June will mark 11 years of being without full time work - by choice. My satisfying retirement has been even better than I imagined, but it isn't exactly what I imaged it would be. That shouldn't be a surprise. Life throws constant curve balls at us. Our job is to change our swing and make the best of what comes our way. Like a baseball player, if you can't hit a slider or curve you'd had best learn or down to the minors you go. Retirement isn't all that different: adjust and learn or suffer the consequences.
So, after my journey what are the biggest surprises I have encountered? I don't think I could have predicted any of them ahead of time, which is why they were surprises!
My financial planning has actually worked. I had a double-pronged approach to funding my retirement. I didn't want to start drawing down my IRA account until at least 64. Yes, I could have started earlier but wanted to allow it to compound as long as possible. I also wanted to not take Social Security checks until at least 63 or 64. So far that is on track.
All that meant I had to have a source of money to carry me from when I retired at 52 until 64. For that purpose I had developed a second investment account, consisting primarily of tax-free investments like muni bonds and other tax-exempt options. That money would grow but at the same time be available to fund my retirement mostly tax-free for 12 years. Even with a few recessions in the mix, that account that I started 25 years ago will be empty on my 64th birthday, right on schedule.
So many things could have and did go wrong, but the account designed to carry me from full employment to my IRA account has performed exactly as projected a few decades ago. The most surprised person is me.
I have become deeply involved in something that was quite alien to me. If you remember the post, Pushing Back Against the Box, from just over a year ago, I detailed my involvement in prison ministry. Up until that point I had no contact with prisons, prisoners, parole officers...an entire subsection of society that wasn't part of my life. Like most of us, I had certain preconceived notions of the people and the system, none of which was pleasant. But, starting five years ago through a combination of factors I entered that world, first as a pen pal to incarcerated men, and later as a full time mentor.
That involvement is about to take another major step forward: I will be going into two state prisons on a regular basis to meet with men and be involved in Bible studies. Taking up a few days a month and involving several hundred miles of driving, this will take a bite out of my schedule. But, it is something I feel driven to do and I will make whatever adjustments are required. If you had told me when my retirement began I'd be so deeply involved in this world I would have scoffed. But, it has happened and I feel my life is richer because of it.
One of my parents died. I know how life works: you are born and eventually die. Of course I knew my mom and dad weren't likely to outlive me. But, when a parent does die, regardless of how ready you may believe you are, it is still a shock to the system. My mom died in December, 2010 after a long and lingering slide that began with a broken leg and macular degeneration 18 months before her passing. So, the death was not a surprise when it finally occurred.
Even so, to not show her my first e-book, or know she'd never read this blog was a shock. To know I couldn't call her when I have a grammar question hit me hard. The permanency of the loss isn't something you can actually prepare yourself for until it happens. Intellectually I was ready for her death. Emotionally, I am still adjusting to her not being around to validate and comfort me.
I have had a harder time with the easier stuff. Why can't I stay on a regular schedule of visiting the gym? Why have I started and stopped and starting again playing the guitar three different times? Why do I still watch too much TV at night when I know it isn't the best use of my time (blaming Netflix is a cop-out!)? Why can't I lose the last 5 pounds I've been promising myself for over a year? Why do I feel guilty if I turn on my ham radios and spend an hour listening and talking to other amateur radio operators?
The big things have happened and I have adjusted. But the little day-to-day stuff of living keeps tripping me up. Is that just the human condition? I don't know, but that is my excuse and I'm sticking with it.