IF RETIREMENT'S 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. We’re talking about a new lifestyle....about learning new ways and how to put those ways to work in our new life. Think of it as Retirement 101....the first grade of a new and different kind of learning.
There are probably a million roads leading to that retirement space....that place of life-after-work. Fact is, each of us arrives via our own unique path.
Yet no matter how we approach it, as we grow nearer to that goal it seems the thought of it becomes more seductive. I know it was for me. But then, having finally arrived there, some of us will be disappointed to find that the reality of it is something less than our dreams. Actually, as I have confessed before, I for one very nearly flunked retirement.
You see, many of us have spent years dreaming our dreams of that special prize. “The Golden Years” we call them, the ones I have labeled October Years.
If we are that sort, 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 stay healthy, and couples can agree on which dreams they want to follow.
I must admit that I have been reminded, sometimes rather forcefully, that for those whose career centered on the never-ending challenge of keeping house, while feeding and nurturing the family, (they were called “housewives” in my generation....the indispensable link in creating a real family), the retirement dilemma I describe has 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 such a couple who are unable to agree on their retirement dreams.)
Yet, within the confines of those relational realities, October life leaves prospective retirees, the ones contemplating that lifestyle change, with an elemental set of choices....deciding how to use the time their new status will provide.
Though it may sound like the least of our worries, using that time productively can be a serious challenge. The fortunate ones began their preparation years before....cultivating interests and capabilities that will help them adapt when the structures and strictures of employment are removed. The rest of us, the unprepared, are left to deal with the burden of empty, unstructured days.
As you can guess, the giddy exhilaration of sleeping in every morning soon wears off. That’s where the real test begins. Without a plan, retirement can quickly become a matter of empty days waiting to be filled. But how....with what?
Without those answers that new lifestyle will have the feel of a clean slate or, if you are a writer, a blank page. No matter how you describe it, at that point your new “retirement” job will include filling in those blanks.
For some the most conventional wisdom about retirement is about finding that “something” which draws them beyond themselves. In my case the answer seemed to be just the opposite. I was pulled deeper within myself, making sense of the stories I was telling. Yet, no matter where it takes you, the right retirement answer for you is bound to be a very personal thing.
Whatever it turns out to be, I happen to believe that the right “something” is waiting out there, in one form or another, for everyone. If that is so, it is a matter of exploring the possibilities to find what works for you.
Looking back, I realize that I started my own search for a viable retirement lifestyle with only the vaguest notion of what I was looking for. I wanted something I could look forward to doing....a reason to get up each morning. Ideally it would provide an opportunity for the creative expression I had never found in my work.
Fact is, my initial efforts were timid and half-hearted....and the results bland and uninspiring. Finally, as my frustration in not making a connection grew, I convinced myself it was time to be bold, to take a chance, even risk failure.... the kind of behavior rarely expected from a school administrator.
But things were different this time. If my work, whatever it might be, pleased others that was fine. But in the end I intended to do what I wanted to do, and be the primary judge of my sometimes dubious results. I finally turned the corner when I accepted the truth of it. I didn’t need to satisfy anyone else.... only myself.
That I finally stumbled onto what worked for me was a matter of “try, try again.” By then I realized that Roma’s gardening did not suit me, I couldn’t get interested in woodworking, and 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 calling. I had walked that storytelling path before. And though it had not suited me as a younger man. This time around it seemed to be a fit.
In time story telling and blogging would help fill my personal retirement void, taking me places I never expected to visit. Today’s technology makes that possible. No wonder I have a hard time getting my mind around the reality of this internet world. How else could these geriatric ramblings of mine be read from Maine to Alaska and beyond.
Take it from someone who very nearly flunked retirement....it can be a daunting challenge....one that requires serious attention. Many of us will 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, we must work to make retirement a liberating experience. For perhaps the last time in our life we will have the opportunity to choose our own future.
The goal is simple enough....to settle on a life and lifestyle that suits us, that holds our interest, and helps us continue the never-ending process of Becoming. No matter what path we choose, it deserves the best effort we can muster. After all, it’s the rest of our life we’re talking about.
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