My first full week of full-time nonemployment has been marked by several psychological surprises. (I’m hoping there won’t be any major financial surprises, although the fact that the arrangements for my “retirement income” taking up to two months to kick in has made me acutely aware of the rate at which I’ve continued spending money on various things – everything from what-suddenly-seems-more-expensive-than-before groceries, to purchasing expensive stashes of birdseed for the birdfeeder and potting soil for the garden, to booking some tickets for two upcoming trips, to paying for someone to clean and re-start my patio fountain.)
The biggest surprise of Week #1 has been the time-warping effect of subtracting a full-time work schedule from my daily routine. I’m constantly re-realizing the bliss of being free to choose to do various household chores or nest-feathering projects in any order that strikes my mood (rather than according to the limited number and always-narrow time-slots previously available to do these things).
I’ve also come slap up against one of those Paradoxes of Retirement that other retirees had predicted I would discover: that, although one suddenly has All The Time in The World to Do Stuff, time actually seems to pass more quickly rather than more slowly.
For example, despite the fact that I continue to get out of bed each morning at approximately the same time as when I did in order to get to work across town by 9 A.M. on weekdays, I keep being surprised at how quickly noon can arrive! Apparently I am either slowing down – taking more time than is absolutely necessary to do each thing I decide to do – or I am allowing myself to become distracted by doing additional things than whatever it is I set out to do. I haven’t quite figured it out, but I do know that each day seems like it has fewer hours in it instead of more, and that this past week came and went a lot more quickly than any work-filled week ever did.
Another surprise dawned on me in the middle of my most recent Tai Chi class – the first one I’d taken with a full week’s worth of showing up for class without the backdrop of work behind it. Throughout the class I kept having the sensation that it wasn’t my body that was going through the usual qi gong exercises – this was someone else’s body, someone else’s more relaxed and flexible body, instead of the often-knarled-up body that I’d punished by, say, sitting too long in front of a computer screen at work. I finally realized that the only factor that had changed between those previous three years’ worth of t’ai chi classes and last Thursday’s class was the subtraction of the 40-hours-per-week work routine.
True, I still sit for long spells in front of my home computer, but those home computer spells are interrupted more often: I’m forever getting up to walk to the other end of the house to fetch something, or searching for or filing something in a filing cabinet, or just wandering out onto the patio to investigate something that’s caught my eye out there. The very clear difference in the way I felt during t’ai chi class this past week has made a believer of the Work Stress Can Definitely Affect Your Body school of thought. And I’m not just talking about the debilitating effects of screen-staring time: surely it’s the sudden subtraction of chronic preoccupation with multiple work-related matters that was responsible for the suddenly relaxed body I found myself inhabiting in this week’s t’ai chi class!
Another work-relinquishing-related surprise: because I’m no longer exposed daily to a work environment, I haven’t been able to spend even a moment this past week worrying or even wondering about work-related matters. This became clear to me the two times this past week I checked (from home) my work email account to see if there were any stray “good-bye and good luck” messages from colleagues that had arrived in my in-box after I’d left on March 12th. I’m glad I did check my work email account, as there were some of those messages. But scanning the subject lines of those work-related emails also made me realize how freeing it has been not to feel any longer responsible for addressing, resolving, or responding in any way, shape, or form to any of that stuff!
In addition to the awareness of the disorientingly different way time flows for me now (at least in this initial week of being retired), I’m also noticing how it’s The Little Things that are bringing me the most pleasure:
- Being in my house when sunlight happens to be streaming into it! This is becoming an almost-daily occurrence, when before it was an infrequent one. Because the house I live in is so congenial to my needs and temperament, I’d been looking forward to the spending-more-time-at-home part of retirement, and, sure enough, it is wonderful to be here more often when it’s the light instead of the darkness pouring in through the windows! (This particular enjoyment has also alerted me to how much more thrilling this experience will be once I get around to washing my windows! In fact, just knowing that I will have the time now to finally wash every window in my house is totally exhilarating!)
- More opportunities for extended bird-watching, or cat-stroking, or simply sitting out on the bench in the back yard staring at my tiny yard and deciding – with lots more time to decide – what I want to change about my modest little garden.
- Scootering over to the house of some also-retired friend to visit that person in the daytime. And not only arriving for that visit unencumbered by the sometimes spirit-sapping exhaustions of work, but feeling like the distance between our houses – because I am traveling in the daylight instead of after dark – makes the distances seem shorter than I’d previously believed them to be.
- The wonderful luxury of not being forced to use my time “efficiently.” Not only is more of my time actually mine to use, but the sudden ability to change my mind about when to tackle some chore or project, or to interrupt it with another chore or project – or with a nap! – or to actually have the time to finish a chore or project – or not! – this is the single most glorious – and most unexpected – aspect (so far) about Being Retired.
Has my first week been completely free of mini-panic attacks obsessing about How Shall I Structure My Time Without That Full-Time Job, as I did for 32 consecutive years? Well, there have been a few fleeting moments of free-floating queasiness, but such moments were short-lived, and I am able to regard them as the transitory reactions to change that a person like me who finds comfort in routine and “being useful” was probably bound to experience after making such a sudden, radical, and irreversible change in his daily patterns.
Overall, having reached the end of the first full week exploring the unfamiliar country known as RetirementLand, I continue to feel confident that:
- My notorious low threshold for boredom and my habit of constantly seeking balance in terms of pleasures vs. obligations will carry me toward a new daily routine that will feel sufficiently interesting, positive, and sustainable.
- Many of the minor retirement-related surprises that lie ahead will be pleasant ones.
- Whatever major retirement-related surprises that lie ahead will include some Really Good News rather than the Other Kind.