Ten years ago this month I retired from selling my labor and my time to 40 years’ worth of various employers.
I had two “careers”: the first (1970-1979) in the mental health treatment arena (first as an addiction treatment center employee, later in mental health treatment administration), the second (1980-2013) as a librarian in the Atlanta public library system (first as a reference desk librarian, later as a library collection development specialist, and finally as a branch library administrator).
My plan was to retire before I reached age 65 (the age when most U.S. wage-slaves are eligible to retire), and I reached that goal, being 64 when I retired – after taking the advice of a financial planner that I continue working for an additional year beyond age 63 when I was already good and ready to leave my job at the time).
My using the term “wage-slave” is a bit misleading, as I thoroughly enjoyed many aspects of the jobs I got hired for, or was promoted into. In fact, I probably would have chosen to work several, if not many, additional years if I’d believed that the administration of the library system I was working in had not been, for too long, so appallingly dysfunctional. Once I became convinced that the bureaucracy I worked for would not be sufficiently improved in my lifetime, I began planning how I could support myself financially without working a 40-hour week.
I was so keen on gaining control over 100% of my time that I wasn’t considering taking up part-time work after retiring, and I ventured into that mode only once – and briefly.
Many American workers (especially males) find themselves uncomfortable with what they come to consider too much time on their hands after retiring, but fortunately I have not suffered in this regard, even to a slight extent. My guess as to why I was lucky this way is that, long before retiring, I had discovered enough long-term interests and hobbies to pursue indefinitely; I was already a part of multiple networks of friends (some of those networks overlapping, some of them not, some of the friendships very long-term vs. newish or work-related); I had/have supportive siblings; and I was blessed with a temperament congenial to enjoying dithering away of hours of some days “doing”/”accomplishing” very little. Sure, there have been some boring or listless moments these past ten years, but they have been few and far between and were certainly short-lived whenever they did occur.
I do still have trouble, sometimes, balancing my need for solitude with my need for spending time in other people’s company. The good news is that I’ve abandoned the notion that someday I will – permanently – manage to get this balance the way I’d like to be.
I was sufficiently curious about how being retired might feel, and about how my feelings about retirement might change over time, that I decided to periodically record in this blog (which I started four years before I retired) my musings about what retirement felt like as I continued my exploration of this unfamiliar territory. I posted such reflections the day after I retired, a week later, two weeks later, three months later, six months later, a year after retiring, two years after retiring, three years after retiring, five years after retiring, and six years after retiring. One of these days I’m going to re-read these earlier blogposts to see how they compare to this one.
From this ten-years-on vantage point, my memories of the day-to-day satisfactions and frustrations (and accomplishments or disappointments) of working my various full-time jobs have faded almost entirely into oblivion. (Well, at least during my waking hours: occasionally – too often, in my opinion – my dreams still happen in a workplace scenario – especially scenarios with some sort of looming deadline, of which there were many throughout my working life).
On the other hand, even after ten years of uninterrupted freedom from the workplace, I am still often (as opposed to seldom) aware of how “lucky” or “fortunate” I feel about this. I remain, ten years into retirement, grateful that, barring some future apocalyptic disaster, it is unlikely that I shall ever find myself reporting to an employer again. It remains as amazing to me on Retirement Day #3,650 as it was on Retirement Day #1 that I am pretty much the master of my own little universe.
I realize that not having had any children to raise and/or worry about has certainly been a huge and unusual factor in how leisurely my retirement years have felt so far. Ditto my relative good health: many retirees (at least many American ones of my acquaintance) spend numerous hours of their retirement meeting with various medical specialists, and/or coping daily with various chronic physical conditions or limitations that have so far eluded me. Surely my share of ailments, not to mention general decrepitude, will come my way, but the first ten years – even one with a pandemic in it – have been remarkably uneventful, healthwise, for Cal.
Another crucial – and also untypical – characteristic of my retirement years: since my 92-year-old mom died (in 2019), I’ve not been (as Randy is) spending some of my time and energy helping manage the care of an aging parent, or worrying about their welfare.
As I’ve remarked in some of my previous “retirement status reports,” the minimum-friction feature of most of the past ten years – and in particular the subtraction from my daily routine of all work-related stress – has been the single most enjoyable aspect of being retired. That and the existential thrill and privilege of deciding for myself how to spend most of my time and energy. (In recent years, I’ve learned how class and race figure into this sense of privilege: not all 73-year-old Americans – not to mention not all non-Americans – can enjoy their latter years the way I’ve been doing so far.)
On top of the serendipitous (because inherited) layers of class and race privilege featured in my retirement story, there have been many days during these past ten years when I’ve been unable to shake off the sense of having entered some sort of . . . aristocracy! No, I’m not wealthy (far from it), and, no, I have no staff of underlings to do my bidding (I don’t even have a Yard Guy), but I do feel – and am grateful for being – unconnected with the getting-and-spending, the frenzied to-ing and fro-ing, traffic-afflicted, many-people-to-please, many-burdens-to-shoulder, multi-tasking, many-balls-in-the-air-to-juggle features beleaguering the working/commuting class.
The retirement era luxury I find myself noticing almost every day is having so much time to dispose of as I wish (vs. so much of my time being beholden to other people’s agendas), while also having enough money (i.e., sufficient return on my invested savings) to support my fortunately not-very-expensive hobbies and interests. (The only expensive interest being as-frequent-as-possible overseas travel.)
The main disappointment of retirement that springs to mind these days – and the most unexpected – is how I’d completely misjudged the amount of energy I’d have in retirement to do the things I now have more time to do.
For example, especially in the years immediately leading up to retiring, I was looking forward to devoting huge swaths of time in retirement to reading books (one of my favorite activities all my life). Who knew that, instead, I would find myself repeatedly interrupting whatever reading I had set out to do with yet another . . . nap? What happened to my ability, in younger years, to read for hours at a time, never once finding myself dozing off?
I’ve decided that becoming more sedentary is the main culprit in this primary Retirement Dilemma (more time, less energy – as well as: more time, less income). Despite what most people imagine, librarians – at least librarians in public libraries – get a lot of exercise in the course of their typical day (or even typical hour). With my lifelong aversion to any physical activity that isn’t dancing or gardening or roaming on foot in some unfamiliar landscape (especially some foreign one), or frolicking in some hardly-ever nearby ocean, the amount of time I spend sitting – either in front of my computer or trying to read a book – has skyrocketed since I retired in March 2013.
The only regular exercise I am willing to do these days is to take an occasional walk -and I am blessed with living in a visually interesting neighborhood to do that in, so I have no excuses (other than cold or rainy weather) – not to do more walking. (The weekly tai chi classes I’ve taken the past 20 years, and, some days, practice at home or in a park nearby, don’t count as tai chi isn’t aerobic exercise, and I’ve unfortunately never enjoyed the routine of swimming laps indoors – especially in unheated or underheated pools). So, yes, an overly-sedentary lifestyle is a (theoretically) reversible choice I keep making, and probably totally accounts for the aforementioned loss of energy, including the energy necessary to sit a read, say, a hundred pages of a book at a single sitting. This energy-availability deficit (vs., say, a theoretical regret at not having children or owning a pet) is definitely one of the downsides of my tenth (and ninth, and eighth) year of Being a Retired Person.
Mitigating this unhappy discovery is the fact that I do enjoy, in addition to reading, a bit of gardening. (Although, full disclosure, most days I’d rather read about someone else’s gardening adventures than Get Out There Myself). What little gardening I do, however, gets me out of chairs or off the sofa, but I have discovered – especially in recent years – that there is only so much bending and weeding and hole-digging and raking and so forth that I can do at a single stretch – probably precisely because I am otherwise so sedentary. I remember, when I first retired, spending whole splendid afternoons working in the yard; nowadays, I limit myself to a strict maximum of two hours of garden work, lest I wake up the next day virtually paralyzed from my previous day’s exertions. This two-hour limit is not only unexpected, it is embarrassing, as well as inconvenient. Although I haven’t exactly scaled back my somewhat ambitious gardening/yard-tweaking fantasies these past few years, I’m finding that I must be more modest when speculating about how long Yard Project X may take me to complete. Very humbling.
On the proverbial other hand, one of the things I most enjoy about being retired is having plenty of time to procrastinate. No longer must efforts to complete any project – indoors or out – be stressfully shoehorned into a severely limited amount of “free” time. With few standing commitments (not to mention no daily schedule for showing up for work), I can be a lot more haphazard and spontaneous when deciding whether – and when – to do Any Particular Chore – whether that’s building a stone wall in the back yard or cleaning out a bedroom closet.
Retirement has certainly shown me how lazy I can be. In one sense, this discovery of my laziness is a positive thing: we all need to spend more time just sitting and appreciating things (and the miracle of our sheer existence) than we’re normally encouraged to do. I’ve come to feel good (vs. guilty) about the increasing amount of time I spend sitting on a bench in the back yard gazing at the visiting wildlife and at whatever plants I have finally managed to get out of their pots and into the ground. For me, especially lately, bench-warming time – just like my birdfeeder-watching time – is no longer considered “wasted” time.
I’ve also made progress (particularly in recent Retirement Years) in letting go of some previously-held notions of eventually creating a Perfectly Congenial Environment (both an indoor one and an outdoor one). I now do my tweaking (both indoors and out) minus the misguided hope or assumption that at some point I will have arranged things in such a way that I Shall Never Need Tweak Again. (When I read somewhere that gardening is a never-ending activity, the author was not being metaphorical. I’ve learned that even indoor nest-feathering is also a constantly-moving target. For one thing, sometimes one’s needs and preferences, including aesthetic ones, change over time. Who knew?)
Another surprise with retirement as it has unfolded for me so far has been my not having spent more of it traveling – especially traveling overseas. Recently, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic put the kibosh on most traveling fantasies of any kind. Still, in pre-2013 days, I imagined that with all the extra time on my hands after retiring, I’d spend quite a bit of it away from Atlanta.
I cannot complain too loudly about this, however. Since the day I retired, I have managed to take a 10-day retirement celebratory trip to Mexico in 2013, a two-week trip in 2014 with friends to France (with a side trip for Cal to Italy), a trip with friends to Costa Rica in 2015, a second trip with friends to Ireland in 2016, a three-week trip in 2017 trip to Italy, a two-week trip in 2018 with Randy to Spain, and a two-week 2019 trip to England with Randy. And that doesn’t count my post-retirement out-of-state excursions in this country: a trip to San Francisco and the California coast in 2013, a trip with friends to Michigan in 2015, a trip to Oregon in 2016 with my sister Gayle to attend our niece’s Erin’s wedding, and two out-of-state road trips with Randy (in 2018 to Virginia, in 2022 to Pittsburg). Plus my daily round, post-retirement, has remained punctuated with monthly (!) trips to the North Georgia mountain cabin and with more than a half-dozen (!) week-long annual trips with friends to St. George Island.
What I can complain about: the number of people among my friends or acquaintance, all approximately the same age as (or even younger than) I am, who’ve died since I retired in 2013. This inevitable downside of Being of Retirement Age is something that makes logical sense, is universal, and has more to do with aging than retirement, but I still hadn’t fully anticipated the effect these deaths (especially among high school and college comrades) would have on my spirits. Of course, some of these deaths were more shocking or remain more difficult to metabolize than others. I certainly didn’t expect to spend so few years of my retirement with the companionship of my life-long friend Blanche Flanders Farley, who died in 2018. We only had five years together as fellow retirees.
Another significant aspect of the texture of the most recent half of my ten retirement years is the fact that I’ve shared the latter half of that time with Randy. Being around and romantically involved with someone, especially someone so different from me in certain ways, has definitely influenced what retirement has felt like for me, as well as how I’ve spent some of my time these past five years. Two further sub-factors within the relationship-having factor have been our decision to maintain separate houses (and yards) (with the considerable investments of our time and energy appertaining thereto), and the decision to spend mostly evenings together and most daytime hours apart, accompanied by the equally unusual arrangement of our spending one day each week and one night each week apart.
Apart from the obvious time-allocation and energy-allocation ramifications these decisions have produced are the inevitable psychological influence my being around Randy has had. Those influences (all positive ones) are too numerous and complex to go into here, but of course being with him these past five years has had a profound effect on the way I’m now spending my retirement – everything from the fact that we watch a lot more television than I’d ever watched pre-Randy, to the kind of trips we have undertaken or hope to make in the future, plus a lot of other things in between. Apart from these examples of the practical ramifications of being with Randy (vs., say, living alone or with someone else), the emotional joys of exploring a still-relatively young relationship with someone as interesting and companionable as Randy has infused this second five-year segment of my ten years of being retired with an additional level of interest and enjoyment and optimism. I feel very lucky not only to be retired, but to be spending my retirement with Randy.
I’ll end this lengthy reflection about what’s it’s been like to have been retired for a full ten years with the note that I’m glad I’ve long collected quotations from my reading about various topics that have interested me: perhaps you, too, may might find thought-provoking – or even useful – the quotations I’ve collected about aging and/or retirement.