"The decision to retire is a graduation of sorts. We were like students that have left high school. We had no desire to return. We had learned what we needed to learn, given all that we had to our careers and now it was time to move on to other things."
This comment, left by a reader on an older post, jumped out at me as a rather novel way to think of retirement. In a very real sense, retirement does mean graduation from something we have known for years. It is leaving behind the familiar for the unknown.
Think back to your own high school days. Graduation was probably a big deal, if not for you, then certainly for your family. Maybe relatives came to watch your big day. It is likely a gathering at your home, maybe a meal for everyone, was planned. You dressed in your Sunday best (remember that expression!) even though that long gown would cover everything.
The day dawned clear and promised to be hot. After all, it was late May. But, chances are you didn't really notice. Today was the unofficial official start of your adulthood. You were itching to find out what the future held.
If you went to college, I'm pretty sure graduation wasn't as big a deal. Even though you invested four or more years and untold thousands of dollars in getting that diploma, the sense of excitement wasn't the same. The end of High School was a much bigger highlight in your life. If that is not true, then why do so many folks return for a reunion 20, 30, even 50 years after that day?
Graduation marked a transition from one part of your life to another, a stage with what felt like unlimited possibilities. Whatever followed good old Lynnfield High would be controlled by me! I was the master of my own domain!
Well, that's not really what happened after 12th grade. In my case, college followed immediately, then establishing a career, putting in my 6 years with the Army Reserves, marriage, and all that came after. I had a firmer hand on the wheel after leaving home, but other forces dictated much of which way I turned.
Retirement has some of that same type of mixed-message feeling. As the reader said, " now it is time to move on to other things." Yet, we are not Robinson Crusoe, on our own island, free of any responsibilities except to stay alive. Life has a way of insisting that we remain firmly attached to much of what came before.
For over nine years on this blog I have been making the case that retirement is just one phase of life. It is not a magical time when all cares and worries fall away like leaves from a tree in October. It is not a time when the rules of nature and society no longer apply.
Retirement comes with a full compliment of responsibilities and obligations. As long as you are on this side of the grass, there will be things you must do, whether you want to or not.
But, and this is a big but: how you meet those responsibilities, control your mind, your emotions, and your knowledge, is much more your decision, your choice. The ultimate currency, time, is your friend rather than your master.
Retirement is like graduation, sort of. It is a step forward that opens doors to opportunities that you could only have imagined. What you make of them is up to you.