Last Thursday marked the fifth anniversary of our retirement. Martin and I celebrated at a favorite lunch spot, The Blue Porch, with friends. Five years ago I had no idea how emotionally under-prepared I was to retire. Our mantra back then was, “We’re going to have fun!” It took about six weeks for me to realize we weren’t having fun. I started this blog on a whim. Putting my feelings in writing had always helped. Writing not only helped me, but I hope it helped some other people along the way. It also opened up an unexpected world for me. These are the lessons I learned giving way to a more fulfilled life and understanding of what it means to retire.
Ask yourself if retirement is what you really want and need. If you’re running from a job you hate, are just worn out from working or stressed by your work environment, maybe what you really need is a sabbatical. A month away from work may provide an attitude adjustment. Another option may be to work part-time, easing into retirement. Not all companies hire part-time employees, but if it is an option at your workplace, consider it.
If retirement is indeed what you want and need, then have a plan. I’m not talking about a financial plan, although that’s vitally important, but a how will you fill your time plan. If you don’t have a plan of what you will do to fill the time you spent working, commuting to work and preparing for work, you will end up bored, a leaf in the wind with lots of other people ready to take up your time with their agenda. Will your current hobbies and interests fill the gap or will you need more?
Speaking of planning, also give some forethought to your transitionary period. You may hate your job or feel bone tired with working, but post-retirement you may find yourself missing the daily routine, the camaraderie of co-workers and the identity that work provides. It will take time to create a new identity, find a new social network and settle in. Retirement is a major life change. This is a new phase offering plenty of opportunity to do what you want to do with your time. However, after 40 or more years in the workplace, there is also a period of grieving. Yes, grieving for your lost identity and the social aspects of work. If your company offers an Employee Assistance Program including counseling, take advantage pre-retirement to discuss your feelings and expectations with a counselor. Having meaning and purpose in life doesn’t end when you leave the workplace. Purpose is an essential to being happy and healthy. It will take time and effort to find your renewed purpose.
Think about where you will retire. Having downsized and built “the retirement home” in 2004, I stayed exactly where I was already. I got that part of it right. Close proximity to a nationally recognized teaching hospital system and colleges offering daytime adult education courses geared toward retirees were essentials on my list. The icing on the cake was discovering an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at a nearby university. The Blue Ridge Mountains where bicycling, motorcycling and hiking are prominent activities that Martin and I enjoy are in our backyard. It may seem like a great idea to live in the middle of nowhere with lots of peace and quiet, but if it takes an hour to get to a doctor or hospital, it may not be a sound idea. I had a fall in 2015 requiring stitches. Martin had me at the ER in 15 minutes. It wasn’t life threatening. However, it made me think about heart attack, stroke or surgery. I was glad the hospital was near.
Choose your timing carefully. I retired in the fall. As a gardener and hiker and Martin as a bicyclist and motorcyclist, our timing undoubtedly should have been in the spring. We may have had fun for more than 6 weeks! I’ve read many, many times that retirement should begin January 1st. If you are living in the frozen tundra of the north, unless you are a winter sports advocate or plan to escape to a warmer climate for a few months, emotionally, January may be the worst time to retire. No matter where you live, make your emotional outlook and core retirement activities a priority. It’s your calendar; do what’s best for you.
Recognize that retirement is not the end, but the beginning. It is a journey, not a destination. Retirement offers the opportunity of a lifetime to try new and different activities. You may not enjoy all the things you try. If an activity doesn’t pan out, give something else a try. This is a time to be adventurous. Renew your childhood curiosity. You get to start all over again without the pressure inherent for success in the workplace. Because people are living longer, years in retirement are also increasing. You have the opportunity to reinvent yourself many times over. I am not the person I was 5 years ago. I look forward to what surprises may unfold for me in the future.
Views on retirement and getting older are changing. Retirement is whatever we choose to make it. There is no one size fits all. There are as many options as there are one-of-a-kind snowflakes blowing on a winter’s day. I hope my lessons help you avoid some of the pitfalls and reap the rewards of a retired life. As always — put your dent in the universe!