"The lies we want to believe tell us something about ourselves."
-- Eula Biss, Having and Being Had

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Changing Tides

     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.

     I'm not working at all anymore, but I still find my life slowly changing, my goals evolving. Don't you?

     The pandemic has shifted the sands beneath us once again. Last year I was at the community center twice a week playing table tennis. Now I haven't played at all since March.

     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?

26 comments:

Carol Cassara said...

I love your Center for Learning in Retirement!

Savoring Sixty said...

I love this post! As a new retiree it gives me a better view of what life will look like - retiring during a pandemic has tainted my perspective and dampened my spirits just a bit. It reminded me that life is still ever changing and redefining my role and self-identification is all part of this new phase. It doesn't have to be the same old same old unless I choose this route. Also a great reminder that as circumstances change life can still hold lots of meaningful moments full of love. laughter and joy. Thanks for this very timely nudge of encouragement to my attitude.

ApacheDug said...

Wow Tom, I very much enjoyed this post. (It deserves a better description, like article; I could easily see this in Reader’s Digest.) It’s interesting to read how you transitioned from the working world to where you are now, which is certainly more than retired. I had planned for mine to be similar, transition from full-time to part-time to occasional consulting, until I was told at the last minute I couldn’t. So I left with the understanding I was welcome back, but only as full-time. It was jarring to suddenly go without a paycheck, even though I had some sizeable investments. Whenever someone asked me how retirement was going, I always said I wasn’t REALLY retired, just taking it for a test drive. But it’s been 5 years now, so... :) Anyway, your words here are appreciated, they give me ideas on other things I can be doing—so thank you!

gigi-hawaii said...

Well, at least you are making yourself useful.

Wisewebwoman said...

I'm surprised you didn't say "writer", Tom. Your blog is wonderful and informative and well written. So yeah, I would add that talent to your retired CV.

XO
WWW

Barb said...

This is all so very important to remember. Many of us could be retired if not for as long as we worked, then for a very long time. What I can do, what I WANT to do in terms of effort and spending time is not the same now as it was when I was forced into retirement at 2007, and I expect the same to be true five, ten and fifteen minutes from now. For Savoring, I will say that my brother and sister in law were in that "we're cutting our hours at least in half and gonna travel and hang out with friends now" phase and have had to adjust, so I understand the frustration. On the other hand, they now have had a chance to both be home together for six months, learn more about each other and become more prepared for so called "real retirement", and among other things, decided to stay where they are instead of moving.

Arkansas Patti said...

Like you I was packaged out at 54 so the transition for me also was slow as I worked part time till 65. For a while, I missed the employees--my friends--but not the job. Now days I can't imagine a 9 to 5 day somewhere. Love the freedoms. Think you have done quite well with your spare time.

Meryl Baer said...

Great post. I think doing different things and trying new activities helps keep us young-at-heart (OK, not in body, but it helps to keep moving). Always something to look forward to, even in today's limited environment.

Sue said...

Dear Tom and Friends, the possibility of having to retire struck me with, "yikes, what am i going to do with myself?" Not the rational, "will i be able to manage financially, down the road?" i hope to be on the job for a few more years. For people retiring, hope it works out.

Tom said...

Like Barb says, many of us are retired for a long time, and so we can't expect retirement to be just one thing. We go through phases. Sue, a lot of us face that initial panic of "Yikes, what am I going to do with myself?" But most of us get over it pretty quickly and develop activities that are at least as rewarding and satisfying as work, if not more so.

DJan said...

I have been retired from my job for 12 years now, and I can't for the life of me figure out how I managed to do all that back then. I not only had a 50-hours-a-week job, but I also was a skydiver and managed to get in 10-12 skydives every weekend. My life today is very full, but it's much less activity and much more contemplation, reading, and spending time with my life partner. We got married when we were both 50, and now it's been more than 25 years of happiness! :-)

Olga said...

I too retired a little at a time and then threw myself into volunteering, but the pandemic has helped me focus on knowing myself as a human being rather than a human doing. I have tosay that is not all a bad thing either.

DUTA said...

Very Well said Olga: "focus on knowing myself as a human being rather than a human doing"!!
After the age of 70, one starts to feel time is short; you need to make yourself a priority, not looking for volunteering, and all kinds of things to spend your remaining time on.
It's your last chance to have a dialogue with your body and soul,to know thyself before vanishing into the eternity.

Rian said...

"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."
TOM, THAT'S A LOT OF CHANGES!
We retired 10 years ago, have been married for 52 years, same house, same area for 35 years, and although we did watch our 3 kids go off to college, careers, and marriages - our lives haven't changed THAT much. We've learned to live quietly, but contentedly... each finding our own interest to keep us busy, but always willing to share moments and meals. This pandemic has restricted our family get togethers, but thank goodness for technology that allows us communication through email, texting, Skype, and Zoom.

Gail, northern California said...

When I first retired, I thought I had to be busy every single minute of the day---as I had been while working full-time and keeping house. One day I suddenly thought, "Wait a minute. What's the matter with you? You don't have to be going non-stop anymore. You've worked all your life for these days. Why not relax and enjoy some of them?" Without guilt, I am.

Anonymous said...

I retired at 63. It was my choice. I worked a very stressful job and I had enough. I never looked back, never bored and just worry about staying healthy in these crazy times. Everyone is different. Sometimes change is good and sometimes it isn't. I am for change. Please vote!

Happy said...

Retired a couple of years ago. I was sort of pushed, but I had earlier told my husband I wasn't staying until 65. I had already retired from the Army Reserves in 2015 (mandatory removal due to age). Last year at this time my husband went down with back problems. He now has limited mobility and energy. I am surprised at how quickly I have had to reconsider some of my retirement plans. The only thing constant in life is change.

Jennifer (UnfoldAndBegin) said...

I like that "retirement is not a one-time event..."

jono said...

I am fairly recently divorced, several years past a "normal" retirement age, volunteering, rekindling old friendships, and enjoying my newfound freedom. Retirement will likely be gradual for me, as well, depending on outside forces, but I am happy and unafraid. Everyday on this side of the dirt is a new adventure.

Laurie Stone said...

I love this age (64) more than I ever thought. Its free and loose. I love how we can be whatever we want. I write all the time and haven't held a full-time job in ages, so the word 'retirement' feels funny for me. As long as I can write, that will always be my work.

Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com said...

Hi Tom! I think a real key is that you recognize the need to keep redefining yourself and your life. Far too often we get into a rut and can't see anything else for ourselves. I'm the first one to admit that things have changed since COVID-19 came on the scene. The challenge is to make sure that I'm different when we come out on the other side. As for 2021. As a planner I'm already making plans but i'm well aware that God might be laughing! ~Kathy

Kay said...

Thank you for this post, Tom. I took the early retirement at 55 since my husband had retired 7 years before and we thought we’d do some traveling. I agree that retirement is an ever changing adventure. Right now, it’s turned me into a genealogist. But I’m about done with that and wondering if I should go back to being a mask maker. We’ll see. I’m so glad you’re enjoying your retirement so much.

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Rebecca Olkowski said...

The pandemic has sure messed up a lot of plans but we are adapting the best we can. Not sure when things will go back to normal. It may be awhile.

SmileIfYouDare said...

I was semi-retired: was working part time (two days a month) for the past three years, until the virus hit. Since then I have been a full time retiree.

I can say in hindsight: full time working --the kind where I commute daily to the office and back-- is over-rated. Wouldn't wish it on anyone. Wish I hadn't done it that way. There are a million ways to earn a living without being an office-cubicle wage slave.

Once I let go of the full-time job I have felt I finally have my own life. Not needing to kiss up to some boss and their politics and deadlines and evaluations and petty HR rules and dribbles of vacation time and a zillion other soul-depleting knife-cuts.

Kathleen said...

Thanks for your post. My husband and I are close to the retirement phase 1 meaning the go-go phase. However, COVID hit! So, we’re going to work a little longer and see how things play out so in 12-24 months and then we can go-go for many years no matter what we call it.