For many people retirement is like diving into a pool. They take the plunge. One day their lives are crammed with work, bills, children. The next day they're free. Suddenly they can do whatever they want.
It wasn't like that for me. I tiptoed into retirement. I got packaged out in my 50s. I still had to make some money, so I continued to work part time. Some weeks I worked; other weeks I dabbled in retirement. As the years went on, I worked less and retired more. It was an easy and long-lasting transition from working to retirement. And there were many changes along the way. I moved. Got divorced and remarried. Watched the kids go off to college and careers. Downsized to a new town in a different state.
What I now realize is that after we retire -- whether we retire all at once in a great seismic shift, or retire slowly over the years -- our lives do continue to change. Retirement is not static. It changes like the tides.I recently mentioned to a new friend that my wife and I were getting ready to celebrate our third anniversary.
"Oh, that's nice," he said. "Your 30th anniversary."
"No, not the 30th," I corrected. "Our third."
"Oh . . ." He was slightly embarrassed, because he'd made an assumption. But there was also an uplift to his voice. He was glad to hear it, reminding himself that life still happens even after we're retired.
Last summer we made a trip Arizona to see my sister and her family. This year we were planning to drive to Wisconsin to visit my daughter. But this year the trip got canceled.
Last year at this time we were getting ready to go to South Carolina for Thanksgiving, and making plans to return for the month of February. This year, we're not going for Thanksgiving, that's for sure. Are we going in February? We don't know yet. It's hard to make plans this year. What's the old saying? Man makes plans, and God laughs.
Retirement is a time for exploring, for developing old skills and trying out new interests. Even trying out new identities. In the old days, when we were working, people would ask us: What do you do? And we'd answer: I'm a teacher, or I'm a lawyer, or I manage a business.
For a while, after we retire, we tell people: I'm a retired teacher, or I'm a retired lawyer. But I think, after a few years, we lose that identity. And sometimes we flounder, or feel the stigma of not "being" anything anymore. So we we reel off a string of activities. I play tennis and babysit my grands . . . and I like to read a lot.
But over time we settle into our new identities, we become more comfortable with our new lives, even if they sometimes seem less important or less comprehensive than before. Sometimes we're forced to change by events, or physical limitations. Sometimes we just lose interest in old activities and develop new ones. So we say: I volunteer at the library, or I've taken up painting; or I live at Sunrise Village, or I'm heading to my place in Florida next month.
For me, for many years, my answer was: I'm semi-retired, as though that answered all the questions. Then for a while I was playing a lot of golf, and started getting into pickleball and table tennis, and I would joke that I was an aging jock.
These days, since Covid came on the scene, I'm still playing some golf, but I find myself more focused on volunteering at our senior learning center, and tutoring at the educational services organization. Times change. And we adapt. So now I say: Oh, I'm with the Center for Learning in Retirement.
Retirement is not a one-time event. It takes place over time, and we develop new interests, explore different parts of ourselves, meet new people and yes, form new identities.
I wonder what I'll be doing this time next year. How will I define myself in 2021 and beyond?