May 24, 2013

Digging Deeper: Those Six Words

A recent post of mine apparently struck quite a chord with good friend and blogging buddy, Galen Pearl. A Retired Life: A Summary in Six Words was my attempt to attach three words to my life before my satisfying retirement journey began, and three words that describe where I feel I am now, some 12 years later. Besides writing her own blog post as a follow up, she contacted me to ask if I could expand one the original idea.

Galen wants to know my answers to some important questions that this post raised for her, and hopefully for you. Frankly, I wouldn't have thought of digging deeper until she asked. But, she is raising some important concerns that could benefit from clarification. In essence her questions centered on the timing and my awareness of the movement from the three words before retirement (angry, ambitious, unfulfilled) to the three words after retirement (calm, content, fulfilled). 

For her, for you, and for me, let me attempt some explanations:

Q. Did retirement trigger this change? For me, the answer is definitely, yes. If I had continued running my business little would have changed.  The first three words would have remained firmly in place. If I could project that into the future, I believe my marriage, relationship with my daughters, and my overall health would have been comprised. I guess I could add a few more words if I had continued down that path: divorced or separated, depressed and lonely, and physically sick.

Is retirement necessary for this transformation? In my case, yes, but that isn't likely to be true for everyone. Better self-awareness, a shift in how life is viewed, a good friend making a comment, an increase in your spirituality or faith - almost anything may be the spark. Working or not working isn't the key.

Q: How did retirement turn things around? There are a few obvious reasons why the closing of my business halted this downward spiral. All the pressures of running a business stopped. The fear of clients being unhappy and not renewing my contract was no longer my first and last thought every day. I was no longer spending 100,000 miles in airplanes and 150 nights in hotels year after year after year. My weekends were no longer a desperate time to catch up on work and home and family before leaving again Monday morning.

I began to step away from the horrible feeling of time pressures and performance anxiety. Like others I have talked with, for much of my career I always felt I was in way over my head. At some point people would figure out I had no idea what I was talking about. They would see the emperor had no clothes. I would be exposed as an overpaid fraud. With retirement I no longer had to worry about whether I belonged or not. I left the playing field behind.

Q: Did I actively pursue these changes? No. For such a fundamental shift in my world view and the old paradigms (my old way of thinking), time had to pass. It probably took me a few years just to realize how seriously damaging and wasteful my previous approach to living had been. I had bought into the American dream of hard work and total focus = success. That meant vacations on Maui, wreck-diving in Bermuda, a condo in Florida, a convertible when I wanted one, a large house with an even larger mortgage...and an empty life built around little of substance and meaning. I had no passions, no hobbies, no real relationship with others, no real living faith.... no core me.

I did manage to avoid the one, fatal mistake of some of my contemporaries: affairs. 150 nights away from home is a lot of nights with a lot of temptations and opportunities. This isn't bragging or hinting at any type of superiority, it is just that I never was even remotely tempted to break my marriage vows. Why I was so firm in this regard I guess I'll ask God at the end of my life. But, trust between Betty and me was never broken, strained, or even stretched a little. Maybe that is why we will celebrate our 37th anniversary in a few weeks.

Honestly, I don't think there was one instance or one occurrence when the three "bad" words were replaced with the three "good" ones. I don't think I was really aware of the shift until four or five years into retirement. and even then it wasn't as clear as it is now. By then I had developed some outside interests and hobbies that allowed some parts of my long-buried personality to blossom. I recognized a contentment that hadn't been part of my life since my days as a carefree DJ in my early 20's. That life was a total blast with few responsibilities and constraints, but it was a life of an immature semi-adult. It couldn't continue and it didn't.

Q: How did I become aware of my shift? Galen wondered if I noticed this change all at once, or it was gradual enough that an "ah-ha" moment never really occurred. I think the latter is probably true. Actually, until I wrote the post I hadn't put all this into words. And, that wouldn't have happened if my pastor hadn't preached on the life of Paul and had used the three word concept.

It is kind of amazing when I look at the attitude I approach each day with now. After all, there are still all sorts of problems that may lie before me: financial pitfalls I can't foresee, health problems that could change everything, the health and well being of my daughters, son-in-law, grand kids, and dad, daily issues caused by our government's inability to govern....I should be as nervous as I was before.

But, I'm not. My satisfying retirement is unfolding in ways I couldn't have predicted but I welcome with open arms. Maybe time does heal many self-inflicted wounds.


20 comments:

  1. Bob - Thanks for the really insightful post. I think many people including me have lived significant portions of their lives in an autopilot, unconscious, unquestioning kind of way.

    I was always frugal compared to many others, but it took me a long time to realize that "stuff" has very little to do with happiness. Happiness comes from great relationships, helping other, and interesting experiences IMHO.

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    1. Questioning the basic ways a life is being lived if not easy, but essential. For some it is an ongoing process, for others, like me, it just sort of springs into our awareness.

      The key is figuring out what you need and how to meet those needs.

      Have a great Memorial Day weekend, rjack!

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  2. It feels good to reach a real sense of awareness, doesn't it? I feel I was always searching for meaning and passion in my life. Still am, in some ways, but I know who I am now. I like who I am now.

    As for all your travel...you don't have to be away from home physically to not be present. I know that well.
    Great post!
    b

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    1. Being "away from home" while still being home was a major problem for many of us during our career. In my case, thank goodness, my wife stuck through it all.

      I like who I am now, too. Thanks, Barb. I appreciate your support and thoughtful comments.

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  3. It's reassuring to read that you didn't have all the answers going into retirement - that they kind of "came to you". That's how it's been for me.

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    1. Sometimes it takes a 2 x 4 to the head for me to see the obvious! But, yes, there are different paths to enlightenment.

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  4. Bob: 1st time responder. I appreciate your blog so much. thank you! I'm a musician midway through year three of retirement. I resonate with your surrender to present circumstances. God offers me a path while I am busy making my plans. But then I have to choose to go my own way or to walk through the door He opens for me. Guess which works better?
    Glad to be here on earth with you:
    Linnea

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    1. Welcome to the world of comments! Thanks for the kind words. When I accept that God has everything under control and that I just have to follow the path He has put me on, things go so much more smoothly.

      At the same time He expects me to use the gifts I have been given and to use my brain, so if I find myself veering off course, then it is my responsibility to find my way back.

      My wife firmly believes that my retirement turned the corner toward satisfying when my faith life suddenly blossomed. I must agree with her.

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  5. Cari in North TexasFri May 24, 12:37:00 PM MST

    The original post and this one have clarified a few thoughts for me, as well as bringing up new things to think about. I've been working part-time as an independent contractor for the past 5 years, and I label myself to others as "semi-retired and loving it." My job is such that I set my own schedule (within contract constraints), don't deal with people, and I only work 6-8 months out of the year, working one full month each quarter and a week or so in the months between.

    I look back on when I was in corporate America, and I guess the 3 words for that time would be "driven, anxious, unfulfilled." Now that I'm close to retirement, that overriding goal of "saving for retirement" is past. Also, waiting until I'm retired to do activity X or Y is out of the picture, I'm there! I guess my current 3 words would be "content, excited, relaxed." Subject to change of course, once I quit working for good, but I don't think so.

    Your 2 posts on this subject have made me realize that I have arrived at contentment, something I only fleetingly felt in my "other" life. It's been a gradual change over the last year or so, but now that the pressures of corporate America have been lifted, I do enjoy life more and take time to enjoy the little things in life.

    Thanks for the inspiration to reflect, both backwards and forwards! Your experiences and insights have started me thinking more about my own life.

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    1. You are so welcome! Your words warm my heart. I write something and hope that it has some meaning to someone. Comments like yours help keep me going.

      Contentment is the key. Being content with what you have and where your life is = joy. The great thing about retirement is when those things change you can change right along with them.

      Have a great Memorial Day weekend, Cari.

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  6. Honest, insightful, and inspiring. Thanks Bob. Best regards.

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  7. Bob, I think you've touched a chord in all of us, and I especially second the opinion of Cari in North Texas, which reflects my experience as well.

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    1. Like you, Tom, I though Cari's comments were quite an addition to this discussion.

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  8. Excellent post.
    I am relieved, I guess, to see that it took you about five years into retirement to get where you were comfortable. I thought that it was going to be easier to figure it out than it has been- but I am just 2 1/2 years into it.
    Slowly it is coming together. For me, letting go of the worry over money has been huge. That and letting God show me where to be. Your words on ministry have helped me see where I am needed. Thank you for that.

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    1. As a society we expect instant gratification. As an employee, our employer expects us to solve problems quickly. So, it comes as a shock to our system when retirement takes quite awhile to get into a comfortable groove.

      I am willing to bet you will do just fine.

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  9. Your blog has been cathartic. Words like unfulfilled, pressures, lack of substance rang true with everyday life, however with retirement, after time, frugality, simple sizing, contentment become ones daily life, occupied with hobbies and projects.
    Never been to Hawaii nor do I which to go even though I can afford to I used to grapple with why I didn't want to go and it is simply being content with my life finding enjoyment in simple things. Long journey, glad I arrived. And yes, I am concerned about the black swan financial event or the serious heath occurrence but it is what it is and I'll deal with it when it comes. Thanks for the blog.

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    1. You are welcome, and I appreciate you being here. It is a long journey all of us are on.

      I am reading the book. Rightsizing Your Life, suggested by a reader. The author does an excellent job of making sense of the need many of us have as we age to simplify and surround ourselves only with those things that are meaningful to us.

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  10. I enjoyed this follow up post and the comments, too. This is blogging at its best, I think, when something you write sparks something for someone else and there is a deeper discussion that other folks join in. I so appreciate your openness to my interest and my questions. One thing I learned is that there are many paths to contentment! Mine was more deliberate than yours, but we ended up in similar places. As my daughter says, it's all good.

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    1. There are many paths to contentment...I like that. Yes, it was helpful to me to take your idea for a follow up post and see where it would lead us. This has been a good experience.

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