January 27, 2015

Sharks and Retirement


Most of us have been taught that a shark must remain in constant motion or it will drown. Because of its gill structure a continuous flow of water is required to absorb enough oxygen. 

More recent studies have shown this belief to be only partly correct. While there are some sharks that must move all the time, several other species spend much of their time lying on the bottom of the ocean, quite content and very much alive. The difference is in their muscle structure and ability to force water through the gills as needed.

Originally, I was thinking of the first type of shark while considering the parallels between sharks and retirement. If we don't keep moving forward we may not physically die right away, but the quality of our life is affected and our exploration of all our opportunities is cut short.

Learning that not all sharks are swimming forever actually makes the idea behind this post more on target. Just like sharks, retirements take different paths depending upon the person.

Some like to be in constant motion. Exercises, hiking, biking, book clubs, on-line or on-site continuing educational classes, travel and exploring, volunteer work, meeting friends for meals, coffee and conversation.....their schedule is full and their retirement is very active.

Others find a blend of activity and relaxation to be best. Like a shark that swims for part of the day and settles on the bottom for awhile, this approach to a satisfying retirement mixes stimulation and times of calmness. A hike or brisk walk is followed by time on the back porch with a book or Ipod playing some favorite music. An active day spent with grandkids is balanced with a day spent with friends at a movie and relaxing dinner.

Still others are decompressing after a hectic life of career and family. A schedule that is open to whatever feels right today works for them. There may be extended periods of little physical or mental exertion, then a burst of action. But, the decompression means no pressure to "perform" and no guilt in that lifestyle choice.

This ability to be the type of "shark" that suits you at this stage of life is what is so satisfying about retirement. During much of our life we are not in control. Jobs, family, parents, soccer practice, business travel....whatever your life components there were responsibilities that restricted your freedoms.

Now, you are more likely to be restricted only by your own choices and decisions. Granted, health and financial concerns, maybe dealing with aging parents mean you are not completely free to do what you feel when you feel.

But, few would argue that retirement gives you a much greater ability to craft a life that is more to your liking. And, the type of "shark" you are can change as your circumstances and desires change. A constantly moving shark today may become a "bottom dweller" for a period of time, then become partly active again.

The next time you watch "Jaws" think about that shark and your approach to retirement! Are you going to need a bigger boat?



21 comments:

  1. Your post is definitely an example of "one size does not fit all". Everyone is different, with different approaches to retirement. I also find it interesting when surveys show absolutes between happy and unhappy retirees. I finished a book recently geared towards a financially-ready retirement, but it also talked at length about surveys of retirees. While I agreed with much of what was said, it also stated that people who practice behaviors that were more intraverted, such as reading, were more unhappy in retirement. Hey, I work out every day, we are vacationing more than ever, we go out to eat a lot, but at the same time I really enjoy reading, a lot. Just another example of what might bring a lot of joy to one person, an activity that would be perceived as "lying on the bottom of the ocean", can be perceived as a negative when it comes to a satisfying retirement.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Like you, Chuck, I have learned that definitive statements about retirement are usually wrong to some degree. The "experts" are either relating their own experience and universalizing it, or basing conclusions from research.

      As someone who made part of his living from conducting research, I know that most folks have no clue why they do something or what they might do in the future. They think they do, but the reality is often quite different from the projections.

      BTW, I read a lot!

      Delete
  2. When I first retired, I was exhilarated by all the free time and worried about staying "productive." After a few years, I've found a balance in active/not active and like life in the slow lane. Yes, I have friends, activities and hobbies. It is important to stay engaged in life and interested in those around you, regardless of whether you enjoy being busy or not. I also think being around young people regularly is positive and vice versa. We're not curmudgeons and they are not self-centered lay abouts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Like you, as I have gone through a process of self-review and a bit of a struggle to figure out what was lacking in my life, I am finding both new and interesting things to explore as well as an appreciation for the time spent doing what some may consider "nothing." But, that "nothing" is something to me and it is important to an overall life balance.

      Delete
  3. I like the word decompression that you used. I think I under-appreciated how long it would take to switch, psychologically and emotionally, from a working mode with its demands and pressures to a non-working mode free of such. I also under-estimated how much in my life would be subject to change or modification. I think if I look at life when working, everything was settled or somewhat in place, how I dressed (professsional), how much leisure I had (sometimes little), what I ate (lots of thermos soups and tupperware salads for lunch), and even when I had to go to sleep at night (or else be a zombie the next day at work). Retirement in some ways is like suddenly being able to go barefoot after years of wearing shoes. A big part of me is still relishing that, i.e. decompressing. Some days I wear pajama pants almost all day, and never put on my watch. Some retired folks I know made a quick transition from a settled work life to a settled retirement life, and put pieces of their life back into place quickly. Perhaps they knew more what they wanted than I do. Truthfully, I'm still unsettled in many of my choices, even some simple day to day ones such as "when should I go to sleep." I think I'm like one of those shaken up snow globes, with many snow flakes still up in the air. I've also tried on a few things (Friends of the Public Library for example), but for one reason or other rejected them (too many local snarky people in that group!). Unfortunately, where I live, there is a very constricted range of things to choose from (no pottery classes for example, or yoga, or even senior exercise classes, and not many restaurants of note, and never concerts or plays). Ideally I think I'd do better in a small college town, but I may not be able to bring that about. Recently I am trying to explore my small town for small untapped adventures though, and I'm also planning a few "get out of town" short trips. What I have found difficult to plan though is longer, more invested trips, for example to Europe or even Alaska, which I'd love to see. For various reasons, one being a new knee problem, I haven't felt confident to break away or decompress to the extent of weeks away from home.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I will have a post sometime in February about the one thing they never tell you about retirement, and it is exactly what you are relating. Retirement is a journey that is unsettled and unsettling, constantly changing, and open wide for joy, thrills, disappointment, and boredom. Unlike our working years, the schedule is up to us, and sometimes that uncertainty is a pain.

      I take on-line courses quite frequently. They are free and cover virtually any subject you can think of. Some are video series and others audio. Some are college level and others more general in appeal. If where you live is somewhat restricted, check out these options. They keep your mind buzzing!

      Delete
    2. Thanks for your reply! I do as well. I've been a Coursera student since they first started (when I was working full time). Coursera is my window on the world. I especially enjoy courses from international colleges. Presently I'm taking a course on the Magna Carta, whose anniversary is this year, from the University of London, along with a music appreciation course from Yale. I often enjoy chatting with fellow students online. In a month or so I'm going to try an EdX course for the first time. Free online courses (as long as they stay that way) is one fixture of my life, and I don't see that changing (but some people call me a geek and wonder why I'm taking courses in retirement!).

      Delete
  4. Most of my activity is sedentary, and that concerns me a bit. Writing, working an art project, aren't physically demanding. I've started working standing up at the counter for a decent part of the day.

    Dave, on the other hand, is like the energizer bunny! If he doesn't have project to do he's bored out of his mind. I think when we finish EVERY conceivable renovation in this house I will need to break things so he doesn't lose his mind!
    b

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Firstly, I gather the massive snow storm pretty much missed South Jersey. That is probably great news for you!

      I have to force myself to go to the gym, take the dog to the park, or not skip a Tai Chi class. I do feel better when I am active but I love my slow and easy time even more.

      Delete
    2. I read a suggestion for a neat, simple, quick daily exercise, which improves balance and strength in the legs. Daily, as many times as you brush your teeth, stand on one foot while brushing your upper teeth 100 times. Stand on the other foot while brushing the lower teeth 100 times. The sink is there for support as needed, so it is relatively safe.

      Delete
  5. I like your shark metaphor not only to illustrate how we can all swim in different currents; but also b/c a shark is not a victim, but a hunter that goes out and searches for what it wants and needs. And I believe that we will not be happy and fulfilled in retirement if we just wait and let it ome to us, but we need to go out and pursue the retirement that we want ... wherever it may lead.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How true - waiting for something to come to you at any stage of life usually equals wasted time. To not put too fine a point on it, during retirement the future horizon is much closer, so waiting is even less productive.

      Delete
  6. I would never have believed someone who told me we'd buy a park model and spend winters in Arizona, but that is what came to pass. I am very active during the winter because the park where we live is set up with more activities than we could possibly even sample. At home near Seattle at other times of the year, I have to seek out the activities myself. I have found several for which I have a passion - mediation, gardening, spiritual connections - but getting to them is not as convenient as walking two blocks. I'm pretty well convinced that curiosity will keep me healthy as long as I am moving my body enough.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Like the dancing you did last week! That keeps the body moving.

      Curiosity is the engine that drives us forward.

      Delete
  7. Great post! I'm NOT an ocean girl (live near the ocean now, but grew up in the mountains near Denver) so it took awhile for me to appreciate the shark analogy. I don't want to watch JAWS, but certainly get the idea & agree with the premise.

    I love the "power" that comes with choosing how I want to spend my days but am also realizing that I have some responsibilities with that power and freedom. Given my preferences, I'd read much of the day (and I totally disagree with the idea that retirees who read are less satisfied than other folks; I'm extremely satisfied with my retirement and I'd call myself an "extreme" reader, often reading more than a book a day.) IF I read all day, however, I get stiff & that defeats my attempts to lose weight, move more gracefully and stay healthy as long as I can. It also means the house becomes a disaster, and we don't have healthy meals, so balance is an important part of my retirement. The nice part of the equation is that other folks' schedules (like supervisors & clients) don't impact my life unless I choose that option.

    I liked Tom Sightings' comment that a shark, as the hunter, goes out & gets what is wanted. THAT to me, is one of the biggest pleasures of retirement. I gave a lot of my life to my job and this is my reward.

    BTW, love your new pic!

    pam

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The average retiree watches 7 hours of TV a day. That to me is the real way to be less satisfied during retirement, not reading a lot. Reading expands the mind and keeps your brain engaged. TV is designed to put your brain into a semi-coma!

      Betty and I hope to see you this summer during our trip. We have booked 2 nights in Paso Robles.

      Delete
  8. 7 hours! of TV !!???? I watch TV maybe twice a WEEK! Just saw "Men Who Stare At Goats" a rental from library-- loved it--quirky.I never measure my READING TIME however, I lucked out and the last 4 books I got from library were all page-turners,so I did spend a lot of the last 2 weeks reading.I have to push myself to exercise a lot of days.. it certainly is a journey.I am amazed that so much of what we "THOUGHT" would happen in our first retirement year changed so much!!!!We are slower on the travel, we both have taken on part time "work.." we like staying home a bit more than we thought we would! We visit the "Valley" less often than we thought we would.... just a very fascinating journey so far... more t surprises o come, too,I am sure..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, 48 hours a week. Now, what wasn't clear in that study was whether the TV was just on or someone watching it the whole time. Regardless, TV is an easy out for too many of us.

      As time goes on the I bet the desire to drive the 2+ hours to Phoenix will wane. Home will be Pine and Payson will have all you need.

      Delete
  9. This is a very nice post!
    When I came across to this page, I said "Wait! Sharks and Retirement? Where's the connection?"
    So, then I stopped and took time to read. I love it that you compared retirement/ retirees to sharks. This is new! :)
    I agree with you, just like sharks, people are different when it comes on spending their golden years. Some are really active, some has chosen to stay at the comfort of their homes and some are unfortunately having their long term care needs. I think, what happens to their retirement, is up to how they planned it that will make them the type of shark they become at the end.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree with you that planning is an important part of how someone's retirement plays out. But, attitude and willingness to experiment also play a part in the type of "shark" one becomes.

      Delete

Inappropriate comments will be deleted