A friend of mine is about to retire. She wondered what the virtues and pitfalls of retirement were. Since I had left early and had a head-start she asked for advice. This is what I wrote:
Well, the virtue – once you can actually get your head around it – is that there is no ‘duty’ anymore. You are free of society’s burdens. And it works both ways: just when you check out of it, society tends not to make so many demands of you anymore anyway and you begin to notice all that when you are in that retirement space. It is hard to explain but people tend to call it a void of sorts. I think it is literally a disconnect.
My father once mentioned to me, “It used to be when I showed up at a store or a restaurant, someone looked up and attended to me right away. After I turned sixty that seemed to diminish. When I was seventy, it was like I was invisible”.
Of course you’ll have some family and friend duties. You’ll take on projects, too. But the pressure of the SCHEDULE goes. Eventually it is gone. No one expects you to keep up the pace anymore. People will stop calling. Many will eventually forget your name. You will start to disappear.
And it feels OK.
I am currently building a nice little workshop. It has taken me months and I haven’t even started on the actual building yet. Just the foundations. But I figure ‘so what?‘. I take my time now. I enjoy doing it. It is fun.
And, if it is raining, I may stay inside and read. Fabulous!
The pitfalls are quite different from what you’d expect – first there is the initial and overpowering need to do something. You will immediately feel lazy and underutilized. Like when you were sick or injured. After a week of being ‘out of your usual place’, you feel kinda useless, do you recall that feeling? It is like that.
Then there is the inevitable accumulation of projects and lots of volunteering in one’s typical response to that feeling. Like you have to ‘fix it’. My suggestion: try NOT to get trapped by that volunteering thing. It will suck the remaining life out of you. And one project is probably enough. Don’t have more than two on the go. If you do, you have to start SCHEDULING and then you are in that trap again.
My friend, J, just can’t extricate himself from ‘doing’. He is helping others, volunteering, working a part-time business, starting a second business and scheduled to take on a summer position. He is busier than Obama. And he is exhausted. He is not alone. Retirement requires a different state of mind from the one you have lived with for forty years or more.
Getting your head around ‘downtime’ is a tough concept for some. Not for me. I took to downtime like the dead.
It helps that I don’t get ‘out’ much. Not anymore. Certainly not to the city. And I hate every minute of it when I do. I really do not like what I see out there now. Like a reformed smoker, addict or something, I am 100% loathe to see myself involved in all that again.
And, of course, I have moralized over it.
Like this one: The likelihood of a rich man getting into heaven is the same as that of a camel passing through the eye of a needle and the rat race/city just looks like needles and camels to me. It looks like the struggle to get somewhere you will never get to.
I strongly recommend spending the first six months of retirement in a country setting. And I mean trees and streams and deer and squirrels. Think HD Thoreau. Think cabin. After at least six months – preferably a year – you can try venturing out again. If you feel you must. But, if you are like me, you will not feel comfortable in the old milieu and will seriously consider truly retiring. This time to the country and the cabin in the woods.
Retirement? Now that I have adjusted, I like it just fine.