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.”

Advertisements

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!

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.

WHAT’S YOUR RUSH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE AWARD

Last week I received my award letter. After paying into Social Security for over 40 years, I’ll start collecting Social Security benefits in 2014. Applying for my benefit was relatively painless. I won’t say it was seamless as there were some glitches. But, applying online in the comfort of my home instead of having to drive 27 miles to an office, take a number and sit in a crowded waiting room for the next available agent was much easier, even with the glitches.

Looking back, the glitches were minor irritations due, in part, to my naively believing the federal government would have their web site totally updated at year-end and their staff ready to handle the call volume at the holidays. After the Affordable Care Act fiasco, it was downright silly of me to expect the Social Security web site to be glitch-free at year end. You see, everything I read about when to apply for benefits, including information on http://www.socialsecurity.gov said I could apply at 61 years, 8 months. I was actually at almost three months prior to my birth date so I thought I was well within the time frame. At least until I reached a certain point in the online application where I inserted my birth date and hit the first glitch. Informed that I was not yet old enough to apply, I counted the months using what else but my fingers. I re-checked what I read on their web site. No, my eyes still worked…61 years, 8 months. So, after being kicked out of their system completely, I decided to call the toll-free number. That’s when I met up with the second glitch.

As with almost every other call center these days, I received an automated response where I had to play 20 questions and couldn’t override their system by pressing zero. Trying to be patient (a tough order for me) I drilled down through the questions until I reached the magic moment (at last) where a human being should come on the line. Instead, the automaton told me there was no one available to take my call at that time so try again later and, without so much as a ‘do you want to hold for the next available operator’, the blankety-blank machine said, ‘goodbye’ and hung up. Frustration does not even begin to cover how I felt at that moment. Obviously, my tax dollars were not at work and neither was anyone else. The holidays, I fumed.

So, my first word of advice is do not, I repeat do not, apply for Social Security during the Christmas/New Year holiday season. For starters, it’s year-end when all systems are being updated to comply with new laws or policies and, to make matters worse, nearly everyone wants time off to spend the holidays with family. Short-staffed and up against the wall with new year changes, customer service becomes yet another government oxymoron. The update causing my glitch? You guessed it. You can now apply for benefits at 61 years, 9 months, not 61 years, 8 months. Well, the good news is at least SSA updated even if they didn’t make it immediately clear on their web site. And, the Monday after New Year’s I did reach a live human being after playing 20 questions with the automaton. This leads me to my second word of advice.

After telling me I should now be able to go back into their system and finish my application, the operator told me what the SSA would need in order to process my application. She told me I would receive a letter requesting certain ORIGINAL documents and I should not to go to a Social Security office with my birth certificate and marriage license. You see, Social Security is already too busy with too many people going to the offices. Instead, she advised, I should mail these documents!!!! Do NOT mail any of your precious proof to the SSA. I received my award letter and was not required to present any documentation whatsoever. But, being a cross your t’s type, just to be sure, I called. According to that SSA rep, if you were born in the United States, the SSA already has all your records including copies of birth certificates, marriage licenses and military service. Even if they do ask for it, do NOT let your precious documents out of your hot little hands. My new friend also mentioned how the SSA receives documents without proper account identification (social security number) and those documents end up in a sort of black hole, never to find their way back to the rightful owner and delaying claims.

Since receiving my award letter, I’ve spoken to other people who had no glitches whatsoever. Everything went as smooth as silk. Somehow, I always end up being the test case. But, hey, if everything aways went well, I might not have any advice to pass on. As it is, I hope all goes well for those of you out there who have yet to log into http://www.socialsecurity.gov and make your claim. As for me, after 40 years in the making, I’m looking forward to celebrating my first deposit.

STAGES OF RETIREMENT II

Last Sunday, as Martin and I sat in the kitchen waiting for dinner to finish baking in the oven, we sipped a glass of wine and talked about our latest projects. Suddenly, I realized the day before was our one year retirement anniversary. A year!?! Gone already! And, we didn’t even celebrate having made it a full year. A year of ups and downs as we adjusted our way to a fulfilling retirement routine. Mind you, we’re not there yet. But, we managed to make it into Stage 4, the Reorientation Stage. With six retirement stages, we’re more than halfway there. Yipeeee!

Last week I wrote about Disillusionment, Stage 3. After meeting someone who was obviously disillusioned with retirement and having been there myself, I felt the need to forewarn as many people as were willing to read my post. But what happens before and after disillusionment? Well, in the past year we’ve experienced all the before.

Pre-retirement, Stage 1, was filled with euphoria. We planned what we would do in retirement. Martin gave his notice at work. His employer threw a catered retirement bash. Bucket lists were made. Lists included all kinds of things we always wanted to do but never seemed to have the time for. Travel made it onto the list, an activity we never liked much before, so whatever made us think we’d like it in retirement, is anybody’s guess. After a work life of travel, travel, travel for both of us, we decided travel was, in reality, one of the last things we wanted to do. Little did we know, this was just the beginning of adjusting our retirement goals and outlook.

Initially, Stage 2, Retirement, aka the “honeymoon” took on a feeling of perpetual vacation as we motorcycled, hiked, gardened, bicycled, engaged in some artwork, sat on the screened porch reading in the warmth of sunny fall days. Winter arrived to a long trip to visit family for Christmas, a luxury we never enjoyed while we worked. That was followed by lazy mornings sipping lattes by the fire and staying in my jammies ’til noon as I took on the new hobby of knitting.

But disillusionment was seeping in. Spring arrived to six months of perpetual vacation giving way to a feeling of restlessness. A feeling of missing the challenge, the mind stimulation, the purpose afforded by the everyday grind of work. What!?! Miss the rat race? No. Not possible. And worse of all, we were getting on each others very last nerve. Our marriage, made in heaven, was being tested at every turn or so it seemed. We arrived at Stage 3, Disillusionment, not even realizing what it was or that it happened to most retirees. But, we did know, something had to give. So, once again, I trawled the web for answers. I’m here to tell you, there’s not a lot out there, not even on the so-called “senior” (I hate that word but that’s what we have) websites. However, in one Google search, I stumbled across Robert Atchley’s research into the stages or phases of retirement and voilà!, a lot of things fell into place. For starters, we made a conscious decision to aim for Stage 4, Reorientation.

To me, Reorientation, is a couple of things. First of all, you put on your designer cap and pull up all the creative muscle you can find on the right side of your brain and start designing a retirement lifestyle to put you smack in the middle of your happy place. Secondly, kiss the rat race goodbye. Let it go. Sever old ties, if necessary. You still need people in retirement. You still need human connection. You still need to network. But, staying in touch with the old gang still tethered to the work place can keep you tethered there as well. Keep the real friends. Let the rest go. And, give them permission to let you go.

Retirement is a reinvention of who you are. For us, we are right brain people who lived our work lives in a left brain world. We wanted to explore different art mediums in retirement but held ourselves back. You know, the old fear of failure specter. What if I can’t draw? Can’t paint? Can’t carve? What if I produce ugly stuff nobody likes? Scary as the thought was, when we decided to seriously enter the world of artists, that is the precise moment we started our reorientation. After several enjoyable weeks of watercolor class, yesterday I took my first drawing class. Don’t even think it…I already know I put the cart before the horse. Anyway, my drawing instructor told our class, “After today’s class, if anyone asks you what you do, you tell them, you’re an artist”. He went on to tell us how he wanted us to start thinking of ourselves as artists. Think it, feel it, be it. (I really like this guy.) Besides classes, we’ve become involved in a couple of artists’ guilds, Martin helping out with the fall arts festival, both of us attending openings (wine, cheese and art…doesn’t get any better than that) and me joining a board of directors. We’ve made new friends. Artist friends who encourage and support. We feel like we’re well on our way to creating a rewarding Retirement Routine, Stage 5.

Once we are comfortably settled into our new retirement lifestyle, we intend for it to last a long, long time. What about Stage 6? you ask. Stage 6 is the Termination of Retirement. That’s when you’re so old and frail, you can’t do any of this fun stuff anymore. You’re focused on meeting your maker. As I said, that’s a long way off. Until then, I’m an artist.

STAGES OF RETIREMENT

Recently, I sat in an office filling out paperwork for my appointment. When I reached the bottom of the form, which required a date, I realized even though I had an appointment, I didn’t know the date. Too lazy to dig into my purse for my cell phone, I asked the guy next to me, who was also filling out the same form, if he knew the date.

“The third”, came the reply.

“Thanks. Retired,” said I by way of explanation for my lack of date information.

“Me, too,” he sighed.

I couldn’t help myself. I had to know what was behind the sigh. He seemed a little depressed, heavy. So, I queried, “Not having a good time in retirement?”

He hunched forwarded a bit in his seat and looked at the floor. “I get up every morning wondering what I’m going to do today. I’m thinking of getting a part-time job.”

“Maybe you could volunteer for an organization,” I offered.

“Yeah, I already do that but this isn’t what I thought it would be.”

With that, my name was called and I got up to leave. Before I made my exit, I turned to him and said, “What you’re experiencing is normal. You’re not alone.” He nodded his head but kept looking at the floor.

In 1975 a professor of gerontology named Robert Atchley identified seven stages of retirement. Since then, they’ve been pared down to six but the bottom line is retirement is such a major life transition requiring a redefining of our very role in life that no matter how much we plan, we’re bound to experience at least some of the stages. The guy in the waiting room was in the stage of disillusionment possibly missing the structure and productivity of work, which had given his life purpose. While not everyone goes through this stage, most of us do. It’s similar to the realization, somewhere around age 40, when we say to ourselves, “Is this all there is to life?” You know that moment I’m talking about. The one where you realized you didn’t become brilliant, rich, famous, have the exciting career you dreamed about or whatever you thought would happen to your life. Well, that realization shows up in retirement, too. After the “honeymoon” of relaxation, the feeling like you’re on vacation, the relief of leaving the rat race behind, boredom sets in and you find yourself saying, “Is this all there is to retirement?”

Even Colin Powell talked about it on the speakers circuit a few years ago. After leaving his post as Secretary of State where he was constantly whisked here and there in limousines and government jets with an entourage of assistants, secret service agents and press corps, he found himself walking down Fifth Avenue in New York all by his lonesome to fetch a hotdog from the street vendor. He went on to recount how he ended up on the speakers circuit because his wife of 56 years told him unless he found something to do with his life, they wouldn’t make it to year 57. While his wife’s ultimatum may be slightly comical, she was wise enough to realize he needed to do something to recreate his purpose in life. For both their sakes, she wasn’t going to tolerate his moping. The lesson in Powell’s story is how he reoriented himself by joining the speakers circuit thus creating a new routine for himself. And…securing his marriage for at least another year.

Unfortunately, for many of us disillusionment with retirement and therefore, life, can last years before we decide to take inventory of our situation and decide what we’re going to do when we grow up. For a sad few, the disillusionment stage can last the rest of our lives. That’s a real downer, folks. People who think their “golden years” aren’t golden have no one but themselves to blame. So, take stock! The willingness to take stock of our situation, options, wants and needs is the first step to recovering our retirement dream. Like the guy in the waiting room who was thinking of getting a part-time job, acknowledging that somethings gotta give moves you toward action. Back in 1935 when the retirement age was set by the government at age 65, it was a rarity indeed, for most people to even live to that age. With longevity comes opportunity. Today, with more and more people living to be 100, the idea of sitting out 30 years of retirement in a rocker on the front porch should be enough to get you motivated to find a new hobby, career, volunteer activity or whatever floats your boat.

So, whether you’re already retired and wondering where your retirement dream went or you’re looking at retiring someday in the future, keep the disillusionment stage in mind. It may only last a day or two or it could be years. That’s up to you. Know that for most of us, it probably will come. But, also know, it is an opportunity to take stock, to reinvent yourself, to learn, to be, to give, to reach your potential in areas you may not have ever envisioned for yourself. And, remember, what you’re experiencing is normal and you’re not alone.

FROM THERE TO HERE

One of the Rolling Stones most popular hits was a song titled “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”. That seemed to be my theme song for the first 6 months after we officially retired. But, finally after 6 months plus, we have adjusted to our new life. So, today I’m posting what I believe are the steps for getting here from there. Like most people preparing for retirement, we focused on the financial aspect. And, I don’t want to make light of how important that factor is. It’s, in fact, the single most important factor. No matter where you are in life, if you don’t have enough money to at least meet your basic needs, you aren’t likely to be happy. But, as we approached retirement, the big surprise for us was how our enthusiasm gave way to stress and emotion at saying goodbye to a forty year way of life.

Planning your financial security is a piece of cake compared to addressing the emotional components in your retirement planning. Early on I posted The Transition about being broad-sided by the emotional aspect of retiring. We planned, planned, planned for the money but didn’t put a lot of thought into the psychology. I guess that’s because most books, articles and web sites focus on the finances. We had lots of activities, family and friends and a wish list of travel and learning. But, we were very unprepared for the emotion and stress. After 6 months of ups and downs, corrections in mindset and adjustments, I am able to identify what we should have done to make the transition more painless. What is the saying about hindsight? It’s 20/20. I hope my 20/20 hindsight vision will help anyone contemplating retirement. Here we go…

When we decided to retire, we looked at retirement as a destination. What I realized about two months into it is retirement is a journey. Hence, the tagline for my blog. There is no one place you are going to. It’s, instead, a never ending adventure. Wrap your head around that because your mindset is very important to entering your journey. You need a forward looking attitude. If your employer has an Employee Assistance Program offering a few weeks of free counseling as one of the benefits, take advantage of it. Even if you think you don’t need it, see a counselor and take your spouse or partner with you. You don’t know what you don’t know. Does that make sense? I hope so. A counselor can help you focus on this next part of your life and how to make the transition less bumpy.

With that in mind, sever the emotional ties to your old work place as soon as possible. Sounds harsh. But once you really say goodbye, you are free to focus on your new life. So, move on as quickly as possible. Martin was really good at saying goodbye. I had a more difficult time. Staying in the loop on your old employer’s activities, politics and (brrr..shudder) the gossip is counterproductive to what you really want to accomplish by retiring. I’m not saying discard true friendships developed through work. I have real friends I met at work but we have lots of other things in common, which is why we’re friends. Say goodbye to the relationships based on nothing but the work. You left work because you are looking for a new community and activities. So, don’t cling to the past.

Like many people we chose our date based on birthdays. Sounds logical because, again, it’s all about the finances. Right? Wrong! You can start collecting from your 401K or IRA at 59-1/2. You can start collecting social security at 62. Base your date on these events and you may be making a big mistake. In choosing your date forget the finances and look at your activities. What are you planning to do with your days? Plan for this just like you plan for your finances and be specific. That was our mistake. When people said, “What are you going to do in retirement?”, we gushed about motorcycling, bicycling, gardening, hiking and some travel. Most of our activities are fair weather types. In South Carolina, the weather is such, you can normally do some outside activities even in the winter. However, we had an unusually rainy, cold, long winter. In fact, as I write this, it’s 52 degrees and 3-5 inches of rain pouring down in May! Even our travel destinations were not conducive to a lot of sightseeing during this winter. We went some places anyway but it was not as enjoyable as anticipated. Fortunately, we had plenty of indoor activities and we stayed open to trying new ones. Choose your date carefully.

Speaking of timing, if you have a spouse or partner, who is also retiring, choose the same retirement date. One of the most difficult transitions was my adjustment to Martin being at home. You see, I left work two years earlier. My routine was mostly just up to me. Once he left the house every day, I did things on my schedule. I’m also less structured than Martin so part of my routine was no routine. Suddenly, I had someone else in the house all day wanting to know what I was going to do with my time or wanting me to tag along with them when I had other ideas. It took the first three months for us to mesh our wants, needs and routines. I’d like to say that occurred without a lot of stress, disagreements and negotiation but I’d be lying. This is an area where an EAP counselor could have made a difference for us.

Next up, be sure you have enough activities to occupy your time. If you work an eight hour day with an hour for lunch and a 30 minute commute one way, that’s ten hours of activity per day or 50 hours a week you have to replace. The first couple of weeks you feel like you’re on vacation. Enjoy that feeling of just kicking back and doing nothing. But, after that, you need a boat load of activities to take up 50 or 60 hours each week. Make a list of your hobbies, crafts, volunteer activities and how much time will be dedicated to each one on a weekly basis. Martin and I have also been watching one of our grandkids two days a week. He’s also continued to visit his parents for lunch weekly. We had a few maintenance items, which needed performing on our house and property. Include anything like that as well. If you can’t come up with at least 40 hours of activity to replace your work time, start looking around for clubs to join, new volunteer adventures or classes to take. And, once you retire, keep your mind open to learning new things and taking on new adventures. I’ve read retirees watch way too much TV. Don’t become one of them! This is an opportunity to grow and reenergize your life. Don’t squander it on the boob-tube. We’ve quickly figured out how taking up a new project or learning a new skill adds excitement and purpose to our lives. I want those feelings to continue, don’t you?

We also found the word ‘retirement’ in and of itself was a negative. The definition and societal view of retirement is such a has-been, life is over connotation. I kept reading every article I could find on the terms used to describe someone who is growing older and retired. All of them so dreary. I also read several articles about others trying to find a better definition for the words ‘retiree’ and ‘senior’. So, I’m not alone. I guess my subconscious was just working away to find another term because a couple of months ago, it just popped into my head. I’m a PIM…Person of Independent Means. The definition is since I no longer need to work for money I can do whatever the Hell I want with my time, including working for money, if I want to. Even retirees who have to work part-time can be PIM’s as they also have some independent means. Being a PIM instead of a retiree is liberating. It gives you a whole different mindset about this segment of the journey of your life. We have choices. We are healthy. We are active. We get to write a whole new chapter on our terms. And, the term is PIM!

So, how do we feel about being retired…errr…PIMs? We could not even begin to think about returning to the work force. That’s how we feel. We’re having too much fun. We’re enjoying the freedom of so much choice. We’re enjoying the challenge of finding new and interesting things to do. We’re enjoying the exploration and the thrill of discovery. We’re enjoying meeting other PIMs and developing a new community of friends and acquaintances. We’re enjoying not having to make a 30 minute commute to work in the pouring rain and instead, making spaghetti sauce, chocolate chip cookies, snuggling in to read, write, knit, spin on the stationary bike and talk. Then, later, opening a bottle of red and enjoying a delicious dinner. So, I guess the final step is just relax, give yourself time to adjust and keep an open mind. The journey to here from there is just beginning.

CHICKEN LITTLE

As I was making an appointment last week, my being retired came up in the conversation. The woman behind the desk said, “Oh, you’re one of the lucky ones. I’ll never be able to retire.” Reading this you might think she was one of the boomer generation who just didn’t save or had had some tough breaks in life. But this woman looked to be mid-thirties so I replied with, “You’re young. Save your pennies. You don’t need a lot of money to get to retirement. At your age, you need a regular savings plan. You already have the time.” She went on to tell me it was really hard to save anything in this economy and there would be no social security by the time she retired. Oh, my goodness, Chicken Little, the sky is falling!

As I drove home, I kept thinking about her attitude. I’d heard it all before. In fact, I’d heard it for decades. At one time in my life, I was also counted among the people who bought into the no way to save philosophy. I’m not trying to make light of the recent economic downturn. It’s been tough for a lot of people. Martin and I have both lost jobs at one time in our careers. So, I know firsthand how not fun that is. We also lived through the high inflation late 1970’s when gas prices first spiked and mortgage rates were upwards of 18%!!! Maybe that’s part of the reason we took this latest downturn in stride. While it may look and feel like the world is going to Hell in a handbasket (that’s a very old name for a woman’s handbag, which goes with the very old saying of going to Hell in a…well, now you know), the economy always seems to recover eventually. And, those who don’t sit around boohooing over it, seem to come out ahead of the rest of the crowd. You can have a Chicken Little, the sky is falling attitude or you can have a how can I make lemonade of out of this lemon attitude. Your choice.

So, back to my having heard it all before. I’ve talked with people who tell me they’ve tried to save but just can’t do it. Yet, they go out to dinner most nights or stop at the bar for a quick one…or two… on the way home. I’ve heard from people who go to Hawaii every year or Europe every year or Mexico every year or take a cruise every year. I’ve known of plenty of people who bought a new car every two years or three years just to keep up with the Joneses or so they wouldn’t have to deal with repairs. I’ve also known of lots of people who got a promotion with a nice sized raise and immediately went for the larger, more expensive home. Warren Buffett still lives in the same house he bought in his twenties. That should tell you something. I’ve known of women who had to buy one of those crazy big jewelry chests to house all the baubles they couldn’t stop buying.

Fortunately, I’ve also talked with lots of people who paid themselves first out of every paycheck. They socked it away for retirement. They invested in their future. Some of those same people were on the verge of retiring when in the fall of 2008 the bottom dropped out of their portfolio. Did they say they got screwed out of their retirement? Did they boo hoo about how their golden years wouldn’t be what they dreamed of? No, they said how can I make lemonade of this lemon! They reworked their dream, downsizing to a smaller home or deciding not to travel as much or selling off some of their toys. Others decided to keep working a couple more years. They kept a positive attitude. They were resilient despite what life had just handed them. On the contrary, I know people who pulled all of their money out of the stock market, thus locking in their losses and blaming everyone they could think of for their situation. Planning for retirement is like planning for anything else. Stuff happens. And, that means reworking the plan. It doesn’t mean retirement won’t happen. It just means it may look differently from your original dream or it may be delayed. You learn to roll with the punches.

As for Social Security, I smiled to myself about the young woman thinking there would be none for her generation. It’s the same thing Martin and I used to think about Baby Boomers. Does it look differently for our generation than it did for our parents? Yes. And, it will probably look differently for Generation X. Full benefits will most likely occur later, just like it is for us. It may not be as much, meaning the self-discipline to set up a regular, consistent savings plan is even more important. The fact is, Social Security has never been enough to retire on alone. It has always been and will continue to be just a part of the plan. Pensions have all but disappeared. However, I’d rather have my own nest egg in the form of a self-directed 401K or IRA or other plan any day of the week.

The key to whether or not you have a secure retirement or not is dependent upon your attitude. I recently read a story that has nothing to do with retirement but everything to do with attitude. It is the story of a high school basketball player who desired nothing more in his young life than to play basketball. When he was cut from the team, he felt humiliated and defeated. When he got home that day, he went to his room and cried. Today, Michael Jordan, who is probably the best basketball player who ever played, says that was a good experience. He didn’t allow himself to be defeated or defined by that circumstance. Instead, he reworked his plan. Attitude, folks, attitude.

So, whatever the economy, the government, the markets are doing, focus on what you can do with what you have to do it. You can have a retirement. And, what it looks like depends entirely upon how you look at life.