As of today, I’ve been officially retired for a year. It’s been a good year, and I haven’t regretted my decision to retire when I did. I know I am really fortunate that I was able to retire before age 65. More and more people over age 65 continue to work or begin a second career, partly because they like to work but often out of financial necessity, so being financially able not to work full-time anymore is a blessing I don’t want to take for granted.
A year ago, on my last day in the office as a full-time employee, I wrote some reflections that I posted on Facebook:
“I now understand even better than I did before why retirement is on that list of top 10 life stressors. Although I have been looking forward to this day for some time, now that it’s here, I was near tears as I finished cleaning out an office, got official “employment termination” signatures, and said goodbye to colleagues. And it’s not even like I am fully retiring – just no longer working full-time. . . . [One] reason I’m so emotional is the reality that retirement shoves in my face that I am at a point in life when there are more years behind me than in front of me. I don’t mean this in a morbid way, just a recognition of reality. [Another] reason for the emotion is anticipating the new possibilities and opportunities that await me. I’m looking forward to having more time–doing favorite hobbies like reading and knitting, finding new things to do, and being able to get better control of many of the things I’m already doing. Dale and I want to travel, I want to spend time with the grandchildren, I want to write more – the possibilities are endless. I’m healthy, and 64 doesn’t sound nearly as old as it did when my parents were that age!!”
So what happened to all the emotion of my last day in the office last year? What have I done with this first year of retirement?
Being retired hasn’t been nearly as much of an adjustment as it was for Dale who has been retired for exactly five years now. For one thing, I’m not fully retired and I didn’t say a final goodbye to all my former colleagues. I’m still working part-time in my old office and so I keep in touch with many of the people I’ve worked with over the past 20 years. I also didn’t have to go looking for new things to do with my time like Dale did because I was already involved in lots of volunteer assignments that have simply continued.
But life is different now than it was BR (before retirement). The thing I like most is having a more flexible schedule, knowing I don’t have to get up early five days a week and spend 40 hours in the office. My agreement when I retired and began a part-time contract was that I would work 12-15 hours a week on several specific projects. There have been weeks when I have worked more hours than that, and weeks when I have worked fewer hours. I go to the office at least one day a week, but most of the time I work from home and can choose how I want to spend my days. I know the conventional wisdom is that employers often get a good deal with part-time workers – they pay a part-time salary but get a full-time worker because the job won’t fit into part-time hours. That hasn’t happened to me; I’ve been able to complete the tasks I’ve agreed to do in the time I’ve agreed to work, and my boss and colleagues respect the boundaries of my time. It’s been a really good arrangement.
I also have to admit, however, that there are times when I would rather not be working at all, when I feel like I’m too busy to be working even part-time. The reality is that if I quit, I would still have plenty to do. You’ll note that part of what I said I wanted to do when I retired was find new things to do and get better control of many of the things I was already doing. A year later I ask myself, “How’s that going? and the answer is, “Probably not as well as I’d like.” Dale and I have taken two wonderful trips this past year, I’ve done a lot of knitting, and I’ve written more (witness this blog!). On the other hand, I don’t think I’m doing anything new now that I didn’t know I was going to be doing before I retired, and as for getting better control of things, so much for that as a goal! I still feel like the next deadline is just around the corner.
I have always found it easier to agree to do something than to say no, to join a committee than to resign from one. The neurotic explanation is that I need to be needed, while a more positive spin might be that when there are things to be done and I have the skills, experience or time to help do them, how can I say no? This is a struggle I suspect will plague me for as long as I live. There is a school of thought out there that says you shouldn’t do anything you don’t want to do; life is too short for that. Part of me subscribes to it and certainly wouldn’t fault anyone else for living by that rule, but part of me feels selfish, especially when I think of so many people in the world who will never have the luxury of even knowing there is such a school of thought! Plus, for me it’s often not that I don’t want to be doing something or don’t believe in it; it’s more that I’m tired and feel like I no longer have enough of the kind of energy and creativity the project deserves.
So, one of the things I’ve been thinking I want to do during this second year of retirement is take stock of everything I’m doing and make more intentional decisions about whether I want to continue doing them and what I’d rather be doing. What that will mean I have no idea, but perhaps it will be fun to find out!