November 23, 2012

Is Retirement Time the Same as Working Time?

A comment left on last June's post, What does living a Satisfying Retirement mean to you? was one that I have meant to explore for the past few months. A reader named Nik wanted to know if my 11 years of retirement have gone by quickly. Nik wondered if there is a difference in how time seems to unfold when someone is retired versus during his or her working years.

Besides the normal feeling that time does pass more quickly as we age (2013 is in 5 weeks?), that is an interesting question. I hadn't really thought about it until Nik asked about it. Obviously time is the one thing in our life that is irreplaceable and priceless. How we spend it is so much more more important than the state of our investment accounts or our various goals and passions. 

The Ultimate Bankruptcy


Running out of time is the ultimate bankruptcy. Almost anything else can be handled, adjusted for, or dealt with. But, in the end, your time has been used up and the game is over. How you spend it between this moment and that point is critical to your overall happiness. So, to address the question on the table, "does the passage of time differ between your working and retired life?"

My answer is, "Yes." Importantly, note I said "my answer." Your feelings may differ and if so I sincerely hope you leave a comment. Time is so personal to each of us that there is no one, correct answer. But, for me after eleven years of retirement I believe I see time and it's passage much differently.

While I was working for a paycheck time was just something that passed. I would spend most of the day working, traveling, or killing time in a hotel room until going to sleep and starting all over again the next morning. Weekends at home were consumed by catching up on all the office work that piled up while I was on the road and doing those maintenance things required when you own a house. Weeks, even months passed with no real conscious feel for the passage of time.

My calendar revolved around the ratings periods that my client radio stations went through four times a year. The end-of-the-year push to get new contracts signed so I could keep doing what I did for a living also was a crucial period each year. Except for a few weeks of vacation time, I really don't think time registered with me except as something I never had enough of. As you might imagine my health and my relationship with Betty and the girls suffered from this lifestyle.

Whole years passed that I only remember parts of...if I look back at my travel schedule and recreate what I was doing and with whom in each of those cities. I didn't have a spiritual anchor or any hobbies to hold onto. Yes, the money was great and we didn't want for much. But, all that time just went.

Retirement Changes Everything


Starting in June, 2001 things began to change. I stopped traveling. My weeks and months were no longer defined by the needs of business clients, airline schedules, or hotel bookings. Time became a measurement of something that was real to me. The weeks, months, and seasons moved at the same speed but I was part of them, not just passing through them.

As I have written in previous posts, it took me a few years to find out what worked best for me in terms of a mixture of activities, leisure, and productivity. Like many newly retired folks, for several months I simply relished in the total freedom to do lots of nothing. After spending 150 days a year in hotel rooms I needed this period of nothingness. After awhile, though, that wasn't enough.

Then, I discovered the fun of ham radio. After studying to obtain the federal license required to transmit, I began to talk with fellow amateurs all over the world. I joined a local club, made new friends and even agreed to serve as the club's president for three years.

Later my volunteering side kicked in and I became a Stephen Minister, sort of a lay minister for those suffering from all sorts of life problems and issues. Then, my work with prison inmates and those recently released began. I discovered blogging in June 2010 and my life hasn't been the same since.

My sense of time in retirement is completely different from how I saw it while working. Now, I treasure it, look for ways to save it, and discover new things about my self as I spend it. My relationship to time isn't nearly as passive as it was when I worked. 


The Realness of Time


Time has become much more real to me. As I move through my sixth decade I find it hard to think of myself as a 63 year old guy. So, I don't. My age means only a few things that really matter: I get Social Security and Medicare soon, I qualify for senior discounts, and I have enough aches and pains to participate in any conversion with my peers!

It also means I have the freedom to shape my life in a way that suits me. I have the control over most of my time each day to do what pleases me, make others feel better, and contribute to helping our world. While working, the time I had did not allow me the luxury of indulging in those three benefits.

So, yes, Nik, retirement time is different than working time. Does it pass too quickly? Absolutely. Do I hope I stay healthy and active for many more years? Sure. But, at least now I have a sense of its incredible value and blessing. It is a resource that is given to us, one minute at a time. In my satisfying retirement I get to choose how to spend it.

19 comments:

  1. Since I'm the first Bob, I'll point it out--it's your 7th decade of life.

    It's strange, I'm almost 60 and I still remember getting carded when I was in my 30s. Here I'm now not far from being able to collect social security.

    Man, time flies. Maybe this is bad, but I still feel like a kid in a body that's been around awhile. I wonder if I'll still think that way in a decade or two.

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    1. Can I pretend it is the 6th decade? It sounds better.

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  2. This was a timely :) post for me!

    I just retired 5 months ago and I'm still trying to figure out how to use my time. It is great to read how things evolved for you.

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    1. Thanks, rjack,

      If you have the time, there are a few older posts that you might find helpful:

      http://satisfyingretirement.blogspot.com/2012/09/fall-cleaningbut-not-what-you-think.html

      http://satisfyingretirement.blogspot.com/2011/02/one-decade-later-has-retirement-changed.html

      http://satisfyingretirement.blogspot.com/2010/08/5-action-steps-you-can-take-to.html

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  3. Funny, I've been having flashes of age reality lately and I'm not thrilled about that. I've never felt my age and fortunately didn't look my age. All of that is changing now. Along with that comes a sense of consciousness about time. Realizing how important it is to do what you want to get done before you die and time is running out is unpleasant. I know we're living longer and also know I could drop dead at any given moment, but the feeling of not wanting to squander time is weighing on me. Meantime I sit here on the computer....
    b

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    1. ....typing a note to me! Thanks for investing your time so wisely!

      Seriously, you'videntifieded the key we must focus on: not wanting to squander time. No matter who we are or what we accomplish, the clock slows for no one.

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  4. Michael--I'm fairly close to having two decades on you, and I still am that young guy in an elderly body. I wonder if most retirees continue to experience that. Maybe a future post for Mr. Lowry?

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    1. The young guy in the aging body...how do we make sense of that dichotomy?

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  5. I don't think any of us guys here, and I am including myself have invented something new. Mark Twain probably said it best. I always wonder who that old guy is in the mirror looking back at me each morning.

    "I am old. I recognize it but I don’t realize it. I wonder if a person really ever ceases to feel young – I mean for a whole day at a time." - Mark Twain

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    1. I am old. I recognize that but it don't allow it to define me. That is probably the best we can hope for.

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  6. Not quite the same subject, but related: Was discussing with a friend the other day about how long our own lazy childhoods seemed to last, versus how quickly our children's childhoods sped by. Don't ask me why, but it does seem to be true.

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  7. We have a bumper sticker on our little RV that sums it up:

    "Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened."

    73...

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  8. Well, you wrote my answer, so I have nothing to add but "ditto!"

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  9. Hi, Bob. This is Nik. Thanks for returning to my question of yore. My time in a career careened (is that a play on words?). Things were out of my control until they weren't. Then, of a sudden, when thinking about whether to retire (or how to decide when a good time to retire is once we achieve at least the minimum resources necessary) I realized that 60+ is a time period where even if we still work for money, we're in the last inning of our last game.

    We can play it out and work till we die, for the honor of dying with our boots on and leaving more goodies for our heirs; or we can just walk off the field.

    Most of the other worker-players will return in a few months to start a new season. But not us. The game goes on; but without us. We do not go on (in a temporal sense) if we play our last inning of the game with our normal teammates doing the normal thing.

    But it's hard to realize that we can pull ourselves out of the game we're so habituated to and rewarded by. We don't have to wait for a coach to tell us to go home; we can just walk off the field. And go do something else with this last cache of time.

    You, Bob, were a great broadcaster/ball-player. But I'm glad you got to also be (by your own revelation) a more present husband, a radio ham, a prison minister,an RV explorer, and a retirement mentor/blogger. All in a single decade! Upon reflection, then, I think retirement time has actually slowed down for you because the ratio of accomplishment and experience to time has been such that time has allowed many more innings if not in time then in satisfaction. It's almost a bending of time when you slow down to spend your last big inning by walking off the field and allowing yourself to experience every nook and cranny of the final journey home.

    A similar phenom exists under the theory of relativity called "time dilation". This is where The faster the relative velocity, the greater the magnitude of time dilation. You're on a speeding train to its final destination but as the observer time seems to slow as you focus more deeply on things that matter to you.

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    1. I am so pleased you added your additional thoughts to what originally prompted this post. "Time dilation" is a new term to me but an interesting concept that explains a lot.

      I read your recap of my last decade and feel much better about how my time has been spent! I think the baseball analogy is probably a good one.

      You've given us a lot to think about, Nik. Thanks.

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  10. Thanks for posting this, Bob.

    Time and I duked it out last week...and time won. I was asked to tap dance at my studio's annual xmas show. That's when time came up and slapped me on the forehead and I realized that my body will just not let me do that anymore. It was downright painful. I've always had the mindset that nothing will change within the next 10 to 15 years - that I'll remain hale and hearty and just sort of gradually slow down. I finally realized that there isn't a lot of time left - I'm closer to 100 than to 20 - and it's time to get out there and use my time for me. First goal: get back to tap dancing.

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    1. Watch some Gene Kelly or Gregory Hines DVDs. That should do it.

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  11. I like a little book called "How to Live on 24 Hours a Day" by Arnold Bennett. It's available online free, including at Amazon.com, as an ebook. The author has some interesting ideas about how to use your time effectively, and how to think about time diferently.

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    1. Thanks, Eileen. I got it, today.

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