THE CHALLENGE OF RETIREMENT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I had an interesting conversation with a friend who is 14-years younger than I am. At 54, she is considering an early retirement. Burned out after years of 60-plus-hour weeks at her corporate job and also emotionally drained after nursing her mother through a two-year battle with cancer. Her mother died a few weeks ago.

So the idea of retirement is very appealing to her. She took a week off after her mother’s death.

Now she’s not sure. During that week off, she felt untethered, at loose ends. The lack of structure got to her. She felt so much better when she went back to work! She felt she still needs that regimen to her days. She still needs the sense of accomplishment and achievement, something she usually gets from her job.

I told her that if she feels that way, maybe she’s not ready to retire. The challenge of retirement is to create your own daily structure. You have to create your own goals and give yourself a sense of accomplishment.

That means you have to redefine ‘accomplishment’ and ‘achievement.’ In the corporate world, you are often balls to the wall busy for at least 10-hours a day. Success is defined as getting through your emails or getting the presentation finished on time. This is worlds apart from the life of a retiree.

For me, if I have a few hours of scheduled and/or required activity in a day, it’s a productive day. My friend might, initially, find this difficult. She might see this as a “wasted” day. She will have to change her perspective before she can have a ‘successful’ retirement.

The hardest thing for me is accepting hours of downtime in a day. I still need to give myself permission to read a book or watch a movie during the day. It has taken me years to feel okay about watching TV during the day!

It’s great to spend time playing with the dogs or talking to friends and family on the phone or via texting. These activities may not qualify as an ‘accomplishment’ in the traditional sense, but they are a rewarding part of my life. The goal of my day is to do things I find rewarding and fulfilling.

Add to these things my hours of reading and watching the news, my writing blogs and the numerous things I do for my audio theater group, and my days feel full.

My friend is much more of an outdoorsy, active person than I am. Her definition of a rewarding day would include a walk or a bike ride, gardening, a trip to the beach and maybe some time exercising. It might also include volunteer work, or part-time work, perhaps as an accountant, which was her original career. Whatever she does, she’ll have to redefine the parameters of a ‘successful’ day. That will be harder for her because she needs to feel ‘busy’ most of the time.

I function at a slower pace now. After decades of frenetic busyness, I cherish the ability to no longer have long lists of things I have to do. My lists do still include housework, laundry, running errands and taking care of the other logistics of life. These things can often be the focus of my day. My friend will have to substitute these mundane tasks for the lists of emails and calls she now has to deal with for work.

My husband has taken to retirement like a duck to water. He loves the news and watches MSNBC and reads online for hours a day. He also has a lot more work to do for our audio theater group than I do. Mostly on the computer, which is not my strong suit. So he is ‘busier’ than I am and has longer To Do lists than I do. In addition, he can spend hours and hours playing video games.

Tom is the poster child for retirement. On most days, he doesn’t need to leave the house (or the boat, for six months of the year) to be happy and fulfilled. He occupies himself with activities that bring him pleasure and/or a sense of accomplishment. They may not be your definition of a happy day, but they are his.

That’s the key to a gratifying retirement. Knowing yourself and creating a life that gives you what you need and want. Easier said than done.

15 thoughts on “THE CHALLENGE OF RETIREMENT – BY ELLIN CURLEY”

  1. Retirement is easy if you’ve been working at home anyway. If you are tied into The Office, it’s a bit more of a jolt. I worked as much at home as I did in the office for the last 20 years. I was very happy working at home. Obviously. It also made retirement exactly like work except without the paycheck and the boss.

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    1. Good point about retiring when you’ve worked at home. That is a much easier adjustment than if you have been going to an office every day for 40 years!

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  2. There’s always plenty to do when you’re retired — the motivation to do it is different than when you were working. I was glad that I had retired before my mother needed care — I was on the road every third week for a year and a half. There’s always travel, day-trips, as well as the usual chores, etc. to keep one busy. I think your last paragraph is the best predictor of happiness in retirement!

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    1. You are very lucky that you had retired before your mom needed end of life care. Many people have to juggle a job and an ailing parent. You dodged a bullet!

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  3. I wasn’t really ready to retire, but particular circumstances pushed it along.., so I retired. Well sort of. My recording clients till continued to call to see if I was interested in doing some work for them? “Sure but it will cost a little more, I gotta make ends meet.” I’m thinkin’ they won’t want to hire me, too expensive, right? “OK! how much?”

    I’m busier now than when I was working full time. BUT, I WILL take a break, from time to time, and watch a TV show, or record it to watch later. I was staying up late and sleeping in till 9, 10, and sometimes 11 AM. Then I said “I gotta cut this out and get to bed earlier, say 12 midnight. Son of a bitch my body clock is waking me at 6:30 – 7 AM. But hey, Leave it to Beaver, comes on at 7 for two episode then Perry Mason, then Matlock which I kinda fall back to sleep watching.., no, that’s Diagnosis Murder. Anyway, I’m getting plenty of sleep then up for brunch at Noon and Holy Shit! its 4 PM and I’ve shot half the day away. Now I really have to get something done or I’m gonna feel guilty which will cause me to stay up late again.., and it starts all over. CRAP!

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    1. My husband continued to work part time as a consultant after he retired. For a few years, he felt like he was still working, but with a few more days off. Now he’s fully retired and he’s so much happier!

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  4. And if your friend needs to feel necessary, and busy, there are all sorts of places she can volunteer at, from soup kitchens to library aides to babysitting grandchildren…and as you say, you have to make your own structure.
    My husband took early retirement when he was in his early fifties, and has never regretted it. He works harder now, but he’s also in better shape and he gets to work at what he chooses.

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    1. My friend is just the type of person who will thrive in the volunteer world. And she has skills that will be able to be ussed by many organizations. I’m not worried about her. She will find a way to stay busy and be happy and fulfilled. Can’t wait for her to be ready to take the plunge!

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  5. I am guessing that your friend would not have been in the frame of mind to think about what to do next when she took the week off. She was tired and grieving but perhaps now that she has gone back to work she could think about what she wants out of retirement and start to plan the transition so when the time comes she won’t be bored and restless.

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