to us and not wanting to take advantage of it? They would think we were crazy fools not to engage with these learning activities. Our generation is at the leading edge of a huge cultural shift in the concept of aging. Become an active part of this cultural shift and never stop learning!

LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD

In 1969 Richie Havens sang the song ‘Freedom’ at Woodstock. The lyrics, which as of late will not stop playing in my head, “Freedom, freedom, freedom, sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from my home” have a different meaning for me than they did when I was 17. Back then, in fact, I don’t think I really thought much about the lyrics. It was the blues feeling of the tune more than the lyrics, which attracted me to Havens’ song. And, after all, it was sung at the crazy, crazy song fest, love-in of Woodstock. Today, however, it’s how I feel about the lyrics, which has them spinning over and over again around my brain. With my mother’s passing in 2008, I truly am a motherless child. And, the years, the travels, the distances, the sheer experience of life itself, have taken me a long way from my home. Shoot! I’m not even remotely like my 17-year-old self. That person is gone. But, with the luxury of retirement, I am free after all those years.

Between the time when we reach adulthood to the time when we reach retirement, we spend our lives dancing as fast as we can to keep up with career plans and demands, family responsibilities, community involvement and a host of other concerns like how to afford retirement. Before reaching adulthood, we spent our youth with everything we learned, did or perhaps, even thought, being orchestrated by parents, teachers, church leaders, scout leaders, coaches, maybe even older siblings or other relatives and, of course, there were our friends. Retirement is a sort of crossing the finish line where we have gobs and gobs of time to ourselves, free time to do whatever we want, whenever we want. There are no bosses breathing down our necks all day making sure we are not wasting company time and producing results with our efforts. The kids are grown and, hopefully, out of house. Our spouse or significant other may also be retired and have their agenda of activities or they may still be running on the treadmill of work. At last, we are free.

But, therein lies the catch. At first, in retirement, we may feel like a motherless child who can run wild in the streets. We can sleep late, play golf or bridge or whatever, party with our friends late into the night. Hop into our RV or travel the globe. In our society we have been conditioned to think of retirement as a perpetual vacation where we’re going to enjoy endless relaxation and fun. I remember my mother’s trepidation about my father’s impending retirement. Her fears began when they received one call too many relaying the news of yet another retired male friend dying of a heart attack on the golf course. Those were the days when retirement was a time to party hardy because our life spans were much shorter. It made sense to act like every day was Saturday. However, with present day longevity, the idea of spending 20 or 30 years playing every day is no longer desirable. As human beings we have an innate need to strive onward and upward toward something meaningful. The retirement dream of our parents is not a valid dream for us. In fact, 20 or 30 years of doing the same ol’, same ol’ can become a downright nightmare.

Retirement is the one time in life when we have real control over our time and what we do with it. Yet, many of us squander that freedom by clinging to the retirement model of our grandparents’ and parents’ generations. Freedom, in and of itself, is a responsibility. One way to take responsibility for your freedom is to go home again. Even though you are probably, as I am, a different person than you were as a young adult, revisiting that person may hold the keys to what you really, really want to do with your retirement freedom. Even though, in the words of Richie Havens, I was a long way from my home, I went back to my high school years, mentally that is, and thought about what I had wanted to do with my life then. I was the copy editor on my high school newspaper and received an award from Temple University for outstanding high school journalism. Hard to believe now, considering how I don’t always know where to place a comma or start a new paragraph. But, my point is, I always wanted to be a writer but I let life and paying the bills get in the way. Being a writer still resonated with my current self so even though I was a long way from home, I retrieved that dream and made it happen on these pages. By going home again, you may find the answer to what you want to do to jazz up your retirement freedom. But, however you approach it, whatever you decide to do, don’t squander it like a motherless child just whiling away the days, all the days, each and every one of your days, with mundane busyness.

AN ARTS AND CRAFTS MOVEMENT

After writing my last post, many of you wrote telling me what gave you renewed purpose in life after transitioning from work life to retirement. THANK YOU! I enjoyed reading all of your stories, comments and notes. There were a couple of surprises from this informal survey but most of you found renewed purpose by finding a new activity, which struck a personal cord. There was an undeniable thread of joy, which ran through all of your stories of self-discovery. Now, I’d like to share the results with all my readers. Since many of the writers asked for anonymity, I’ve decided not to post any comments received on the previous post nor give too much detail.

Most of you retired as I did, cold turkey. No part-time work to ease into retirement like my doctor suggested as the ideal scenario. In fact, a few wrote about leaving work due to stress. For the most part, it wasn’t clear what type of stress but a couple of people wrote about age discrimination and being pushed out by a younger supervisor and/or co-workers. One writer mentioned feeling an urgent need to find new purpose in order to fully move forward in life and leave the stress behind. There was only one writer, but it’s good news we had one, who chronicled a five-year transition into retirement, working three-quarters of the month, including some telecommuting for the company that employed them for 37 years. This writer’s spouse enjoyed a similar arrangement with their employer. So, I guess we can count that as two who were able to transition into retirement the way my doctor suggested. Even after this transitional period, the employer still wanted to keep them around for special projects. Smart employer! Since this person did a lot of pre-planning and transitioning into retirement, when the moment finally came, it was more of a non-event with little transitioning left to do. Most of us, however, do not have the luxury of such an accommodating employer.

The big surprise for me is how most of you found renewed purpose in arts and crafts. While there are a few of you who fell in love with gardening, even a couple who have hobby farms, it seems most retirees are part of an arts and crafts movement. And, gardening can even be considered a type of art form for it requires a certain amount of creativity. Far from unusual, I am not the only one to discover artistic talent after a career in a vastly different environment. After life as attorneys, accountants, bankers, realtors, office managers, manufacturing jobs, medical technicians, teachers, IT administrators, nurses and more, most of you found renewed purpose in painting in all mediums…watercolor, acrylics, oil, jewelry making, sculpture in both clay and metal, glass bead making, knitting and felting, stained glass, photography, weaving, quilting, wood carving and collage art. Two of you mentioned supplementing retirement income with the sale of your art work and one is even teaching an art class. Some of you spoke of travel but it was almost always in conjunction with your ability to photograph new scenes or explore local art and culture. You also spoke of making new friends within the arts and crafts community, joining clubs and social networks centered around your chosen art or craft. I recently spotted a sign in an art shop. It said, “Artists never retire.” Perhaps that’s why we are drawn to our creative sides in retirement. We have now created a job for life.

Another surprise was how no one mentioned volunteering as an activity, which offered renewed purpose. Only a couple of you mentioned any volunteer work at all and even that was as an aside, an “I also do this” type of remark. As a volunteer for the Master Gardener Program, I fully enjoy working the booth at the local farmers market where I answer gardening questions and hand out information to all kinds of people from all walks of life. It makes for a fun morning. However, it’s not something I want to do everyday. Yesterday, at lunch with a friend, I asked for her thoughts on this as she, too, does volunteer work, but, it’s not her focus. Her not-so-surprising comment, “ I don’t want to be scheduled.” I believe, for most of us, volunteering is too much like working a job. It comes with time constraints, supervisors and work-like responsibilities. Many of us want to give back to our community in some way but in retirement, we also want to enjoy a less structured, more relaxing life. If anyone has other thoughts or ideas about this, please chime in.

To all of you, no matter where you are, no matter what your circumstance, I thank you for all of your heartfelt responses. I hope this post inspires those of you who have not yet found a renewed purpose in life to explore the possibilities, explore your wants and needs and perhaps ignite a spark within, which you didn’t know was there.

THE LUCK OF THE DRAW

Native American in pencil

Native American in pencil

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.

VOLUNTEERS RULE

Recently, fellow blogger, Lynn Daue, wrote a post called “Resistance Is (Not) Futile” (http://lynndaue.com/2013/03/08/resistance-is-not-futile/) in which she writes about being involved in a volunteer organization where she isn’t motivated to do that particular work. Though her post is about far more than volunteering, it reminded me of some advice I received from a retired couple. Referring to my impending retirement from paid work, they cautioned, “You’ll have to guard your time jealously.” “Why?”, asked I. The answer: “Because everyone thinks you have all this free time to volunteer for their cause. If you’re not careful, you’ll become a professional volunteer. You won’t have time for what you intended to do with your retirement.”

Whether retired or not, volunteering is a way to give back, to make the world a better place and, as a volunteer, I have always felt I received more than I gave. The caveat on that last thought is I received great satisfaction when I was volunteering for a cause I felt passionately about. Unfortunately, I’ve also had the experience of volunteering for an organization because a friend, neighbor or co-worker cajoled me into raising my hand and “volunteering”. As a result, I really didn’t enjoy what I was doing. My heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t contribute as much as I was capable of contributing and eventually left on a note of disappointment all around. So, after reading Lynn’s post, I put together my little set of rules for volunteering.

Rule number one for volunteering is to be sure you’re doing it because you feel unequivocally passionate about the cause. Just like the champion race horse who wins the race every time because they have heart, you’ll give your all to the organizations you choose because they touch your heart. Just because you say “no” doesn’t mean it isn’t a good cause. It isn’t a judgement of those who do support it. It’s just not YOUR cause.

Recently, at a class I’m taking, one of my classmates said she was having a tough time keeping up with the assignments. She’s retired so she should have time for doing the work. Right? What was holding her back? She’s the professional volunteer my advisors were talking about! She volunteers for five organizations, including one that takes three hours of her time five days a week. She wants to leave a couple of the organizations but feels guilty because they are already short-handed. Oh, the guilt!

So, rule number two for volunteering is know when to say “no” right up front. Don’t let yourself reach the point where the volunteering controls your life. When that happens, no matter how passionate you are about a cause, it may become a chore in short order. And, as in rule number one, if you’re not even passionate about the cause to begin with, it’s worse than being stuck in a paid job you don’t like because here your efforts are not even rewarded with a paycheck! Which leads me to rule number three. Know when to cash it in and do so without guilt. You gave it a shot. If it’s not YOUR cause, move on. You’ll be doing them a favor.

As I mentioned, I’ve been involved with organizations where things just didn’t work out, even in ones where I thought their cause was my cause. I’d start out all excited to be a part of the good works, all gong ho to show up and make things happen. Then, fizzle. Why? Well, I was just a warm body. I was a warm body to file paperwork. I was a warm body to take tickets at a special event. I was a warm body to type up the newsletter. You know, the one I didn’t write. In other words, they didn’t want my ability. They didn’t want my experience. They didn’t want to hear about any thought in my head. I was just a warm body to do whatever needed to be done that day.

So, rule number four is choose organizations that truly respect you, your experience, your expertise and your time. While this is true for everyone, I believe it’s especially true for retirees who are looking for community. Choose organizations that show their gratitude. I volunteer for an organization where I am routinely thanked for my volunteer activities and my time. I was trained by this organization to do a specific job for them and my brain power is welcomed. Although I’m a volunteer, they make me feel just as important as a paid employee.

So, do volunteer. But, choose organizations which support your passion, not someone else’s. Don’t let yourself get bogged down with too much volunteering. Be your own good cause. Remember, you have other passions as well. And, this one is really important for retirees, choose organizations where your life experience, expertise and brain power is not only respected but expected. Lastly, if you find yourself in the position of wanting out, but ohhh…the guilt, set them free so they can find someone with the passion to do a spectacular job at volunteering for their cause.