February 19, 2018

How Come I Don't Feel Retired?


I am surprised how often I receive some form of the question, "How come I don't feel retired?" And, it doesn't seem to matter whether the person has been gone from full time work for a few months, a few years, or almost two decades.

A good example is my wife, Betty. She and I retired together in 2001, which means we have been on this journey for 17 years. That is a substantial amount of time. Even so, she will remark, on a regular basis, she is still looking forward to retirement. What she means is more control over her time, doing only what she wants to do when she wants to do it.

So, that raises two questions: why hasn't she been doing that all along, and what will it take for her to feel fully retired? I will explain what I think her answers are (a risky move!). Importantly, I want to broaden the focus a bit.  I am guessing her feeling is not unique to her. If the "How come I don't feel retired" question is being asked something else is at work here.

One issue could be the image of retirement creates certain expectations. I have written before about the mistaken idea that retirement is one long walk in the park. Unfortunately, retirement is a stage of life, not a step into another realm. The responsibilities that come with being an adult don't stop when the paycheck does. Bill paying, repairs, replacements, emergencies, health surprises, financial pitfalls - can easily sap the joy from retirement if you let it. If you have a feeling that retirement should mean all of the baggage that is part of living ends, then you are likely to pose this question.

Another possibility is one of personality. In Betty's case, she is a giver. If someone needs something she is first in line to help. She is also a self-admitted over-giver. If that person wants to know what time it is, she will build them a watch. If the church needs help on a big project, she will volunteer to do almost all of it. She is extremely creative, dedicated, with a major dose of perfectionism, so it is just easier to do it all.

Of course, that can lead to burnout and self-imposed pressure. Even though she absolutely loves helping others, her physical and mental health can suffer. She leaves herself little time to work on things just for her, things without deadlines. So, she has yet to find the balance she is seeking even after 17 years.

Yet another reason might have to do with a spouse or partner who hasn't accepted the sharing part of retirement. If your partner is no longer working but expects you to continue doing the lion's share of household chores, there are going to be problems. Excuses like she (or he) has always done the cooking and cleaning and laundry fail the fair test. "I don't know how to cook or run the oven" are just as lame. It is hard to feel retired if almost nothing has changed in what your "responsibilities" are in maintaining a household.  




So, what to do? Here are a few ideas that may help:

1) Accept that retirement isn't just a float in a boat. Align your expectations with the reality of living. Honestly compare your lifestyle before and after work: what is better and what is worse? When you look at the big picture you may be surprised how much your life has changed for the better. For those things still bothering you, can you do anything about them?

2) If you find yourself overcommitted to others and under committed to yourself, realize that is something you can change. You have the power to protect yourself and your needs. That doesn't mean withdraw from helping others achieve their goals, it means realizing you must help yourself achieve what is important to you, too.

3) Decide that you need to start a new season of your retired life, one that is a better match to what you want now. Your needs evolve over time, be sure how you treat them does, too.

4) Work on developing what you consider a fair sharing of work and chores at home. That doesn't necessarily mean a 50-50 split. If you truly enjoy the cooking then hold on to that part of your domestic life. It is part of the "I feel fully retired now that I can cook to my heart's desire." But, giving your partner a pass on chores and work load, you are hurting your own experience.

Have you ever admitted to yourself that you don't feel fully retired? Do you know why? What would it take to make retirement "official?"

Did you go through a transformation at some point that marked your move to real retirement mode? Do you remember what it was?

As someone who does feel completely retired, I am quite interested in the feedback from those who don't. I know Betty and anxious for your feedback, too.


35 comments:

  1. Just read your current blog – I am printing it out so that I can read it a few more times (while we are out of town the end of this week) and see if I can come up with some solutions for myself – I feel kind of like Betty – “when am I actually going to retire” – and most of it is of my own design.

    Maybe by mulling this over I can come up with some answers.

    So this one made me think – probably a good thing!!

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    1. I wasn't aware how common this feeling is among retirees until Betty brought it up and I bounced the thought off other folks.

      Maybe I should write a post on how to know when you are retired. Good luck on your search for a solution!

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  2. "It is hard to feel retired if almost nothing has changed in what your "responsibilities" are in maintaining a household. "

    Exactly.

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    1. That is a stumbling block that has to be dealt with.

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  3. My only thought here is that Betty and others that don't feel officially retired are perhaps still placing expectations on their time that are coming from someplace other than themselves. Meaning, instead of selecting for themselves what they wish to surround themselves with, obligation wise, they are giving that power away to someone else. The fixing is likely a good long introspective look into what is compelling them to say 'Yes' when deep down they may really wish to say 'No' and do something else instead.

    I'm not sure if my experience is helpful here, but I'll give it a go. While my life in retirement after six years feels extremely full and busy, it also feels deeply satisfying. I am very fussy about what I do with my time, whether that is my cherished two hours of wake up time in the AM, where I sip coffee and read online, the hours I spend hiking, biking and kayaking outdoors, the hours I spend manning the information booth and undergoing marine science training at the institute where I volunteer, the time spent involved with our spiritual congregation, or the time spent keeping our home in order. Each and every thing is something I wish to do, even if it involves hard work. Versus something I don't really wish to do, but feel obligated to do. I think there is a pretty big difference in the emotions that are generated in the process when my time decisions come from the former vs the later.

    One of the really wonderful things about controlling my time, vs allowing someone else to do so, is I find myself being presented with oodles of new ideas to consider and pursue. I'd be so frustrated if I couldn't follow up on any of them because my time was being spent somewhere I really didn't wish!

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    1. That is the problem, and Betty knows it. She is so focused on pleasing others and fulfilling their expectations that her desires always come last.

      Knowing about the problem and resolving it are two different battles. She says that once her current promise to help our church build most of the stuff needed for Vacation Bible School is over in mid May, she will not volunteer for that type of all consuming project again. I think this time she really expects to follow through.

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    2. If pleasing others and fulfilling their expectations was really and truly what she wished to be doing with her time, then I think Betty would feel fulfilled, and the thought of whether or not she was 'retired' would be irrelevant. If she is not, I hope she'll take the time to look inside and try and understand what is motivating her to say 'yes' when perhaps she'd really prefer to say 'no.' :-)

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  4. I feel just like Betty. I thought retirement would give me great stretches of time for fun projects. but it has not always worked that way. I agree with Tamara that it boils down to time management and setting priorities. But she is better at it than I am. I got rid of a 9 hour a day job (including lunch) and a 2 hour a day commute. Where did those 11 hours go? I do take 2 hours for breakfast whereas before I grabbed something at the company cafeteria and ate on the job. So that leaves 9 hours. I go to bed at midnight instead of 10 which means my after dinner evening is 5 1/2 hours instead of 3 1/2 and most of the time I totally veg out (internet browsing, reading, crosswords ) in the evening whereas before I paid bills, shopped, cleaned etc. Because I worked in IT I really didn't want to come home and get on the computer or solve another puzzle. I spend more time with grandkids which I love. I'm slower at manual labor than I used to be and take more breaks.

    My resolution this year was to manage my time better.. go to bed earlier, and get up earlier and not fritter away those evening hours. It is mid February and I have not made much progress. I guess I need deadlines and accountability. I always thought I was driven and a hard worker, but maybe I am really just lazy!

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    1. ...or maybe this is what retirement look like for you! I have the same feelings about evenings. Now that the Olympics are on, I watch people skate in circles or hurtle down steep hills even though I am not a big fan of winter sports. Why? Because it is there.

      It is both amazing and frustrating to start each day and suddenly realize it is dinner time. Where did the last 8 or 9 hours go?

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  5. Hi Bob! Another interesting post idea. I do know many many people who say, once they are retired, still seem as busy or busier that they were when they worked. That can be fun, or as you say, just feel like your time isn't your own. One explanation is how people respond to expectations. Author Gretchen Rubin has a short "personality test" that is really quite fascinating (at least I think so!) and it offers some advice for people who can't seem to stick with New Year's Resolutions or saying no to others when asked. Here's a link to my article and the test for anyone who might find it interesting. ~Kathy https://www.smartliving365.com/four-simple-tendencies-that-help-to-explain-human-nature/

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    1. Thanks, Kathy. In Betty's case it is the expectations of others and her perfectionist streak that keeps her from feeling retired. I am sure other people look at her and consider her fully retired since she spends most days on projects. But, if they aren't of her own choosing, then problems develop.

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  6. I am another that agrees with Betty. I only feel retired from my paying job outside the home. I still long for days when my time truly belongs to me. I think many women, despite a career, still hold traditional household responsibilities. Those responsibilities do not stop when you retire. Yes, household duties should be shared. Easier said than done.

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    1. This is one area where Betty has no worries. I have done my own laundry forever. I plan most menus and share the cooking and cleanup. We have a cleaning service every two weeks for the deeper stuff in the house. We both go food shopping and both walk the dog.

      Sharing household responsibilities and duties after retirement should not be up for debate.

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  7. Without generalizing, I think this may be especially true for those of us who were "at home" spouses or who held the majority of the household/family responsiblities becauese of the the hours or traveling of the other spouse. Again, without generalizing or "blaming" the outside of the home spouse, in my expeirence those roles often translate in retirement. the first person remains the caregiver and the home keeper and the second person embraces his or her new career or constructive free time. Either that or they follow the "caregiver" partner around wondering why he or she doesnt do this or that, or doesn't do it more effeciently or..........you get my drift. Again, this is not all couples, but my personal experience is that when there are two career couples where the home responsibliites were equal, or where was sufficient income to hire those out, the results are often a little different.

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    1. You make an excellent point. We fall into a pattern that sticks. As my response to Bonnie shows, Betty was the housewife for most of my working career but since our retirement, those duties are shared. I decided that it was my time to take on at least half if not more. Since I was traveling most weeks, Betty did almost everything. She had earned a break when I retired 17 years ago. She did not argue!

      Your comment about how two professional couples handle things is interesting. I hope we get some comments that shed some light on those situations.

      No, I am afraid Betty's feeling of not being retired has little to do with what happens to maintain our lifestyle. If that were it, the problem could be more easily solved.

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  8. A very thought provoking post! A consideration in the discussion should be, perhaps, what is your personal definition of retirement? For some, it might be sleeping late, working in the garden all morning long and scouring cookbooks or the internet for an exciting new recipe to try for dinner. Others might find purpose in starting a business, spending time volunteering in their communities and visiting children and grandchildren. For some people, retirement might provide the opportunity to focus on improving their health and longevity through diet and exercise and, for still others, retirement might mean enjoying the great outdoors or traveling to places they’ve never been. My point is that the definition of retirement (and, even more so, a satisfying retirement!) is very personal and truly unique to each of us. Whether we’re already retired or are currently in the planning stages for it, I believe it’s important to regularly define what we want our retirement to look like and then determine the steps we need to take to make it a reality. As with many goals, we could set small, intermediate goals to help us progress along the path we want to take, as long as we remain aware that, at almost any time, our goals might change and we might require an adjustment to our direction. It’s similar to “asset allocation” in finances. If you want to hold 60% in stocks and 40% in bonds, but a good run in the stock market left you with 70% in stocks and 30% in bonds, then you need to adjust your funds. The same thing can happen with our time, with the way we spend our days in retirement. Over time, our “asset allocation” may become skewed and no longer fit the way we truly want to invest our time. Retirement is fluid; it’s not a “set it and forget it” kind of thing. It might be helpful to step back occasionally to redefine what retirement means to us, confirm our priorities and be sure we’re spending our time the way we really want to. Once our eyes and our minds are clearly set on our goals, then we can simply adjust our steps to reach them.

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    1. I like your analogy of retirement planning to rebalancing an investment portfolio. Over time, both should change based on needs and interests.

      In my wife's case, she is starting to realize she is past due for the reassessment you write about. She is moving from the "doing for others only" phase, into something that should be a bit more oriented toward her.

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  9. Come to think of it, our retirement has seen a few iterations over the years. We even started and ran a little business for a few years. So maybe I am not lazy, I am just rebalancing. Now off to join you in watching a little snowboarding.

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  10. My transformation into feeling like I am finally retired (it's been 7 years) came after my older brother moved into a nursing home. I didn't do much direct care but did field between 5 to 15 phone calls a day from him, and often he was angry and confused. It didn't make for much uninterrupted time for me so I am also rebalancing and enjoying adjusting to the free time knowing my brother is safe and well cared for.

    When I first retired I felt obligated to give back and am slowly realizing that I am also worthy of my time. I highly recommend the book by Claudio Bepko "Too Good for Her Own Good: Breaking Free from the Burden of Female Responsibility", it may help others caught up in doing too much for everyone but themselves.

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    1. The issue of caregiving can be a serious stumbling block to feeling fully retired. Thanks, Mary, for raising that point. Regardless of our best intentions, sometimes family responsibilities push other things to the side.

      I will certainly check out that book.

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  11. Our first two years of retirement were taken up with moving--twice, once TO the mountains, and once BACK. The next year I decided I HAD TO "try out" being a realtor, Don't let anyone fool you: real estate is FULL TIME and a HUGE commitment. I let it go. This year, FINALLY, I FEEL retired..I have given up all work. I also cut waaay back on volunteer activities. I'm enjoying some 1 day art classes, exercising, visiting with friends, and an art group twice a month.. MUCH less obligation, much MORE free time and relaxation..In year 4 I finally FEEL retired!!

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    1. Well, that puts you 13 years ahead of Betty!

      Free time to do what you want and relaxation (whatever that means to each of us) are crucial to feeling like we have actually entered this new phase.

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  12. My wife and I do a simple time management exercise that helps us make sure that we are doing the things that match our goals. At the start of the month we sit down with the calendar for the month and pencil in all of our appointments; including church activities, golf days, social events and family gatherings.
    This gives us the opportunity to discuss how we are going to spend our time and how we feel about it. When we feel that we are overdoing it in one area or missing out in another, we discuss how we can change things. It's always better to address these issues before they occur than after they are over.

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    1. Planning ahead is almost a requirement to stay on top of things. We have discovered, however, that grandkids and family needs tend to be last minute requests. So, we stay flexible and are happy we are available to help even if our "personal time" takes a hit.

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  13. I'm with you -- I feel completely retired! Even so, as I've said before, I was disappointed to find that there are still only 24 hours in the day, which means that I still have to choose some activities and let others go. But what I do choose is almost always something that I really want to do. For example, I have pretty much declared myself a meeting free zone, although there are occasionally meetings that are important enough for me to break that boundary. On those cases, I recognize that I'm choosing to make the purpose of that meeting a priority, so in a sense, I'm still doing what I want to do.

    I already knew how to say "no" before I retired, but I can see for some folks, that can be a problem. After we retire people think that we have unlimited time and so of course we wouldn't mind volunteering to do something. Saying no (in a polite way of course) is a necessary skill for protecting the time we worked so hard to retire for!

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    1. Saying "No" ranks right up there with financial planning as a key retirement survival skill.

      I resigned from a well respected charity organization because the meetings were long and accomplished very little. After 2 years I decided to move on. Now, I am pretty much meeting free, too.

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  14. I've felt retired ever since I stopped "punching the clock" -- meaning when I no longer had to show up at the same place at the same time every day, doing someone else's bidding (even tho' sometimes it was fun, sometimes interesting, but always someone else's priority), 50 weeks a year, year after year. Now I do my own bidding.

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    1. That is really one of the keys: not doing someone's else's bidding, which emphasizes the importance of the word No in retirement. Thanks, Tom.

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  15. I think I finally feel retired after two years. The first year was a real adjustment, especially to having both of us at home all the time vs one or both of us traveling for work. But it's all evened out. I do still do the bulk of the household work, but mostly because I enjoy it and I'm pretty particular about how things are done. DH does all the yard work, which is substantial, except for the gardening. And he does help me with the first effort every spring (weeds, pruning, mulch). We'll see how long we want to keep that up, but for now, we're still OK.

    The real feeling of being retired took time, and I think I realized I had reached that stage when I lost interest in my old industry, my former co-workers (with a few exceptions who were actually friends), and the updates on LinkedIn no longer drew my attention. It also helped to start traveling more, get involved with volunteer activities, etc. But overall, I feel pretty free to do whatever I want when I want, and that's how I envisioned my retirement.

    One more thing...I got a Medicare card in the mail the other day and I'm only three months from being enrolled. Once I stop paying ASTRONOMICAL medical insurance/copay costs, I'll really be retired. :-)

    --Hope

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    1. I know Betty is so looking forward to her 65th birthday in a year for that reason (and that reason alone!): Medicare. Our for-profit health care system is so broken and so messed up. She has a hard time believing how simple health care becomes with that card (and a supplemental policy).

      Like you, I lost interest in the industry that consumed all my waking hours and thoughts within 4 or 5 years of closing my business. Every once in a while I will have a flashback about an old client or friend from those days, but it is way back in my rear view mirror.

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  16. I've said it before - time management is as important in retirement as in preretirement. As JC & Mary: Reflections Around the Campfire talk about, assessment & planning helps to that end. My intention is to lead a value based life so I like to balance time between self, home, family/friends, community. I'm coming up on 5 yrs retired & I'm still not over the slow mornings. Every day that I get to do that still feels like a vacation. A neighbor commented - What do you need a day timer for? You're retired! - when he saw the day timer on the counter. Even in retirement I have things to do & I need to organize my time. Pre-retirement, people would ask what I would do when I retired. My response - those things I do <8am & >5pm, I'm going to do between 8&5. In truth, those things happen between 10am-5pm! I've always enjoyed homemaking & it's a luxury doing it without punching the clock. Saying "no" & prioritizing time & putting ourselves first are life skills that we need to learn regardless of being retired or not. And as you often say, Bob, if not now, when?

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    1. One part of life that doesn't change are the various obligations and chores that still must be taken care of. When we have workmen, cleaning people, or repair folks they always seem to want to be here by 8AM. Heavens, there are days I don't even finish the paper and shower before 9:30. Setting the alarm for 6:30 so I can be ready for these outside folks does remind me that a retired life still isn't completely under my control!

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  17. I too don’t feel retired. In fact, I have a hard time saying that “R” word!
    I took an early retirement at age 62, but fully expected to be back working within a few months. That didn’t quite pan out primarily because I’m really enjoying my non- stressed, free time. I tell working friends, it’s like Saturday, every day!
    Another factor affecting my acceptance to being retired - and maybe other folks too - is our traditional view of what retirement is. Our role models are our parents and older relatives. Retirement in days gone by usually involved free time at the beach, hobbies, gardening, long naps, travel, and a nice pension!
    For me, I’m not quite there yet. I’m up early, have a to-do list, and look forward to a productive day. I still have a home office, manage a calendar, and conduct “business” (the never-ending calls with insurance companies, home repairmen, doctor’s appointments, finance planning, family events).
    Very workman like I know!
    I’m rolling into my second full year of “R”. We’ll see what that brings!

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    1. Our retirement is very different from previous generations. Most of us would be bored silly with that lifestyle.

      Today, retirement really means not working for a full time paycheck. All the other aspects of life, the good and the not so good, come along for the ride.

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