February 10, 2011

One Decade Later: Has Retirement Changed Me?

One decade, 10 years, is a long time. Were you living where you live now ten years ago? Did you work for the same company? Did you have a major change in your relationships: marriage, birth, death, divorce? Are you now fully retired? Are you the same person?  Have things gotten better, or worse for you?

I have been without a job for a full decade. I wouldn't have chosen to retire in 2001 but circumstances made it clear to me that I needed to make a major life change. For me, the first few years afterward were a bit of a struggle. I puttered around the house, watched too much TV, read too much just to fill the time, and lacked a reason to bounce out of bed each morning. About five years ago I began to find a direction and a balance. I began to understand how retirement forced me to make adjustments, both major and minor, in how I thought and what I did.

Now, 10 years later, what adjustments to my thinking have occurred?  How is my life different from the first, stumbling steps into my retirement?  What has happened that I didn't expect or plan for? Here are a few answers from a post I originally wrote 6 months ago, updated with my current thinking. 

Financially Much More Relaxed. There were several ups and downs in the economy and my investments, even before the Great Recession of the past few years. At first I was constantly worried that I had miscalculated or forgotten some major expense. At least once a week I'd use a retirement calculator to re-check my financial plans. Each time, the numbers confirmed we should be OK. I did not expect health insurance costs to go up so rapidly, year after year. I actually forgot about having to buy new cars. But, overall, the financial plans my wife and I made have held up. Today, I am much less likely to stress over every up and down. We'll be OK.

Part of the reason is we have scaled back our expectations. Right after retirement we thought our life would be filled with cruises, month-long vacations in some exotic locale, and motoring around America in a 26 foot RV. Not much of that has happened. Now we know what makes us happiest is found much closer to home in family, friends, and our simplified lifestyle. That realization took substantial pressure off our investments to fund a more lavish lifestyle. 

Much More Aware of The Passage of Time. When you first retire, the time horizon does seem rather far away. That is an illusion caused by the sudden end to daily job responsibilities. Days of the week suddenly become much less meaningful. Monday is every bit as good at Saturday. There is no rush. About five years into this journey, however, there was a shift. I became more aware of the passage of time. I understood that each day seems long, but goes by quickly and will never be repeated. Anything not done today will never get done today. By leaving it until tomorrow that will push something else into the next day. Time isn't as elastic as it seemed at first.

Both Betty and I have found activities and passions that excite us. While our to-do lists are much too long, we are getting better at setting priorities. The things that are important to us get more of our attention and time. While we don't get to everything each day, usually we feel the irreplaceable time that day has been spent well.

More Open to New Ideas. The first few years are spent finding your rhythm and becoming comfortable with the decisions you have made. There are a lot of adjustments as you move through the stages of retirement. I did not have the inclination to take on additional challenges in my life. But, then I felt the need to begin to grow and to take on new projects. I was comfortable in thinking about how my life was being lived in new ways. I have shed some old convictions and approaches. In this 10th year I feel like a kid in a candy store. My brain is full of new things I want to try. I am moving full speed ahead to create a satisfying retirement lifestyle.

The post of a week ago is a good example of being open to new things. Working with inmates in area prisons as well as those just released has been extremely gratifying. I would never have guessed that would be an important part of my life.

Much Less Interested in What is Going On in My Old Industry. I spent 35 years in my field. I knew a lot of people. I had a lot of former clients that I wished the best for. I was interested in staying in the loop. About five years ago, I began to lose interest. I no longer felt I had to check on the latest developments or stay in touch with people I knew who were still working. In this 10th year I have no interest whatsoever. That was a former life. It was a good one and allowed me to live this one. But, I've moved on. What is going on in the broadcasting industry is no longer relevant to me.

Learning to shed that old skin for a new one is all part of the growth process that is so much a part of retirement. What was important then just isn't now. I don't regret any of what I did, but I am not interested in having any of it as part of who I am now.

There are actually several audio clips floating around the Internet of some of my radio shows from over 40 years ago. Every so often I will listen to my 20 year old self and remember what it was like. There are great memories of people and places and experiences. It is somewhat surreal to hear myself so young and know those tapes of me will probably exist well after I do. But, after a quick trip to my youth, I click off the Internet and have no feeling I want any of that back.

Much Better at Saying "No." When someone first retires there is often a rush of requests for that person's time. Volunteering for this or that, heading a committee, helping with the Boy Scout meeting..... the lack of a full time job must mean you are constantly available to help others. But, as the years pass by the ability to filter out the things you don't want to do becomes greater. The ability to say "No" to everything comes more easily. You find the strength to say "Yes" to the things that are meaningful to you and most helpful to others.

Surprisingly, this adjustment has been as difficult as any. Saying "no" is not part of our nature. We all want to be needed, liked, appreciated, and desired. The more things you are asked to help with the more you are validated. To turn someone down is to risk being seen as standoffish or aloof or selfish.

But, just as an awareness of the passage of time grows as you age, so does the understanding of protecting yourself. Spread too thin, saying "yes" too many times, and you will drown in all that validation. By becoming more selective you will do a better job at whatever you do agree to do, and be happier in the process.

I have absolutely no idea if I'll still be blogging in another decade. But, if so I would guess the changes from now until then will be every bit as life- changing.

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  1. Very interesting and helpful. Like a kid in a candy store, eh? How delightful.
    Thank you very much.

  2. Maybe like a blogger in front of a keyboard! Thanks, Snow Owl.

  3. WE are both slowly slipping into not caring about the old industry.
    Yesterday I was asked if I would return to the classroom next year. I was shocked at how quickly "NO" came out of my mouth. I will continue to volunteer- one child at a time- but no interest in continuing a Masters course or follow school politics.
    My husband gets calls from his office pretty often still. They have gone from work related questions- to just jovial talk. It is a good change.
    We, too, are opting not to take those cruises or long trips. We are beginning to really enjoy home. Still----I miss our kids something terrible. That is one thing you have that we won't UNLESS we move. My husband says, "bite your lip!" :>)

  4. Morning Janette,

    The seasons of life change and so do our priorities. My Mom was a teacher for 30 years and then volunteered for another 15 before infirmity finally stopped her. She just couldn't tear herself away from the kids. But, like you, she was sooooo fed up with the politics of our education system that she was only going because of a child or two who related to her.

    I'll leave the moving question to you and your hubby to resolve! I know we'll never go anywhere.

  5. Bob,

    It's so encouraging to see how you continue to change and grow. I love this: "In this 10th year I feel like a kid in a candy store. My brain is full of new things I want to try." I also really liked the way you talked about shedding an old skin. I see it takes time but with the right attitude change can be a blessing. A very helpful post that offers perspective to anyone moving into retirement!

  6. Thanks, Sandra.

    Maybe with my constant battle to maintain my weight I should have picked a different metaphor than candy. But, that's the feeling most of the time.

  7. "Now we know what makes us happiest is found much closer to home in family, friends, and our simplified lifestyle. That realization took substantial pressure off our investments to fund a more lavish lifestyle."
    This comment is so meaningful to me and to the realization I came to while writing my memoir about our family, and our year in Belize.
    My dad is 85, married and lives in Paris. He loved working and didn't retire until 73. He now loves being home, and traveling from time to time. He still dresses in a white shirt and dress pants, as he reads, does his Suduko, and checks his e-mails. I love it!

  8. Morning, Sonia,

    Paris, Belize, Orange County....what a fascinating itinerary. Reading about your family's move to Central America to remove your kids from the LA environment was quite inspiring. Is your memoir available?

    My wife and I like to take long road trips (3-4 weeks), we love Hawaii, England and Ireland. But, we are every bit as happy staying close to the grandkids, daughters, and my Dad. That change in our mindset has made a world of difference to our overall contentment.

  9. "Now we know what makes us happiest is found much closer to home in family, friends, and our simplified lifestyle." I agree that this is such a key piece of wisdom.

    I'm in my third year of redirection and feel like I hit the ground running (strolling?). Savoring my/our social network, SO appreciative that fortune and good planning/frugality has allowed for this stage of life.

    For the many who talk about relocating, I often interpret that to also mean that there is no real, deep social network existing/available for them (friends and family) where they are. If that is correct, I find that quite sad, but still hoping that new places will provide new opportunities.

  10. Banjo Steve (great name!),

    You have summarized quite well the reason why some people feel the need to move after retirement. It is the "grass is always greener" argument that usually falls flat.

    I corresponded many times last summer with a just-retired guy who moved 1,000 away from where he was most comfortable. Within two months he realized he had made a mistake and by Christmas he and his wife were back home.

    A fresh start in a new place may be needed . But, I would argue that the fresh start often needs to begin in the mind.

  11. Bob: Once again I think you're on to something. If a retiree looks back and says, yes, I'm the same person I was 10 years ago, I'd venture to say he's one unhappy retiree. We need new things--it's often hard, because we have to create growth ourselves in retirement. But if you are successful in doing that in retirement you've found the key to a happy retirement because you are growing in areas that are important to YOU.

  12. Syd,

    I wish I had been more diligent all along life's journey in trying new things. Work got in the way, but that shouldn't have stopped me from growing during all those years.

    I guess better late than never!

  13. Our problem is that we moved here because of a job and have no social roots here. Moving is now problematic since our kids have followed in our wandering military lifestyle. We will stay here for at least five more years---and then---find someplace.

  14. Establishing social roots in today's society is tough for anyone, but more so as we age. People are set in their ways and opening up to the hard work of building new friendships makes it tough for folks in your situation.

    Based on what I see in your blog and your comments left here, I will guess you will find enough to keep you active and busy until you can re-establish somewhere more to your liking.

  15. I really enjoyed reading about your journey. I am years from retiring and very curious of the emotional and mental state someone goes through. Everyone thinks mostly of the financial side of retiring and not the internal process. Thanks for the peek inside.

  16. You are very welcome for the peek inside retirement. It is different for every person and takes time to figure out what is best.

    Visit often, Dave.

  17. Bob,
    You are a great example of taking charge of your life in retirement. You have found what is important to you and managed your life around it. People who see their retirement life as limited are missing so much. There are possibilities everywhere and most of them are invisible (like your work with inmates). The trick is to put yourself where those ideas will bump into you.

  18. Much Less Interested in What is Going On in My Old Industry -- Boy do I ever agree with you here. I have only been retired three years now and my former career seem like it was 100 years ago and I have zero desire to stay in the loop!!

  19. I'm surprised you chose to reflect on 10 years. Because I retired at 50 and now at 60, I am a totally different person. First off, I am doing what I always wanted to be: a writer. AND getting paid for it. I feel I look better now than what I did 10 years ago. I also like where I am in life now: more settled and direct, than the floundering person I was a decade ago. These last 10 years have been a journey.

    I used to be a computer genius (Apple Inc.) Now, I couldn't care less what new iItem comes out. I buy it. I use it. And keep on using it. I utilize the technology this time around on my own pace. Not Steve Jobs (even though I think Jobs is the greatest entrepreneur of all time!)

  20. Ralph,

    As you said, a limited retirement is a missed retirement. There are too many forces in our life that limit who we can be and what we can do. We should strive to make sure we aren't being part of that problem by self-limiting.

  21. Steve,

    Your blog's bio notes you were a forester. I hadn't really thought much about that as a career and industry, but obviously it is. You have no interest in staying in that loop. Why? Just tired of the whole thing, or were you turned off by outside influences?

  22. Morrison,

    I have been retired for 10 years, too. A lot in my life and my approach to things have changed over that period. I look back to how I structured my time and dealt with the important things in life in the first few years after retirement and want to kick myself for wasted opportunities and time.

    I find it interesting that you were a computer person and now have the attitude that the technology is only good if it works for you. Find something that works and stick with it.

    Recently I have started reading your blog on a regular basis. Your journey has been remarkable. You are one strong lady. I wish you and DH the very best as you deal with all sorts of life changes.


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