Sunday, November 9, 2014

If retirement is so easy, why did I nearly flunk it?

As seen through younger eyes retirement has the look of an easy, carefree time of life. One of our grandsons is certain that it must be “the sweetest thing ever---you can play computer games all day and all night if you want.” Of course, those of us who have reached that time of life know the truth is something more than that.

It begins with Retirement 101---the first grade of a brand new and different kind of school. There are probably a million roads leading to that space. Each of us has followed our own unique path. Yet no matter how we approached it, as we grew nearer to that goal the thought of it became more seductive. Now, having arrived, some of us are disappointed to find that the fact of it is something less than expected. Actually, as I have confessed before, I very nearly flunked retirement.

Chances are we have spent years dreaming our dreams of that special prize waiting at the end of our career journey. “The Golden Years” we call them, the ones I’ve labeled October Years. If we are the kind to do that, we have painted glowing mind-pictures of how it will be---the things we’ll do and the places we’ll see. For many the fortunate happenstance of being born into the “pension plan” generation, with its generous payouts, will make those dreams financially feasible---assuming they can agree on which dreams they want to follow and stay healthy long enough to enjoy them. 

Beyond that I must admit that I am reminded, sometimes rather forcefully, that for those whose career centered on the never-ending need to keep house and feed the family the retirement dilemmas I describe may have the ring of false distinctions and cosmetic change---like the same old play being performed on a new stage. (In Family Matters I tell the story of a couple who can not agree on retirement dreams.)

Yet, within the confines of those realities October life leaves prospective retirees, the ones who are actually changing jobs, with an elemental set of choices---deciding how to use the time their new status provides. Though it may sound like the least of our worries that can, in fact, be a serious challenge. The fortunate ones began their preparation years before---cultivating interests and capabilities that would help them adapt to a time when the structures and strictures of employment were removed. The rest of us were left to deal with the burden of empty, unstructured days.

I can assure you that the giddy exhilaration of sleeping in every morning soon wears off. Without a plan retirement can become a matter of empty hours, days, and weeks, waiting to be filled. But how? At that point the real test begins. For the unprepared it will have the feel of a clean slate or, if you are a writer, a blank page. No matter how you describe it, your new “retirement” job will include filling in those blanks. 

For some the process of “retirement renewal” is a matter of finding something that draws them beyond themselves. In my case I was pulled deeper within myself. Wherever it takes you, the answer you seek will be a very personal thing. I happen to believe the right “something” is waiting out there, in one form or another, for everyone. If so, it is a matter of exploring the possibilities to find what works for you.

Looking back, I can see that I started my own search for a viable retirement lifestyle with only the vaguest of guidelines in mind. I was searching for something I would look forward to doing---ideally something that provided a means of creative expression I had never found in my work. I told myself it was time to be bold, to take chances, even risk failure---behavior rarely expected from a school administrator. But things were different this time. If my work pleased others, that was fine. But in the end I intended to be the primary judge of my sometimes dubious results. I didn’t need to satisfy anyone else---only myself.

That I finally stumbled onto my storytelling, the thing that works for me, was primarily a matter of “try, try again.” The wife’s gardening didn’t suit me. I just couldn’t get interested in woodworking. It was hard to get excited about something as pathetic as my golf game. Not until I came across a thirty-year old manuscript, a story I had written and set aside, did it dawn on me that perhaps I had found my retirement project.

In time story telling and blogging came to fill my personal retirement void, taking me places I never expected to visit. Today’s technology can make that possible. How else could these geriatric ramblings of mine be read from Maine to Alaska and beyond. (I can more or less understand the consistent England readership. But Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan? Why do they show up every week?) No wonder I have a hard time getting my mind around the reality of this internet world.

Take it from someone who very nearly flunked retirement---it can be a daunting change---one that requires serious attention. We begin the process with grand ideas of how it will be, but precious little experience in actually living that new life. 

Still, we mustn’t be intimidated. Having waited a lifetime to get here, why shouldn’t we let retirement be a liberating experience? For perhaps the last time in our life we have the opportunity to choose our future. The goal is simple enough---to settle on a life and lifestyle that suits us, that holds our interest, perhaps even help us grow. However we choose to pursue that goal, it deserves the best effort we can muster. After all, it’s the rest of our life we’re talking about.

Back to the question of where this post is being read. I for one would like to know where you are as you read this. I hope you'll take a moment to "Post a Comment," below. Just fill in your city and country, nothing more. Thanks.


  1. Tri-Cities, Washington, USA

  2. Why did you not post this twenty years ago, then perhaps life now would have been easier.
    Thornbury, Ontario. Canada

  3. Sadieville, Kentucky