March 17, 2017

I Wish I'd Known This When I Retired

Today, retirement comes with certain expectations. Popular literature, feedback from friends, books, Internet articles....all sorts of sources paint a picture of this stage of life. Getting an accurate overview of what is likely to happen is not that difficult.



When I stopped full time work in 2001 things were different. There was very little retirement information that dealt with anything other than financial preparation. Sure, Sun City-type retirement communities painted a picture of never-ending leisure, happy folks playing cards, enjoying the pool, and tasting wine with friends every bit as good-looking as you. 

When our parents retired, the life of golf, playing bridge, and days spent in the wood-shop was an appealing model. For many, things didn't work out that way, but that was the dream to aspire to. Because there wasn't a lot to go on, I began my journey with the same idea of what retirement should look like. 

Within the first year away from my job, I began to grasp that my expectations were different from my parents. I was approaching the next 25 years with a different set of desires. I didn't really know what those desires would be, but the idea of being put on the shelf, of being relegated to days of leisure didn't sound fulfilling. Then again, neither did non-stop travel, or moving to Costa Rica and living as an expat. 

Honestly, 16 years later I am still adjusting. There have been times when I had a new challenge and some new goals. Other periods felt more like a pause or a lull between whatever was next. Some break was good, too much, not. My personality allows me to fall into a rut and feel quite stagnant if there isn't a goal in front of me.

What I wish I'd known, or understood, when I retired, was the simple truth about retirement: at its core it is very much like every other part of one's life. When full time work ceases, how you spend your time is much more under your control. But, the person you are doesn't change. The foundation you have built is what remains your bedrock.

How your relationships fare after retirement depend on the effort you put into them before leaving the work force. Your financial mindset doesn't change. If you have been a saver, you remain a saver; if you take the attitude that money is to be spent, that belief will follow you. If you are a homebody, happiest puttering in the backyard, reading a book by the fireplace, or having friends over for dinner, it is unlikely retirement will change that into someone who wants to be on the road for weeks on end.

Retirement is a stage of life, it isn't a complete reboot of who and what you are. If you believe your post-work life is going to be quite different, you may become frustrated and unhappy. A satisfying retirement can be filled with new opportunities and options. But, I contend, that the core of who you are, what you believe, and what makes you the happiest, isn't all that different.

If I had understood that truth I would have saved myself some disappointment. Early on, I would have spent less time trying to turn my life into an image of retirement that I had been programmed to expect. I would have been more content and less on edge about creating the perfect post-work life. I would have understood that I would be building on a foundation already constructed, not starting over.


26 comments:

  1. Bob, you and I had much the same experiences in our early retirement years. I too struggled with what I was supposed to do. I have been through four different stages of my life since then. Each one more satisfying than the last.

    Three weeks ago I took a pretty nasty fall, but refused to believe it was as serious as it was. After more than a week, I realized that it was serious and went to the ER. They found that I had a pretty serious brain bleed and was rushed into brain surgery. I'm doing pretty good right now but still have a rather long recovery period ahead of me. This event made me realize just how precious our senior years are. We have to cherish every day as if it were our last.

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    1. Oh my, RJ. I am so glad the problem was found and corrected. That doesn't sound pleasant. Betty and I will pray for you and your full recovery.

      Spending our time living instead of analyzing is the wisest course.

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  2. Such a perfect essay!

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    1. Thank you, Jane. Too bad you weren't my high school creative writing teacher!

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  3. My dad retired at age 74. I was forced to retire at age 54. I think there's a big difference in expectations when retirement ages can be so varied. He was perfectly happy to, yes, play golf and bridge. I developed a whole new life. But maybe when I get to be 74, I'll be perfectly happy to settle down to golf and bridge (but first, I'll have to learn how to play bridge!

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    1. Bridge is an interesting analogy for this discussion. All of my parents' generation played bridge on a regular basis. Today, I don't think I know anyone who does. I gather it is a rather involved game and requires 2 couples. With so many of us cocooned inside our home, I wonder if finding another couple is one of the biggest hurdles. Or, is it we aren't willing to put in the time to learn to play bridge well. Interesting question.

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    2. I was "recruited" to join a bridge foursome, and there's definitely a learning curve. But the focus it requires (and the camaraderie) seems like a great anti-aging serum. While there's some luck involved, strategy is more important. But be careful of folks who take it too seriously (unless you're the type who takes everything seriously). We play "party bridge," take turns bringing snacks and wine, and have fun once a week -- and I'm not even retired yet!

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  4. The picture of Sun City-type retirement reminds me of the ads re: new parenthood whereby all the moms are perfectly done up in make-up and hair nicely coifed with beatific smiles on both mom and babe. You would be hard-pressed to find a picture of a red-faced crying baby or a disheveled mom. We have to be careful to approach all aspects of retirement realistically. It really is an extension of our lives. You know that old saying - no matter where you go, there you are.

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    1. As you might imagine, there are a fair number of TV commercials for retirement communities in the PHoenix area. All the people are well dressed, healthy, and good looking. The lawns have no weeds and the streets are clean enough to eat off. Betty and I think of the Stepford Wives movie when we see them.

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  5. I'm 3 years from retirement but thanks to your blog I am preparing myself in ways other than just financially and feel less prone to having unrealistic expectations

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    1. Glad to have given you a helpful perspective!

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  6. My husband kind of retired in stages and that was helpful. It was like easing into it. I feel, being an artist and writer, I will never 'retire'. It helps when you can do what you do just about anywhere.
    b

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    1. Yes, being artistic is something that can stay with you forever. It is hard of who you are, retired or not.

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  7. Many years ago before retirement, I heard someone commenting on a morning show, that we become more of what we are as we age. If I am a giving person, that will continue. If I am a homebody, that will continue. I thought it was a wise comment and now that I have arrived at this stage of life, I believe that comment to be true.
    My ex-husband's parents retired to Sun City in Florida back in the early 80's. We use to visit very often. One day, I decided to take a bike ride around the neighborhood and found it to be very depressing. There was no one out of their well manicured homes. I thought to myself at that time, that I would never retire to that type of environment. Those companies marketing this type of lifestyle as utopia worked for some of our parent's generation, but I am not convinced it's going to work with this generation.

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    1. We share a common memory. My wife's parents retired to Sun City Center in Florida at about the same time. All those cinder block houses with no personality, no people except around the club house or pool, and no young voices....not my thing.

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  8. A wonderful and again very personal blog/ thought process/ catharsis. I am retired now 12 years. Loved every minute of it. I should have retired right after college although I had a wonderful career/ life etc. The only negative is that I married a woman 10 years my junior. What I mean is that she loved being a kindergarten teacher. I had to wait the 10 years for her to retire fitting in travel to spring/ Christmas/ summer breaks. Plus kids, g ' kids and their activities. To paraphrase Dr MLK " I am free at last!" Our hobby is to travel, just see the Good Ole US of A. We are doing just that.

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    1. Good for you, Jack. Betty and I head out next week for a quick 4 day getaway to a favorite spot in southern Arizona. It is just 3 hours away, but a totally different lifestyle.

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  9. Great post and interesting comments. I "retire" this next Friday (6 days 5 hours 43 minutes -but whose counting) and am trying to go in with no preconceptions/expectations of this next chapter in life. I agree that retirement should be viewed as a "stage of life". I am reminded of the poster that says: Life has no remote. Get up and change it yourself. I think that will continue to be true. I look forward to it.
    As for playing bridge, I am hoping to get back into it. We actually learned in high school and played quite often then. Haven't played much since. It is a great game and a great way to stay mentally sharp.

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    1. I like the "Life has no remote" quote. That says it.

      A few folks have commented about bridge and mental sharpness. Lydgate noted that some people can take this very seriously. My mother-in-law was one such player. Apparently, she did not hesitate to call out her husband, loudly and publicly, when he misbid.

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  10. Yes, nearly three years ago I set out on retirement with the aim of leaving my professional pedantry behind me and instead hoped to turn into some kind of Bohemian. In fact I have spent the last three years discovering that whilst I can modify some of the pedantic traits, I'm far too analytical and conventional ever to become a true Boho.

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    1. A Bohemian...interesting. What did you envision this would be like? What would you have been like after following that inclination?

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  11. The bridge comments remind me of my pickleball group. We laugh so hard when we play badly as well as efficiently. Three times per week, we laugh and cry, get exercise, and get to know each other better slowly but surely. I love it! We attempted to merge with a more "serious" group and were rejected like yesterday's news. We could do nothing right. I read about tournaments but this appears to take the fun out of the game. Amateurs only please! No retirement community for me. I do understand that dear friends adore this model and find great comfort in their over 55 community. I prefer four seasons and nearby family to share the majority of my time. I also prefer a tiny bit of travel but plenty of home time too. Thanks for helping me to solidify my thoughts and feelings. I am still waiting for my partner to retire so that sort of makes my decisions somewhat fluid. Love your blog!

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    1. A while back I wrote a post about how I have always hated to be a beginner because I feel I lack control. SLowly, over time, I am coming around to your approach: it is the experience and fellowship that matter, not the skill level. It is also a work in progress for me to be less competitive.

      Glad you enjoy the blog!

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  12. I also had a retirement fantasy. However, my fantasy was quickly derailed by my kids making some choices that drastically changed my first year of retirement, Even so, apart from that, I still had to come to grips with the difference between fantasy and reality. So true of every stage of life, don't you think? At this stage, it seems like there is more "allowing" and less "directing." And that is good. Probably would have been good in earlier stages, too!

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    1. Along the lines of my comment above, I have slowly become more "allowing" and less "directing." That has not been my personality for 60-some years, bit it was time for a change. My reality today is so much more satisfying than my fantasy would have been.

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  13. The retirement fantasy (gated adult community; living on a golf course) is one that does not appeal to me and I am actively resisting it. Yet, many people seem to choose those options, and certainly the developers and marketeers promote them. It is a relief to realize that I will still be me with the same interests and quirks after I retire, just with paid work subtracted from the equation! One aspect that is slowly and inexorably changing, however, is my physical fitness and capacity. I still hike, ski, bike, etc., but in a reduced manner. I had always wanted to try helicopter skiing in the backcountry, but I might have left it too late -- unless I can find a company that offers an easy seniors-oriented trip.

    Jude

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