May 9, 2019

Adjusting To Retirement: Is Not Always Easy


Retirement is a funny stage of life. It comes with certain expectations that are based on what others have done. Usually, no one hesitates to offer opinions and advice. Whole library shelves are filled with books claiming to have the magic answers. Can you believe it, there are even blogs that hold the key to a satisfying retirement (?!!!).

Except when your Uncle Phil or Aunt Betty tell you what to do with your life sometime during your Senior High years (just one word: plastics), I can think of no other stage of life so prone to strangers telling you what you should do. And, no other time when so many of those well-intentioned tidbits are often wrong.

My first few years of retirement were not a walk in the park. When my business faded into nothingness I was faced with two realities: I couldn't pay the mortgage on our current house, and I was at least 7 or 8 years away from being mentally prepared to stop working. I had no hobbies, no interests beyond work.

Doing nothing wasn't an option. We had to move to a smaller home. No pool, no hot tub. No fancy gym membership. No new car. Mentally, I had to rebuild my self-identity. I was no longer a known and sought-after figure in my industry. Within 6 months or so, the calls from former clients and acquaintances stopped. How I spent the previous 35 years had apparently left the building. Now, it was just me, my strained marriage, a few college-age girls, and two dogs.

If you have been reading Satisfying Retirement for awhile, you know it has worked out well...no, it has been tremendous. After two years of finding my balance I haven't looked back. The freedom, the ability to find new aspects of my personality, a solid marriage, two fabulous grown daughters, a perfect son-in-law and grandkids...life is grand.

That is not reality for many, however. Shifting from finding value in a paycheck, losing the community of co-workers, and having nightmares of being just one major illness or financial slip from sleeping on a bench in the park is how retirement begins. For some it stays that way. Through no fault of their own, this time of life is one of marginalization, scarcity, with an undercurrent of fear.

If this is your reality I wish I could wave a magic retirement wand and make all that negative stuff disappear. I can't. Neither can all the best-intentioned friends, books, web sites, or blogs. Life is often about staying upright in a stiff wind.

I can't say it often enough, though: things have a tendency to work out. The retirement life you lead may not be the one you envisioned. It may not include all the creature comforts you anticipated. It may have forced you to go through serious health, relationship, financial, or emotional challenges. But, you are still better off than the overwhelming majority of retirement age folks around the world.  

If my 6 week sabbatical taught me one thing, it is life is pretty special. If my attitude is in sync with my resources and desires, if I have let the consumer train steam away without me, and if I can choose what I do most days, for most of the time, I have cause to celebrate.

Retirement is not always easy, but it beats the alternative.

31 comments:

  1. The decision to retire is not for the faint-hearted---so many choices on how and where to live, how far your money will stretch, how you'll spend your time, etc. It took my husband two years to finally pull the trigger and then a few years later I was forced to retire because he needed full time caregiver.

    You're right about getting your attitude in line with your resources and desires---that's the key to making retirement work well...

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    1. I often say that retirement isn't for sissies. It isn't a time of life when everything magically goes your way. Except for maybe the first few years of life, when is it that way?

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  2. We sometimes forget that retirement is yet another modern concept; it was available only to the super rich until just a few decades ago. It'll be interesting to see how it goes in the future as life expectancy expands. Can we imagine being retired for 30 or 40 years?

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    1. While "We are all living longer" makes the news people should understand the difference between regular life expectancy and disability-free life expectancy.

      It is true overall life expectancies have been steadily rising, but the stretch of life when we are healthy and free of disabilities has hardly changed. Actuaries report that a 60-year-old woman today has a good chance of living to the age of 90, yet the disability-free life expectancy is roughly 70.

      I've heard it said "We are not so much living longer as dying slower. Things haven't changed as much as some might think.

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    2. If I live into my mid 80's I will have been retired for as long as I worked full time. I certainly didn't set out with that in mind, but I must be ready.

      How much of that time will be disability-free? My dad was alert and independent until the day he died at 91. I have to think that is my path and plan accordingly. If not, at least I gave it a good run.

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  3. Thank you for another thoughtful, well-written and interesting post.

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  4. This is a wonderful, bracingly honest post. Like you, my early retirement experience (a year and a half now) has not been a walk in the park. Laid off at 63, I realized that this was it. I have numerous health issues and work was grinding me down, sapping my remaining energy. So overnight I was retired and poorer than I expected to be. But just as you say, things have a way of working out. And I have come to treasure my daily freedom.

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    1. I didn't expect my business to fail when it did. I didn't expect to have to retire at 52. Things didn't go as planned, but that has been a good thing. After all, I was never promised a rose garden but things have bloomed quite nicely (sorry, I just had to write that!)

      The very best to you, SMS.

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  5. Strictly a non-scientific opinion, I maintain that we humans tend to take things for granted like our good health and 5 senses. If this is all we've known, it's tough to imagine NOT having them until we don't. Every day, I try to be thankful and grateful but it's a conscious effort. I have so many blessings in my life and my retirement struggle is minor by comparison. Gratitude and contentment is a worthwhile goal for me.

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    1. You are so right, Bruce. It is easy to assume that things will continue to unfold to our ultimate advantage. When they don't we become irrationally upset. My previous post about a Cul-de-sac life talks about our sense of control...mostly an illusion. But, gratitude and contentment are things we can control.

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  6. Hi Bob! It sounds like you are finding yourself in a good space. May we all be so fortunate. At risk of sounding like a broken record, it sounds to me like you have "rightsized" your life for you. That's exactly why I love that concept so much because it is completely individual. Sure there are LOTS of information out there for all of us at this stage (and other stages) of life but when it comes down to it there will NEVER be one size fits all. And I appreciate your optimism is believing that in most cases it all works out okay. Maybe not the way we dreamed of (especially if we were convinced by the media that it will be one endless vacation) but certainly much to be grateful every single day. ~Kathy

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    1. "It works out OK." I think the key is our definition of what "OK" is. As you note, our plans may have gone awry, but overall, if we have a place to live, enough to eat, decent health, someone to love and love us, that is a pretty good "OK."

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  7. I think it's very important to ignore media standardized images (with either the extreme of the travel travel go travel or the never get off the chair extremes) and realize that whatever makes you happy works for you. yes, that may take you some time when you first retire, but no one says you have to travel if you like traveling, for example. As long as you work on brain and body keeping healthy whatever else you do is up to you.

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    1. I have a post coming up in a few weeks about my bucket list, and what is not on it. At this stage of life, what I would like to do before my death is quite different from what it was even 10 years ago.

      We evolve and so do our desires.

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  8. Bob, it's funny that you note in passing that it took you two years to find your new footing.

    I recently retired from years of freelancing and figured the transition would be easy, since I was used to managing my own time. What has surprised --and distressed -- me is how important those external deadlines were in organizing my daily and weekly schedule. With those "guardrails" gone, I'm a little at sea.

    I brought this up in a men's group I belong to, and most of the guys said (1) it takes about two years to adjust, and (2) you wake up one day and realize that this is what freedom is all about!

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    1. You will get your sea legs, but is the rare person who manages to feel comfortable in a short amount of time. There are so many changes to adjust to. It should be comforting to have the 2 year timetable confirmed by your men's group. You may take more time, or less, but you will hit your new stride.

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  9. For me I moved right into retirement with no problems at all. I was fortunate in that I chose my own retirement date, I was financially prepared, and I was mentally ready to go. But as Misadventures said, no matter what, it is still remarkably difficult to "pull the trigger" and walk away from what you've been doing for the last 40 years. That said I am glad that I retired when I did and I've never looked back.

    I think many do struggle a lot more than I did especially for the first couple of years, mostly men I am told. All I can say is prepare for your retirement like you prepared for your career -- it may last almost as long.

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    1. You are right: pulling the trigger takes a real leap of faith, no matter how well prepared you are. And, with retirement lasting longer, there are more contingencies you must think through.

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  10. I lost my job due to a "position elimination" 2 years ago when I was 53. I applied for similar roles and interviewed with several companies during my first year of unemployment and determined that after a year of job hunting with no offers that the time had come to step out of the job market and retire. The first year was busy with job hunting and interviewing so it was not really what I would call retirement. During the 2nd year (this past year), I have been working to gain my footing into life without my primary career (IT Management). Change for many people is challenging, and leaving behind a 30+ year career for the unknown is definitely a major change and challenge. Time management has certainly changed a lot for me. I no longer have to plan my time around work commitments and deadlines. I discovered that work was driving my life more than I wanted to admit it was. Being in IT, I was always oncall and having to respond to work issues 7X24, so when I lost my job and eventually decided to not go back into IT, the stress melted away. I did not realize how much of a stress junkie I had become. I am finally realizing that it is OK to not have my entire day/week/month/year fully planned out and that it is OK to leave my phone at home when I am out and about and that I do not have to check my email every 10 minutes while awake. Old habits are sometimes hard to break, so I reserve the right to slip up occasionally. I found that most of the people who I spent a lot of time with were work associates and without the common goals of the job, those people have mostly disappeared even though I attempted to keep the relationships alive. I find that the local senior center and activities are mostly targeted towards people who are much older than me and whom I have little in common with other than not working any longer, so I find myself spending quite a bit of time alone (my wife is working still - her choice). I also have discovered that spending time alone is not as bad as I originally feared. I have learned a lot more about myself and have been exploring more and more things that interest me outside of what my profession was. My beliefs are that when a door is closed, a window of opportunity will be presented, and that I must have the patience and faith in that belief. I do not know what the future will hold for me but I am excited to see what it brings. I am quickly evolving as a person and will agree with you that what my "bucket list" was even 5 years ago is different today (grant you, some of the items on my list from 5 years ago have been achieved). I am beginning to really appreciate the opportunity that has been given to me to explore life as an early retiree and know how blessed I am to be able to be in a position that having to work is no longer necessary. I have fought some down feelings over the past 2 years, but I am realizing that most of those feelings were of grieving the loss of my career and helping position me for a different future. I think I have regained my footing and am ready to embrace this new reality I am in!!

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    1. Good for you, Dan. It sounds like you're making lemonade out of lemons. What a feeling to realize that growth never has to stop.

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    2. Dan, I agree with Lydgate. You are on the right path, learning as you go. Your summary is an excellent recap for others who are about to retire. Your journey has all the markings of frustration, adjustment, time management challenges, relationship adjustments, and embracing a new reality that many of us can relate to.

      Thank you for taking the time to give us such a thorough overview.

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    3. Your "position elimination" as you headed into your mid-50s is all too common. We often read that with longer overall lifespans we should all now be working into our late 60s and beyond but as you get into your 50s just keeping the job you already have is an accomplishment.

      Except for me, and I retired at age 62, every person I know was downsized out of a job in their 50s before they reached retirement age. Most never found paid employment again.

      Like you I also noticed a huge drop in my stress levels once I retired. You really don't understand how stressed you are until you are able to turn off the pressure cooker and actually start just living your life without having to meet someone else's timeline.

      Good for you to have found your footing and I hope you have a long and happy retirement ahead of you.

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  11. We never left the military mindset of moving. Our home is where we are. We are gearing up to do the thing that "no one" does in mid retirement, move again. Seems that seven to ten years is our limit on places. We are not quite as brave as Brett and Laura, but we are planning to move in four years. Long way out? We are going to significantly downsize while helping with grands while they slowly enter school. When the last one hits Kinder, we are headed west again---to hubby's old hometown.
    We will be 65 and 73 at that point. Plenty of time to get to know the senior center, pool, library and local church---And Yellowstone! Our kids will be in the throws of children schools and dual jobs. It is all good. We figure we will be moving back close to one of them when we are about ten years older, right on schedule.
    The decision has already cut down on Amazon wandering. We plan on saving for the cost of someone else moving us this time. We know this is "crazy" according to all retirement gurus, but we are excited.
    Your thoughts are at the same place as us in thinking. We know things just work out. You make your life what it is.
    Off to buy a puppy! Retirement is outstanding.

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    1. Betty would like to move to an area that is about 15 minutes from our current home. It is in a planned community with tree-lined streets, houses with front porches, a huge community garden, and a little cluster of restaurants and a store or two.

      The houses are more expensive, as is the HOA, and of course we would pay for the move. I agree it is a super-cute place (Agritopia, for those who wonder) but packing up and going through all the hassles and expenses, knowing that in 10 years at the most we'd be moving again into a continuing care community just seems like a bridge too far.

      A puppy...yea! We love dogs.

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  12. I always enjoy the stories of retirement adjustment and reading about how/why people got there and how it's been for them. I wasn't downsized out of my job, but I did find it harder and harder to put up with the insanity that was private equity ownership and the constant job cuts around me that made my job progressively more difficult. I was finally assigned to answer to a young guy who knew NOTHING about my division and talked down to me like I was a child. Well, except when he made comments about my "valuable experience" which was a veiled "you're old" comment. Long before that, I saw it coming and told my DH that I would resign the day they assigned me as his direct report. They did and I did.

    At first I was relieved and then anxious about money, time, and all the other things people mention. What would I do? How would I live without a paycheck? For about six months, I had various interviews via my network, but I quickly realized there wasn't any amount of money that could make me give up the freedom and lack of anxiety I had gained, so I stopped interviewing.

    I've been retired for 3-1/2 years and couldn't be happier. The only hassle and big expense was health insurance but this year I turned 65 and was able to get Medicare. Woo Hoo!

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    1. Woo Hoo for Medicare is right. Betty put off a needed ankle operation for 4 years until she got her Medicare card. Within three weeks she had a $12,000 operation that cost us $110 (part of her yearly deductible).

      Life is good!

      In looking back at the last half dozen years of my consulting business I enjoyed the mentoring of younger people the most. But, too few were receptive. I guess my thoughts and suggestions were from the "dinosaur" era and no longer relevant.

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  13. Plastics -- that was funny! Like a secret language for people our age -- ha! But you are right. Retirement has not been at all like I imagined. Not better or worse, just very different. Ride the wave!

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    1. Just two words: "The Graduate." That subtle nod to a movie might have been a bit too obscure. Thanks for noticing!

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  14. I’d always thought I’d work into my 70’s, but for a variety of reasons I made the choice to retire when I was 60. It was a very hard decision for me because my life and identity were very much wrapped up in my career. The two hardest parts were discovering how all my work relationships disappeared as soon my role in the workplace became irrelevant to my colleagues, and throwing away 20 boxes of files that contained most of the materials from my career. It felt like throwing my life away, and I still feel sad to think about it (even though I still retain much of that material in computer files!). However, from the moment I retired two years ago, my life has been roses! I think it’s because I did all my grieving during my last two years of working, as I thought through and initiated the decision to retire (it went in phases). Now, I’d never want to back to a work life.

    Jude

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    1. I had close to 700 CDs of music from my job. After burning a few hundred hours of my favorites on an iPod (remember those?) I got rid of the compact discs. It was hard to do, but I understood I'd never use them again. A few hundred were specifically for programming the music on radio stations so they couldn't be sold or donated due to copyright rules.

      35 years in radio, and after 2 or 3 years of retirement I had lost all my interest in that industry.

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