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.

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GOOD GRIEF

Some of you sent messages telling me how retiring is harder than expected. I’ve recommended reading my posts on Stages of Retirement, which some of you had already read. I also positioned those posts on my site’s Header to make them easier to find and have heard from some of you how the posts were helpful. In the last eighteen months I’ve obviously spent a lot of time thinking about how difficult the transition is emotionally and psychologically for most of us. I’ve read a lot of articles and posts on other sites, which is how I came across Robert Atchley’s study on the stages, and have developed further thoughts about the transition. Having reached the fifth stage of a rewarding Retirement Routine, I also have the advantage of hindsight. So, today I’m going to share those thoughts in this post.

From the messages, and judging from my own experience, Stage 3 Disillusionment is the stage which presents the biggest issue. While Atchley calls it Disillusionment, I think a more appropriate description is the ‘Grief Stage’. I say this because we enter Stage 3 actually missing work, grieving for what we had, our purpose, our identity. Most of your messages mention feeling alone. I believe part of the aloneness comes from our society’s penchant for saying, “Buck up, get over it and move on.” Most of the articles I read on grief refer to the loss of a spouse or significant other. And, every author points to people telling them exactly what I just said. Get over it. It’s in the past. Move on. Most people who give this advice are probably thinking they are being helpful. But, for the person going through the grief process, it can feel belittling of their situation.

When I first retired, I talked to an already retired acquaintance about the trouble I was having transitioning. Thinking I would find a kind ear and perhaps some insight, much to my surprise, she wanted nothing to do with my questions, insisting she had no idea what on earth I was talking about. And, according to Atchley, she may not have had any adjustment issues. However, recognizing and supporting others who do experience problems is a needed change in our societal attitude. Until then, it’s important to give ourselves permission to grieve the loss of our work purpose and identity.

Grief, whether it is because of a death, a divorce, an empty nest or retirement or some other life event, plays a very important role in our very ability to re-purpose our lives. Each of us also has a different grief meter. As Atchley pointed out in his study, disillusionment may only last a few days for some; a few years for others. Or, like my acquaintance asserted, it may not occur at all. By grieving we also honor that part of our life. As I pointed out in my post ‘Glory Days’, we don’t want to live in the past, but reminiscing, enjoying memories and highlights of our successes is a way of honoring who we are. We would not be where we are today without our past. Ignoring or diminishing what we accomplished diminishes who we are today.

Atchley referred to Stage 4 as Reorientation. I like to call it Re-Purposing as we seek a new purpose in life to create a rewarding retirement. Stage 3 and 4 overlapped for me so I think it’s important to recognize the lines are blurred. We don’t live in a world where life situations are either black or white; most of the time, there is a lot of grey area. So, you may find new purpose while still grieving your old way of life. That’s O.K. While we may all be on the same journey, we will most often take different paths. Whatever your path, know that it is normal, the journey takes time and you are not alone.

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.

COMFORT ZONE

Earlier this week there was mention on the news of a man who won a $30 million lottery. Of course, with his newfound wealth, he left his job at a concrete company. That’s probably the first thing we’d all do. We’d also probably go off on a travel log or buy the dream home or a Ferrari or do all three and more. Well, within a month, this accidental retiree asked for his everyday grind of an old job back. For the millions who play the lottery dreaming of winning, this guy must seem like he’s crazy. He told his former co-workers he’s bored. Bored? Are you nuts? With $30 million to spend on whatever, unless this guy has zero imagination, it’s hard for me to believe he’s bored. More likely, he’s moved outside his comfort zone.

We all have a comfort zone where we feel safe and secure psychologically. Stepping outside your perceived zone is challenging, upsetting or even exhilarating, depending on your personality. That’s what happens when you retire. Like the lottery winner, you leave behind the known, which even if your job is just a daily boring grind, offers a certain security because it’s a given. There’s security in the routine. There’s security in your work community. Even if you work with someone you don’t like, there’s security in knowing they will be their engaging selves every day, day after day. Even if your routine at work is upset, you still have a sense of security in the safety net of your work community and place.

During my 40 years in the workplace, I stepped outside my comfort zone on many, many occasions. I even worked at one company where you were deliberately placed in positions, which took you outside your zone, if only for a while. If you were an accountant, get ready to work sales. If you were in sales, get ready to work in operations. Our CEO thought it was beneficial for people to stretch their limits. He believed if you did something new for a certain amount of time, it would eventually become routine. Old hat. Part of your comfort zone. Exposure to new ideas eventually made you a more resilient person.

So, at that time in my life I was stretched plenty just by doing my job. I went from working in an office 8 hours a day to flying into a new (to me) city just about every week for a year. This was a time when there was no GPS, no cell phones. At most airports you still walked across the tarmac to board your plane! Once you reached your destination, you went to a car rental company, standing in line for your turn to rent a car. When your turn came, a customer service rep ran (and I mean ran as in mouth) through your choice of rental cars, pushing a couple of forms in front of you to sign, a map of the city ripped from a thick pad of maps on the counter (remember, no GPS) finally handing you a set of keys. In the rental lot you joined other souls wandering around looking for their rented vehicle. Once you located your car, if you were lucky, you found your way out of the lot and onto the highway where your ability to read a map and drive at the same time was tested. That was before carrying out my job in each unknown city with people I’d never met before. After the first year of doing this, my CEO was right, it became routine. My comfort zone expanded. I also learned how taking some risk, trying something new, shaking things up was actually an opportunity to grow. And I liked playing that game.

Over the next twenty years 77 million baby boomers will step out of their comfort zones and into retirement just as Martin and I did. Most won’t have the $30 million the lottery winner turned accidental retiree has. Unlike him, I’ve learned I like the game of shaking things up. Finally getting acclimated to neither of us going to a workplace, we’re creating a new comfort zone for our lives. It’s been more stressful than we anticipated. In many ways, it’s also been more rewarding than we anticipated. One of the rewards is we can shake things up when we want by trying something new on our terms. Choices. That’s what the lottery winner has in common with us. Choices. With a $30 million dollar lottery win, he can pretty much choose to do whatever he wants. But, his first choice is to step outside his comfort zone. Don’t go back to your old job, fella. Take a chance. Take some risk. Shake things up. Buy a Ferrari, shop for the dream home and get yourself a great travel agent.

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.

THE COMMUNITY POOL

Growing up on the New Jersey shore, I learned to swim early on. Since the ocean is often too rough for a little kid, as a pre-schooler my mom took me to calmer inlets and, on occasion, to one of the community pools housed along the board walk. I loved the community pool. Other little kids would be there splashing around, doing the doggie paddle, laughing and just having fun. Going to the community pool expanded my little world, which was limited at the time to my family and neighborhood friends. As I grew and entered school and then work, my community grew along with me. As a teen I even worked one summer at O’Brien’s ice cream parlor at the north end community pool, making friends with some of my co-workers. Being retired is a bit like going back to that time as a little kid before my world expanded to include the community pool.

One of the dilemmas for many retirees is how to replace the community of work. After all, for decades work has provided a sense of identification. One of the first questions asked by any new acquaintance is, “What do you do?” I did my share of asking the same question. Work provides a sense of place and belonging as in the often asked next question, “Where do you work?” Work provides a place to come together with other people where we share connections wrought from common purpose, beliefs and values. Work also provides a place for us to be appreciated and recognized for our contributions to the group effort. Work may even provide us with friends. Some of my most enduring friendships are from earlier work relationships. So, while we work to earn an income, work provides us with much more than a paycheck. Replacing the work community and redefining your sense of self in retirement is actually a quest for connection.

In retirement we can seek community out of a sense of commitment as we are now able to exercise greater choice over what we commit to. Without a paycheck coming into play, our commitment is based on our interests, talents, beliefs and social connections. Volunteer work, civic involvement, part-time or full-time work in a new field, membership in clubs, living in over age 55 communities, being an activist for one cause or another. The choices seem endless and probably are. If you were active in your community before retirement, you may want to increase your commitment to those activities. Or, perhaps, you’ll want to try something new as you discover latent talents or interests. This is the opportunity to jump in feet first to try that something you always wanted to try but never had the time. No excuses now! I know retirees who teach computer classes, belong to knitting, quilting and garden clubs, do woodworking, volunteer for charitable organizations such as hospice, a domestic abuse shelter or, yes, the senior center, are artists or work part-time. The list goes on and on. The common theme with these people is they have remained engaged in life. They have a sense of community, a purpose, which has them looking forward to each day.

If you have identified a purpose for your life, which will give connection and community, embrace it full-throttle ahead. If not, find one. The choices are indeed endless. And finding THE ONE can be half the fun. Think of all the new people you’ll meet and all the new things you’ll learn. But, whatever you do, take a deep breath, hold your nose, jump in feet first and find your community pool!