Friday, November 13, 2015

The Retiring Life

I'd hoped to have the next of the "Look Ahead" posts ready today but I've been cramming for the annual art sale and filling a couple of special orders and so it's not quite ready!

But that's life. And it's a good life.

This morning I was listening to the radio and the last broadcast of one of my WKAR colleagues, Melissa Ingells Benmark, who is retiring after 26 years at the station. (You can see from the comments on the link how much she'll be missed!) Melissa hosted our "Morning Edition" program and was a wonderful radio producer who could tell remarkable stories with only her voice, the sounds of the world and a good interview or two. She's also a wonderful person who is way to young to retire and I suspect someday, somewhere, I'll hear her voice again!

It reminded me that two years and two months from this day -- Friday the 13th -- that I retired from WKAR. When I left I was sick, I was stressed out. Management changes that directly affected my job, layoffs and illness had stopped my happy heart from singing and life felt precarious. I haven't spoken about this often except to close friends but there were days when I would begin to cry before I even arrived at the office, then stay in the parking ramp sobbing in the car, until I could pull myself together enough to go inside. I looked terrible and I felt worse. It was a nightmare.

I was tired. I couldn't sleep and I had little energy left to simply live my life.I'd like to think I put a good face on it but my friends and family will tell you that I'm not that good an actress and make-up only goes so far. I was done in, as they say. Everything gone but the core. And while I'd try to smile, even that was an effort.

It's a strange feeling when you can no longer do well what you love and what you've worked at for so many years. Oh sure, I could still write a good press release, edit a magazine, coordinate events and do pledge breaks with the best of them. But because I felt that I looked terrible, sounded worse and coughed constantly (and let me tell you, I am more than aware of how annoying that is). I felt as if I no longer could be the me I wanted to be.

It wasn't that my colleagues were anything less than supportive. I worked with wonderful people and leaving them was terribly difficult.They were my work family and we were like every dysfunctional family -- we loved, disagreed, supported, helped and learned from each other. But I felt as though I was letting them down -- whether they did or not.

Flash forward.

Yes, there are down days. But I control my time. If I need to sleep in because I had a bad night, I do. If I have to stop in the day to nap, I can (though I rarely do that!). I have time to do the things I'd put on the back burner before. I might take a class or workshop that meets on a weekday, do art while it is light, go to store when it's not crowded, cook more for Rick (and myself), hit Trader Joe's on a weekday, spend long, continuous days at the lake or take a road trip and not have to worry about catching up with anything more than the mail and the New York Times.

Life is good. I haven't been really sick since I retired. There's the this-and-that of life (I just wrapped up a few months of physical therapy for my back and shoulder) but I expect that. To be honest, I expected worse. Yes, life is very good.

Someone told me I should write the book about happy retirement. I probably could but the truth is that everyone's retirement will be different because we are all different and everyone's situation is different. I was fortunate because my university had a fine retirement program and I don't have to panic so much about finances as some. That said, I have plenty of friends who had different retirement plans and they're faring well too.

Why? I think it's largely attitude and activity. I did a blog post shortly after retirement where I talked with several friends who had retired and asked for tips. I took plenty of them to heart.

Here are mine.

Find a hobby or a passion. For me it is art, cooking and my theatre board work. For Rick it will be his bike hikes and practicing his classical guitar. These are longstanding hobbies but yours might be something new, something you discover through taking an adult ed class. Maybe it's a commitment to a volunteer cause you find important. I have one friend who has written five novels since his retirement and repeatedly goes back to revise and improve them, building on what he has learned. That "what" doesn't matter. It's the fact that you are keeping yourself engaged, whether it is physically, creatively, mentally or all of the above. 

Make the effort to keep work friendships. Facebook is fine but not physically interactive. If you liked the people you worked with, don't let them go. I may not do it often enough but I am in touch with work friends and we will periodically have lunch or dinner, just to keep in touch.

At a PBS conference with my colleagues many moons ago. Tim (my office brother) and I meet monthly for lunch and Beany (right, rear) and are in touch often. Unfortunately Mary Jane has passed on and Steve and I are long overdue -- but we keep in regular contact. And those aren't the only ones -- I see a number of my former work colleagues just for fun and catch-up.
Expand the friendships you have. If you have fellow retiree friends, you can go play in the daytime. If they're all still working, find time for lunch, dinner, tea or group activities. For me, it is my Savory Sisters book club, Cork Poppers and individual friendships with a group of wonderful women I've known a long time.

Our Cork Poppers group brought new friends into my life. Now they're old friends!
Do your financial homework ahead of time. For those of you who are far from retirement age, sock something away regularly. If you don't have a retirement plan at your work, this is all the more important. If you are young, event $25 or $50 a month will grow. If you are mid-career, you may need to catch up. The point is, we all will need to budget and plan no matter what but feeling continually deprived is stressful. Wise financial planning may seem like a maze but that path eventually leads to the center. If you plan well ahead of the game you will feel more secure and informed.

Financial planning can be a maze -- if it's not your thing, get good advice -- and save now!

Consider a second career or part-time work.. I always feel good when I get a call from WKAR asking me to do a contract job, whether it is writing a fundraising letter or planning an event. (The pledge breaks I still do are for love!). Perhaps you are using your creative talents in a new way or discovering something new, like my friend Kate who has designed and is selling a wonderful bird calendar and expanding her design skill by taking linocut printing classes.

Or you might be like my former work colleague Jill, who has started a website selling art related to nature and animals. It's brand new and soon you'll see more items for sale there (including some from me!). This was completely new for her -- and she's having a blast with it

You may have a life so full and financially adequate that you don't need or want to do it -- but remember, it isn't too late if that's something that appeals.

It's time to add some fun to your life. You've worked hard so make the most of the days at hand!
A routine isn't a bad thing. Every morning I get up and hit the computer, answering email, checking blogs, doing my own writing. Soon I'll be able to resume spinning classes at the gym. When I'm done with that, the rest of the day happens. I don't mean to block out every minute of your day -- that might be why you retired, so you could read a book at 2:30 in the afternoon! But having a sense of schedule (and keeping a calendar) keeps you honest and active and that's important.

Listen to your body. If you are dealing with physical challenges or chronic illness, listen to the signals and honor them. If that means a nap or altering a schedule, take heed. All of this helps deal with the stress of life. And listen to your body's signals on illness. As we age we are more likely to develop "issues." A bad back, arthritis, internal issues which may (or may not) manifest as a more serious disease. Listen and check it out. If all is well, you're good to go and the mind is relieved. If not, you are on top of things with a far likelier chance for a better prognosis.

Every day when I wake up, I am grateful. I'm grateful to be able to lay in a bit longer, a purring Lizzie snuggled by my head, dozing in and out of "Morning Edition" on the radio. I'm grateful to feel well, to have a wonderful family -- Rick and the kids here, cousins elsewhere. I'm grateful that my life is full of fun friends where our unspoken code is one of mutual support and great fun, listening and playing. I am grateful I have the gift of choosing how to spend my time and adequate -- not extensive but adequate -- resources and very good insurance.

In this month of giving thanks, I have so very much to give. And while I'm at it, I'll give a wish to my friend Melissa and others who are making a transition into new experiences.

Be happy. Be healthy. Find joy and cherish it. Time goes by so quickly. Make the most of every moment.


Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

What a blessing it is to retire to pursue one's passions and dreams! There is so much wisdom in this post. I love your tips for a happy retirement! You're right that each person has his or her own individual retirement. Even my husband and I have very different retirement experiences: he is totally relaxed, spends his days reading, doing crosswords and jigsaw puzzles, taking walks, playing the guitar and napping with kitties. I've been working at my writing 12 hours a day, having lunch with friends at least once a week, and hitting the gym. It works for both of us. But even though we all have different retirements, your advice is applicable to all and so good! I knew you were feeling sick and stressed just before you retired, but I had no idea just how hard it was for you. I'm so glad that you were able to create a new life for yourself while keeping warm memories and connections with the work friends you enjoyed so much!

Gwen said...

I can see a lot of what you said about yourself at that time, starting to happen to me. I think part of it (for me) is allowing sugar back in my life. But I can also see that I'm starting to get 'short-timer's' attitude about work. I hope to retire in about 2 years. So my tolerance level at work is waning, at a time when I've never been more busy here. It's not a good match. Thanks for pointing out a few things for me to mull over. I'm actively trying to give up sugar and remove stressful negotiable items from my life. It's a journey, for sure. Thanks for sharing!

Joyful said...

This is an excellent post. You've given a lot of great tips for those who are retired or about to be retired. I've been retired now due to illness for several years. I find my life very full (at times a bit too full) but am so grateful now to have the days be my own as much as I loved my work.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

It is crazy to think that it's been over 2 years since you retired. It doesn't seem like it was that long ago! Time flies when you are having fun! I am glad that you are in such a good place right now and are living a full life that makes you happy! That heavy phase you went to was evident to all, whether near or far, so I am very happy that you were able to break away and take care of yourself. I know that feeling of crying on the way to work or at work - that was me at my last job. I would go in the bathroom and cry in a stall. It was so bad. It's nice to have those phases behind us as it's just so much easier to be happy when you don't have dark cloud of anxiety, stress, discomfort and health challenges hanging over you!

I am so glad that you are loving retirement! I think that I will have no problem retiring when my day comes because I am blessed to have so many hobbies and friends. I just saw a funny shirt that said, "I have a retirement plan. My retirement plan is to read." That's me in a nutshell! ;)

Barb said...

Has two years gone by already? I just knew you'd be a "model" retiree, filling your days with good deeds and fun projects. I agree with the points you made. Bob and I've always been active and have always loved the outdoors. Each day seems like a new adventure for us. I wonder how I ever had time to complete anything when I was teaching full-time? Keep well, Jeanie, and keep showing us that glorious smile of yours!

Anonymous said...

Jeanie, it is really wonderful to read about how rich your retirement is for you (rich in the fulfilling sense, not necessarily the money sense). You certainly have found many excellent ways to get the most out of this experience. I, too, love being able to spend my time in pretty much whatever way I want, whether it is volunteering, spending time with friends & family, learning, traveling or just being lazy if I so choose. Your advice for those considering or starting retirement was spot on. Here's to many, many more satisfying years of the freedom that comes with retirement. ~ Pat K. (Aren't we way overdue for a get-together?)

O-town Ramblings said...

What at great post with great tips not only for retirement, but for life in general. I'm glad to hear that retirement suits you so well and that you're feeling good physically and emotionally. I'm still 14 or so years away from retiring, but I'm keeping my eye on the prize and staying disciplined financially so I can enjoy my retirement years!

Joanne Huffman said...

I don't think you will ever have to worry about how to spend your time.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Oh Jeanie, what a DARLING LITTLE GIRL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can see we would have been good chums as children. How could I not play with a little girl with such a smile! Teeeheheheheheheheh

Well my friend, your advice here is golden. No matter what, we must take care of ourselves and carry on. BIG HUGS.

Victoria Zigler said...

What a great post! Not only for the tips, but also for the fact you can tell just from reading it that you really are much happier now... I'm glad!

shoreacres said...

And just a note from someone who probably never will retire: it's quite possible to live a full, satisfying life, even when time is constrained by the need to work, and money is limited. I made some choices that mean I'll have to keep working for years, yet. On the other hand, I've lived and traveled abroad, sailed the Caribbean and the Pacific, taught sailing, and had my time in a little cabin in the woods -- all while I was young and physically fit enough to enjoy it all.

Many friends have put everything "on hold" until retirement, only to find that illness, injury, financial constraints, or the needs of family have left them with few options for pursuing their dreams. Being creative with what we have is key, I think -- as you so well demonstrate!

The French Hutch said...

Hi Jeanie, I know you hit a few bumps in the road but now your look and sound so happy. Retirement is agreeing with you! I know you did your homework and got it right so now you are "foot loose and fancy free" to take any road you wish. I love hearing about you happy life and it is such inspiration on how to do retirement right. So good to hear your health problems are better and you are enjoying a blessed life.

Anonymous said...

This is a very wise post, something to read and ponder. Thanks!

Bella Rum said...

What a wonderful post, Jeanie. I'm so glad you are doing well in retirement, but I knew you would. Getting up in the morning and having the freedom to direct your own day is a gift indeed. Isn't it funny how when you begin enjoying every day, and your spirit is being fed, you begin to heal physically as well as in spirit. What great advice you've given here. The last thing you wrote about is the most important. Gratitude. It can change everything. Oh , yes and having the option to go to Trader Joe's on a weekday. Ha!! Very important. Much happiness to you, Jeanie. Much, much, much...

Bella Rum said...

Oh, I forgot to say that is the most adorable photo of you up there in your curls.

Beth Leintz said...

Jeanie, Great post! I remember when you were working and had bronchial problems- you put on a brave face, but I knew it was a struggle. I'm so glad you've been able to retire and enjoy your passions- and still go back to work occasionally on a contract basis. I think you've shared the recipe for a happy transition.

Arti said...

Congrats on your two year anniversary. So glad things work out for you. And you can always connect with old colleagues and keep up the friendship. All the best in your arts sale. And yes, a Keep Calm and Carry On earl grey tea box is on top of my desk, a useful reminder. and my fave 'slogan' after reading about its origin.

Jemma@athomewithjemma said...

Your memories and reflections are priceless, they are filled with positive direction and inner peace. I enjoy seeing the little girl that you were, and no matter how time has passed-there is one thing that remains the same and that is your glorious smile!


psychelyn said...

You inspire me with your retirement story. Perhaps I should start thinking of activities which will suit me when I retire.

By the way, have you seen the movie "Hotel Marigold"? A story about retirement which made me think as well.

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