Yesterday was the five-year anniversary of my retiring from my full-time job.
Shortly before retiring, I decided to periodically reflect on if and how my reactions to being retired felt. I wanted to do this because my memory is so poor that I figured I would otherwise soon forget how the retirement process unfolded for me – especially psychologically – and I wanted to remember that process in detail.
I did write lengthy blogposts on how retirement felt
- after the first day
- after the first week
- after week #2
- at the three-month mark
- at the six-month mark
- at the end of year one
- at the end of year two
- at the end of year three
But when my fourth retirement anniversary rolled around in 2017, I decided that so little had changed since my previous annual report that there was no point in writing about Year Four. Now that the Year Five mark has arrived, I remain convinced that perhaps the most radical changes – psychological changes, anyway – of transitioning from the status of fully-employed to fully-retired must’ve occurred in the earliest months.
The most definite thing I can report at the five-year mark is that my recollections of my working days – those 31 years of working in public libraries and the 9 years before that working in the mental health treatment field – are infrequent, vague, and feel alarmingly remote from my current circumstances. I really cannot summon up in any vivid way the feeling of what it was like to have my daily activities and whereabouts constrained by a schedule dictated by someone else, and/or the need to generate an income sufficient to maintain my economic independence and the comfortable mod cons that go with that status. Only rarely do I have flashbacks to – or even have dreams involving – workplace scenes, even happy or pleasant ones. (And, lest I forget, there were a lot of happy times during my work life. Not only am I fortunate as a retiree, but I am one of the lucky, lucky Americans who enjoyed – most of the time – having the jobs I had, and, with certain notable exceptions, who enjoyed working for the supervisors and colleagues I worked for or with.)
Although, for a while now, I’ve taken for granted my newish circumstances as “the new normal,” I am – at least sporadically – aware of, and feel gratitude for, my good fortune. What few challenges have come my way since retirement fall firmly in the sphere of “First World Problems.”
For example, I’m still not thrilled with the way I’ve managed – or failed to manage – a satisfying balance, post-retirement, between voluntary activities that are solitary and voluntary activities that are more social. Like my other “First World Problems,” this one pales before the great good fortune of my current circumstances.
I am certainly not juggling with what the great majority of my fellow Americans. including many people I know, are coping with:
- Holding down a part-time job to make ends meet. So far, I’ve managed to live my first five years of retirement within my (savings-generated) income.
- Parenting children – and All That That Entails, attention- and energy- and anxiety- and cost-wise.
- Sharing my house with two aging parents, or even one aging parent (as my sister Lori did for an entire year before my mom moved to an independent living facility).
- Living with any constraints or complaints resulting from serious or chronic health problems of my own.
- Being confronted (thus far, anyway) with some huge remodeling or repair expense that owners of old houses (like mine) must inevitably deal with.
- Foregoing – for financial reasons or for one or more of the reasons I’ve just listed – all non-necessary pleasures, such as eating meals in restaurants or traveling. On the contrary: I still treat myself to meals that I don’t cook myself and I’ve been able (financially and otherwise) to travel overseas twice since my most recent retirement blogpost (most recently a three-week jaunt through Italy last fall).
So I know I am lucky in almost every respect one can imagine: I’m still healthy, solvent, and, relatively speaking, free to pursue my own interests and to indulge a lot of my passing whims. I am also increasingly conscious of how ridiculously lucky I am to live in a society that – at least for a privileged subset of a particular generation of citizens that I happen to belong to – allows for a person to live at least a few decades of his life without the drudgery of wage slavery. (Not to mention the good fortune of not living in a country whose residents are being bombed, plundered, or enslaved. And even with Trump and his enablers temporarily fumbling around with the levers of government, I’m in no danger of being deported or otherwise separated from my loved ones. And while I hardly live what I would call a charmed life, I am not, as many of my fellow Americans are, coping with polluted water, a blighted or dangerous neighborhood, or month-long power shortages.
I can think of only a few as-yet-unreported factors that have affected my retirement routines within the past two years:
- My 90+-year-old mom’s move to an independent living facility almost an hour south of Atlanta; my taking on responsibility for managing her finances; and, most recently, helping my siblings with my mom’s recovery from a hospitalization for pneumonia. These events have resulted in considerably more time (vs. the first three years of my retirement) helping to attend to my mom’s needs as well as my own. At the moment, it is unclear whether or not my mom will be able to safely continue living in her own apartment; the inevitable (if impossible to predict) changes in my mom’s living circumstances will doubtless affect my own activities in some as-yet-unknown manner.
- I am still sorely feeling the lack of a weekly calligraphy class in my schedule that resulted from my former instructor’s deciding last spring to stop teaching calligraphy at the senior center where I had been taking classes for several – and very rewarding – years.
- Last October I embarked on an intimate relationship with someone. This ongoing adventure has wrought all sorts of changes in my general outlook, in my daily routine, and in my former plans. These changes are wonderful, but they are still relatively new, so I am still adjusting to them as Randy and I continue to share more time with each other.
- I’m either not quite finished with a certain volunteer project I’d hoped to have concluded by now, and am about to plunge into a newer one. So there’s the mild frustration of wishing I could more quickly conclude one activity and more quickly begin the other one. I’m also between trans-Atlantic trips: my long-anticipated trip to Italy now receding with great speed into the distant-seeming past, I haven’t quite gelled my plans for, later this year, a much-postponed return trip to Spain (re-imagined now to include Randy).
- I experimented for several (pre-Italy trip) months with incorporating an hour’s walk into most (good-weather) days, and look forward to (vs. dreading) resuming that feature of my daily round as soon as warmer weather returns.
Otherwise, I am still a contented retiree:
- Still reading (though not reading as much as I thought I would: I tend to fall asleep after a mere hour or so!), and still documenting my reading with mini-reviews in the sidebar of this blog.
- Still gardening or fantasizing about what I plan to do next in my tiny plot of ground. (I’ve recently learned, however, that I need to remember to interrupt my what can easily become rather obsessive gardening or garden-related activities with more breaks in general and with more naps in particular!)
- Still taking tai chi classes once a week (and still practicing the form at home most days).
- Still enjoying doing most of my chores and errands, weather permitting: after my twelve-year-old scooter finally gave up the ghost last December, I promptly bought myself a new one.
- Still enjoying living in the incredibly congenial neighborhood I was fortunate enough to buy a home in, way back there in 1993.
As a final note, I hope to remember something the aforementioned calligraphy teacher – and all-around Wise Person – Sharon Ann Smith, told me recently. She thinks the term retirement is misleading because it inaccurately describes what most people she knows – including yours truly – are doing with their post-fulltime-employment years. “We aren’t retiring from anything. On the contrary: We are re-inventing ourselves!”
In many respects, it does feel that way. May it be so!