How calm and quiet a delight
It is alone
To read, and meditate, and write,
By none offended, and offending none;
To walk, ride, sit, or sleep at one’s own ease,
And, pleasing a man’s self, none other to displease!
– from Charles Cotton’s “The Retirement. Stanzes Irreguliers. To Mr. Isaak Walton,” in his Poems on Several Occasions (London, 1689), pp. 133-139; posted by Michael Gilleland at his blog Laudator Temporis Act
Exactly three months ago today was my final day as a full-time worker.
For years before I finally quit my day job, I’d been curious about what retirement would feel like. And I remain particularly interested in how those feelings tend to be morphing as time goes by. I hope to capture those subtle changes (so I don’t eventually forget they happened!) by writing something every now and then about how retirement is playing itself out for me. (My earlier reports are here and here.)
The clearest recent impression is that, most days, my last day at work seems like three years ago!
Apparently, sometime within the past few weeks or so, Being Retired finally became the new (psychological) norm:
- I no longer fantasize that someone, somehow, is going to force me back into the full-time labor pool. (This irrational notion had been, for the first month or so, a sort of free-floating background note that occasionally threatened to spoil the delightful sense of liberation I felt from being expected to Show Up somewhere every day and Do My Part to solve various (and often tedious) problems.
- For whatever reason, I don’t miss even the enjoyable aspects of my former job. (Perhaps because those enjoyable tasks had long ago become so much less prevalent than the annoying, energy-sapping tasks?)
- Apart from worrying from time to time about the welfare of a few individuals still working in the library system that employed me for 30 years, I seldom wonder about how things are going at that institution. (Partly because the gossip I occasionally hear about the fortunes of the library system is so depressing that I can’t tolerate for very long ruminating about the probable consequences of the latest news for those former colleagues Left Behind.)
What I continue to like best about retirement is the sustained freedom from obligations of all sorts. Freedom to choose how I want to spend my next hour – or my next day or my next week – without any regard as to how efficient my choices are (or aren’t).
Before I retired, I of course yearned for more free time. But I have been astonished at how much I have come to enjoy doing things based on my mood instead of according to a (work-dominated) schedule:
- I finally have adequate blocks of time and energy to do both what needs to be done or – even more marvelous – what I want to do. No longer must I fit my chores or hobbies into the narrow slots of time and energy left over between stints of working.
- I can do more things without scheduling them! There’s a lot less checking the clock or consulting my calendar before deciding when to do this, that, or the other thing. I can grocery-shop when I need to, instead of whenever I can wedge that into my work schedule. If I feel a whim to take myself outside for a bit of a walk around my pleasant neighborhood, I can do exactly that, and instantly. If I decide to ask someone to join me for lunch – or dinner, or, hey, breakfast! – there are more choices for what day of the week that can happen and also more choices of where we can meet up.
- I can take as long as I damn well please to do whatever it is I’ve chosen to do with my hours, my days, my weeks. I can linger over some time-consuming (even a not very essential) sub-task of, say, cleaning out a closet, as no longer am I forced to finish any task before some pre-determined/non-negotiable given moment.
- I can now prolong particularly enjoyable moments that unexpectedly come my way. Such as spending more than a mere two minutes petting the neighbor’s cat when she happens by, or writing a letter I’ve decided to write, or surfing the Internet to find something new to post at my Atlanta Booklover’s Blog.
- After undertaking some chore or project, I can change my mind in the middle of doing that chore or activity, and start on another one – or stop whatever I’m doing and take a nap! So far, the chore-monitoring police have not materialized, and no looming work schedule exists to constrain the timing (and/or duration) of every little decision or project.
- There are entire days when I don’t find it necessary to get into a vehicle. How wonderful is that?
- I can devote entire evenings – or, better, entire afternoons, or, even more unprecedented, entire mornings – to reading an absorbing book , or to making some noticeable change in my modest garden! (Reader, I have, at long last, actually made some headway with the formidable, nasty task of ridding my yard – and the brick exterior of my house – of huge swaths of invasive ivy that I stupidly planted fifteen years ago.)
- I can take as much time as I like to pay more attention to beautiful things. What’s currently blooming in my garden, for example, or what sorts of birds happen to be fluttering this morning around the feeders outside my bedroom window.
- Most wonderful of all: I have the luxury – for the first time since childhood – to sit on a bench in my garden or in a chair on my sunporch and indulge myself in a little zoned-out spell of doing nothing! There’s a lot to be said for being able to simply sit and stare into the middle distance for as long as I like without being burdened by a nagging feeling that I should be “accomplishing” something!
Two recent insights have helped my brain more comfortably wrap itself around my radically different daily routine:
- Several weeks ago, a telephone conversation with a long-retired friend of mine gave me a new perspective on my uneasiness about perhaps becoming, as a Retired Person, some sort of Constant Consumer (instead of also a Constant Contributor/Producer). What this friend said was that what actually changes with retirement is that one’s energies and attention are no longer yoked to the priorities and goals of an institution. And that, in fact, retirement gives a person the first sufficiently-spacious opportunity as an adult to figure out where – and for whom – we want to focus our energy and attention. And, even better, it allows that focus to shift to what and whom we actually care most about, or on projects that actually interest us (rather than our employer). The friend reminded me that the relentless and stressful distractions of any full-time job inevitably interfere with a person’s clarity about who he/she is, what he/she cares about, who he/she wants to spend time with, and how he/she wants to spend his/her precious amount of time and energy – precious because both of those resources are so woefully finite.
- It only very recently occurred to me how silly it’s been for me to have continued to marvel – and continue feeling vaguely guilty about – being able to survive financially without working a full-time job. The retirement income I’m using these days is, after all, based on savings from my 30 years of wage slavery: it’s not like the money I’m living on is coming from someone else’s pocket! I was fortunate to earn enough while I was working that I could afford to save part of my salary, and to do that throughout my long career without feeling “deprived” of much along the way. Realizing that I’m currently using (invested) money I earned at some point in the past has supplanted the notion that I somehow don’t “deserve” to be able to financially sustain myself without working. I still feel very lucky to be retired – a lot of people can’t afford to save even a penny of their salaries, or are mired in too much debt to be able to retire – but I no longer feel guilty about being able to afford retirement.
Will the many delicious features of these early days of retirement at some point give way to occasional bouts of boredom or restlessness or feelings of isolation? Perhaps, but, so far, those sorts of moments have been few and far between. Stay tuned!