May 29, 2014

Retirement Life Starts With a Blank Canvas


In late 2010 I wrote the following post that contains an image of retirement that I like. Since very few readers with me today were here over three years ago, I have pulled this from the archives to see if it resonates with you.




A while ago Dave at his Retirement - Only the Beginning blog asked me to participate in a survey by answering some questions about my retirement experience. I gave him a few thoughts that he did use for his post, including one of my comments as his closing statement. I asked him if I could use it as a starting point for something I wanted to write and he graciously agreed.

Here is how Dave ended that article: "I like Bob’s final comment and will borrow it as the close of this discussion: Your retirement will be like a blank canvas. You’ll buy all the paints and brushes but will have no idea what it will look like until you start applying the paint.”

At least for my experience, that seems like as valid a metaphor as any. We all begin our time after full time work unsure of what is going to happen. Sure, we made plans. Obviously, we have ideas about what a satisfying retirement will look like. We collect opinions from friends and family. We probably have read a few books. Hopefully, this blog has provided some helpful hints. But, here is an important point: none of us know what is going to develop until we start the journey.

To continue with the painting metaphor, the idea that our retirement begins like a blank canvas may be a new thought to you. Maybe you are convinced you have it all figured out. Step A will be followed by Step B. This will happen, and then the next thing on your retirement to-do list will occur. 

Can I burst your bubble just a bit?  Rarely does it work that way. Life has a nasty habit of messing with our plans. Things completely out of our control suddenly pop up in the path ahead of us. You are not going to know what your life really looks like until you are into it. Let's pick up a brush and see what happens.

At the center of the blank canvas put a few blobs of color, maybe a swirl or two, and a solid center. That represents the core of your retirement. That center is what you are depending upon to make this all work. Let that solid core stand for your financial base, your health insurance, housing, your key relationships, and your essential beliefs.  Without that solid center, frankly, you probably don't have much of a chance at a satisfying retirement. The color swirls, bright blobs and dashes of color represent your initial experiences as you build a new lifestyle. There will be a sense of breaking free, of fewer boundaries. You will begin to appreciate the vivid colors that can become part of your day.

Then, as you add paint to the next portion of the canvas, realism becomes evident. Things are a bit more structured. You may feel free, but there is a world around you that has rules and regulations. You have relationships to maintain. Your health won't always be great. That investment you counted on suddenly looks more like a disposable paper cup. This part of the painting isn't as pretty or uplifting as the center, but it will be on your canvas.

The corners of the canvas may contain more bright colors or shapes you don't quite recognize. This is the part of your retirement where you are exploring new parts of yourself. You are trying on new hobbies or living patterns. Maybe you decide to simplify and downsize. or, maybe you decide to jump in an RV and explore the country for a year. A creative outlet you didn't realize you had begins to assert itself. The core at the center of the painting is still there. The harsher parts of reality don't disappear. But, on the outer edges of the canvas you are adding the stuff that makes your life exciting, rewarding, and uniquely yours.

Now stop for a moment at look at the canvas. That is what your life is now. What do you notice right away? There is still a lot of open space left. The canvas is still more than half empty. Why? Because every single day you have the chance to add something to your life. If you approach retirement as an adventure that is open to additions and recreations, the canvas will never be finished. Just like a good artist, you believe you can always add a dash here or a blob there to improve the painting, and your life.


What do you think? Can you visualize your retired life as a painting that continues to evolve? Maybe you think of a satisfying retirement as a piece of music that is always having notes added or subtracted, chords changed, or new instruments written in.  No matter how you envision your retirement, I have one request: don't think of it as a checkbook. Finances are important but too many of us allow the financial side of things to scare or stifle our growth. Your retired life will be so much fuller if you avoid that trap.


16 comments:

  1. I like the canvas concept, Bob. It made me feel good to realize that there's still a lot of "white space" left on mine! As we age, it's only natural that we will face losses, but there are many opportunities, also. Mixing up life helps to keep things from getting boring. Had to laugh at my 80+ year old father-in-law, but he had a point when he told us that you've gotta spend time with younger folks---spending too much time with old people can get to you. Yes, he's a hoot, and obviously, very young at heart. He honestly doesn't see himself as old, and he's the first one to volunteer to help with nearly any task that needs done. He's the first one in line for a bus trip (especially if it's free) and if a grandkid has an event, there's no bleacher too hard for him to sit it out. It all boils down to our attitude. I know that fear can cripple us...fear of loss, whether it be health, funds, or relationships, can serve as an excuse to dial down living fully.Sometimes, taking baby steps to make simple, small changes can give us the courage we need to launch out to try even bigger things. Here's hoping that we will be able to have open minds and hearts as the years fly by!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent recap of the core point of the post, and the importance of attitude.

      I have been one of those lucky types who has had no physical problems of any real significance and takes no prescription drugs. I know I am going to struggle and rebel as that status changes over the coming years. Here's hoping I follow my own advice about attitude and accepting what I can't change but not letting it limit me.

      Delete
  2. I always looked at life as a blank canvas. Now the blank canvas is broader without the template of work. There are still the day-to-day things that need to be done without the confines of a work schedule. I'm loving it. People still ask, "What do you do?" I enjoy the slow mornings. I socialize more and spend more time with family and friends which amps up my happy setting. I knock out the to-do list; now there's no excuse. I set my own pace which is luxury +++. And sometimes I do "nothing" without feeling guilty. I have an opinion about "nothing" - from the movie "The Color Purple" - sometimes I sets and thinks and sometimes I just set. It's that empty, nothing space that creativity and receptivity flows.
    I've had to reset some of my plans. I do need to get some part-time work to supplement my vacation and property insurance funds without dipping into savings. The vacation fund is definitely a want. The property insurance has gone up 40% in the past 4 yrs and there seems to be no end in sight. Thank goodness I don't worry about health insurance in Canada (yet). And I maintain my health. That's on my daily to-do list.
    It's great to be the artist at the canvas.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The freedom of that blank canvas that is slowly filled in with colors and shapes of your choosing is so invigorating. Some folks would look at the blank space as worrisome - loss of structure and all that. But, once you look at it for what it is - you shaping your life the way you choose - that blank space becomes an invitation, not a threat.

      Delete
  3. Great post! I used the "blank canvas" analogy just last week when someone asked me what my plans are for after I retire on June 30th. The problem with the blank canvas, though, is that it's just a little bit scary. However, I keep learning and growing by reading blogs such as yours, so I'm confident that I can make it work out right. After all, I've been figuring things out throughout my life so far. I find that if I think of this retirement thing as just another stage on the life continuum, I do much better and can keep the panic at bay. Thank you and keep up the great work!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are so right about looking at retirement as just another phase of life. If you have managed to survive and thrive for the first 50,60,70 years of your life, then the next 20-30 shouldn't produce any additional anxiety. It is just part of the same journey. If you have made it this far, you are good to go and you will adjust as needed.

      Thanks, Elaine.

      Delete
    2. Elaine, sometimes the first stroke on a blank canvas can unnerve us. Just remember, many "mistakes" are what masterpieces are made of. Plus, you can always paint over what you really dislike! Hope you have a fabulous retirement. Enjoy!!

      Delete
    3. Very good point...you can always paint over whatever is on a canvas and start anew.

      Delete
  4. I have been retired 3 years. Have had back surgery, recovery from burnout but have not lost the zest for life. I found I needed a "job" and blogging has all the elements of what I enjoyed in my career (PR and fundraising for medium sized non-profits) And another find was the on-line free college courses available through Coursera. There are high quality courses presented on video by professors from all our great Universities. The course I recently took was on entrepreneurship and presented by University of Maryland. The key to his whole thing, in my estimation, is acceptance and learning to enhance our curiosity. And Grandchildren help too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Grandchildren certainly do help with keeping us alert and active.

      I have taken two courses from Coursera and start another in two weeks. The free offering are amazingly varied and very well done. I also found free seminary classes from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis that help me in my faith walk. All in all, there is simply not enough time in the day!

      BTW, Carole, I love the photo on your blog's home page of the three women of various ages. That captures the tremendous power of multi-generational interchanges.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for the compliment on my photo choice. It's a stock photo, I hate to admit but it conveyed the idea I wanted to get across. I do not live in a 55 and over community but chose, after my late husband passed, to live in a multigenerational townhouse community filled with interesting people.

      Each day I grow wiser in my understanding that this life segment offers more opportunity than I could have ever imagined, the more I love my life.

      I want to check out the free seminary classes from Covenant Seminary. My faith walk has been somewhat varied as I was born into the Mennonite faith, married and became an Episcopalian, corporate transfer took us to a place in South Carolina that had this wonderful United Methodist Church and alas now I am a Mennonite again. Despite all the indoctrination, I find myself growing beyond my conventional understanding of God. We keep him much to small. As our understanding of the Universe expands, our concept of God, in my mind, is just too insignificant. God's Universes are so vast and his all consuming direction of it all is beyond comprehension.

      Regarding the multigenerational thing, my Daughter-in-law likes to remind me that I love Old Persons' TV because I watch "Murder She Wrote." Angela Lansbury is a many generational actress appearing in movies and broadway since the late 1940s. I find her fascinating.

      Regards...

      Delete
    3. I am enjoying the Covenant Theological Seminary courses. I completed the one on Paul and his letters and am now part way through a course on Christian ethics with Dan Doriani.

      Your thoughts remind me of the statement that a God man can describe or fully know is too small a God.

      Delete
  5. I get the metaphor, and it's a good one. But I really think that our canvas has 60 or so years of paint on it already, and what we are doing now is layering on, building out, making the canvas richer and bolder and more refined ... or, as you say, we "can always paint over whatever is on a canvas and start anew."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I understand, Tom. Our life has 60, 65, 70, whatever number of years of paint on it.

      But, if we view retirement as a fresh start, a fresh phase of life, then that canvas is blank. Our "life" canvas' is getting full but our "retirement" canvas is empty until we begin to experiment and paint away. And, maybe that leads to a repainting our of "life's" canvas, which is a perspective I hadn't thought of.

      Delete
  6. I think the two biggest retirement mistakes it is possible to make are thinking that you have it all planned out, and trying to stick to the plan. Life, especially retirement life, refuses to work that way. Flexibility--painting over parts of the canvas you don't like, experimenting in the blank spaces--is absolutely necessary. Circumstances change, and if you fail to change with them by finding new interests, new abilities, new ways to live your life, you are bound for disappointment.

    That Other Jean

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I couldn't agree more. Planning for retirement is critical; thinking you have everything taken care of with that plan is a recipe for disaster. And, frankly, that would be rather boring. If everything goes according to plan, then how do you discover anything new, either in yourself or the world?

      Thanks, Jean.

      Delete

Inappropriate comments will be deleted