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Friday, March 21, 2014

Five Truths About Retirement

Carol Brill

Whether retirement is in your rear-view mirror, around the corner, or down the road a piece, I'm guessing the truths I've learned in my first seven weeks of retirement will ring true.

Truth # 1: Don't be fooled when they call retirement a transition.

The literature delicately refers to retirement as a transition. Translated into laymen's terms that means "you are in for a (gulp) major change!" After a career as a (fill in the blank)--H.R. Professional, Teacher, Waitress, Nurse, Account Rep, Coach--you are suddenly not THAT anymore. For me, letting go of an identity I valued and carried for years--even though it was often stressful-- left me feeling a vague, foggy sadness. I finally realized I was grieving. That unsettled me even more until I remembered that  grief is normal when we let go of something we care about. And, more importantly, letting go makes room for something new, and better, to grow.

Truth #2: Retirement brings a new absence of structure that may leave you feeling unmoored.

After 40 plus years of being tied to a job and showing up day after day, it's a dream come true to be free of corporate structure, endless meetings, finicky coworkers, long days, unpredictable commutes, and deadlines. Right?

Like me, you may be surprised when some days the absence of being tethered to a job leaves an uncomfortable gap, or you find yourself missing the security of a routine.

Don't get me wrong, it's wonderful wearing sweats everyday, eating breakfast at a table with Jim instead of scarfing a handful of Cheerios while driving, grocery shopping on Tuesday afternoon when the store is empty, staying home with a fire roaring in the fireplace on snow days.  Still, after years of back-to-back-to-back commitments, a totally blank calendar unnerved me. Scheduling periodic "dates" (that are not doctors appointments) with Jim and friends for lunch, walks, readings, art shows, visits, etc., has added just enough structure to help me feel connected and moored.

Truth #3: Time is different when you are retired.

For years, I belonged to a writing group comprised of a few retired guys and me. Week after week, I'd  show up with a newly drafted 8 or 10 page chapter, while the retired guys might bring a few new pages a couple of times a month. Once, I threw up my hands saying, "I don't understand how you guys don't have time to write. I work a 50+ hour day job and still find time to draft a new chapter every week."

With an insider's grin one of them said, "Time is different when you're retired. You'll see." Turns out, he was right. Time is different. Amazingly, having more time makes me selfishly selective and guarded about how I use it. It's as if my time belongs to me now in a way it never felt like it did before. I don't want to waste it multi-tasking, or over-committing, or pressured to hit deadlines. For the first time in forever, Type A++ over-achiever me relishes being a slacker.

For the last almost 20 years, being on vacation from my "day job" meant being able to be a writer "full-time" for a couple of weeks. Now, I find I want to really be OFF every day and do exactly what I most want to  do, even if that means ignoring my writing day after day to take walks on the beach with Jim. 

Truth #4 Retirement forces you to embrace getting older.

Jim and I have had the good fortune to take Florida winter vacations for enough years, that somewhere along the line, we grew old enough to have snowbird friends we look forward to seeing each March. A few years ago, I was only half-joking when I said to one of my Florida friends, "I have enough friends in Florida, I don't need any more." 

Just a few months later, Barb, my first Florida friend, died suddenly. Over the next 18 months, our circle lost Joe and Dave. When Ned, our friend and the owner of the property we rent, died this year on the day we arrived in Florida, it hit me. Whether in Cape May or Florida, I will never again have enough or too many friends.

My friends' deaths also forced me to accept that one of retirement's not so endearing aspects is that for my contemporaries and me, our line of defense is pretty much gone and we are next up to cross the finish line. Sure, that's the cycle of life, but when it's your team holding that line, it's sobering to realize, you have already lived the majority of your life and are on the back nine.

Truth # 5: Gratitude is a choice.

Meryl Streep says it so eloquently in the quote that opens this post. In retirement, like in all of life, we can choose whether or not to be grateful. We can choose to begrudge what we've given up, regret what we had hoped to accomplish and didn't, pine for the stuff we wanted and never acquired, wallow in missing loved ones. Or, we can hold close the family and friends we still have, relish our memories and keep friendships we've shared and lost alive in our hearts. Don't get me wrong, I know there are losses we never get over. Our difficult choice is whether we succumb completely to regret and sorrow or gratefully embrace life instead.

I'm with Meryl on this one. While, I know I'll continue to grieve and feel sadness, I can still choose to be grateful for each new day.

How about you? Whether retired or not, do you believe gratitude is a choice? And, do any of these truths ring true?


  1. I believe life is a gift, Carol, especially since losing my brother at 53. I say embrace this retirement and fill it with all the things that bring you joy because you'll pass that joy to others and that's the best way to live your life.

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  2. Fran, missing a loved one does have a way of putting life in a new perspective. I hope one day at a time we both find and share the joy you mention

  3. Exactly! Thank you Carol for putting my feelings into words. xo

  4. Thanks, Carol! While I haven't retired from my profession (well, one of them...I hope I never retire from writing), I have slowed down to embrace life. For a lot of the reasons you addressed her. I have finally come to appreciate getting older. No one cares (including me) if I am every going to get married, have kids, date, etc. In my profession, I've already achieved some lofty goals. Now, I am trying to enjoy my career, appreciate and share time with my friends, remember that I live at the beach, and take long walks with my dog. I will be 60 in 2.5 years: my last "goal" is to look then like Christie Brinkley looks at 60 now ;-)

    1. Mary, I suspect I haven't retired from writing either. I'd like to think I can retire from the self-imposed deadlines that suck a lot of the joy out of writing

  5. Carol, Everything you write about here makes me more happy about being closer to this second life. The sense of time especially. I smiled at your reference to the "back nine" hearing Jim's voice in your world view.

    It's Monday morning; I'm getting ready for another work week. I have a retirement clock in my head: 45 months worse case scenario. (Yikes: I need a faster exit strategy.)

    1. Chris, my fingers are crossed that you find a way. Maybe like me, your employer will offer an early out that turns into an offer you can't refuse.
      And, I hope your exit strategy includes a plan for much more time in Cape May