Most Recent Retirement Reflections: The Third Year

Lifestyle choices.

Yikes, it snuck up on me, the three-year mark of my retirement from a 30-year career! That fact alone sort of answers one of my original retirement questions: How long will it take before retirement becomes for Cal “the new normal”?

Having recently re-read my previous annual retirement status report (and a retirement-related blogpost written six months beforehand), I am struck by how accurate three of my (projected) worries about Year Three turned out to be.

  • As predicted, I find myself still struggling with trying to balance the amount of time I spend alone with the amount of time I spend in the company of other people. This observation reminds me of a rather haunting entry in my Commonplace Book: “Language… has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.” – Paul Tillich (The Eternal Now). Year 3 of retirement included several less-than-brief instances of the “lonely” category of being alone. On the other hand, I feel fortunate that most of the time I’ve spent alone in Years 1, 2, and 3 has been in the “glorious solitude” mode. Naturally, I don’t want that to change; I also hope to eventually learn whatever I need to learn (or to be) for me to look forward rather unambivalently to the rather large chunks of time I am likely to be spending alone in the future.
  • My success with – and gratification around – continually finding additional ways to tweak my house and yard to better suit my druthers has, as predicted, noticeably waned, especially over the past few months. True, I do occasionally stumble upon ideas that are fun to adopt or to experiment with, but compared to previous post-retirement years the rate of such discoveries/experiments has slowed down. (Which of course makes total sense, and for the reason stated in the quotation of David Owen that I used in my previous retirement report: “The closer you get your house to what you think you want it to be, the less power it has to pull you forward through your life.”)
  • I have not, since March 2015, undertaken more solo travel – or decreased my hesitancy to undertake more – despite the fact that there are dozens of places on this planet I’d theoretically love to visit (or re-visit), and despite the even more remarkable fact that I could probably afford more travel than I do.

This unexpected pattern is not only ironic but verges on the inexplicable: there are few people I know who are lucky enough to be as healthy, as unencumbered by family obligations, and as travel-loving as I am. Why haven’t I planned several out-of-state trips for 2016?

If I don’t snap out of my travel-planning and travel-taking inertia fairly soon, I am going to be very disappointed in myself, as there’s no logical (or even financial) reason for my seeming to be so unwilling or unable to exploit my good fortune at being in a perfect position to travel more.

Balancing these retirement-related disappointments and puzzlements, however, is the fact that, most days, I still experience glorious moments of “retirement euphoria” – or at least “retirement gratitude.”  As I was feeling this time a year ago, I still feel, and feel often:

  • Lucky to not be working for wages every day (and still not hankering, in the least, for some part-time job somewhere).
  • Glad that my mom’s health – despite a third mild stroke – is sufficiently OK for her to continue living by herself.
  • Still excited by the approach of another spring, and specifically what I might be able to create or accomplish in the tiny garden in my back yard. (Hey, maybe Year 4 of my retirement will see some improvements in my front yard!)

Three definitely non-disappointing changes since my previous annual retirement status report:

  • I haven’t been as constantly troubled by the fact that I live alone instead of being part of a long-term committed intimate relationship. Yes, I still would prefer to be living with a Significant Other – I doubt that this sentiment of mine will ever change – but I have begun to notice the advantages of having my own space. A related worry – that I might become a hermit if I continue living alone indefinitely – has diminished, as has my fear that I am inevitably becoming more of a curmudgeon thereby. True, I do have some stubborn and less-than-totally-flexible qualities, but I have seen a few of those diminishing rather than increasing over the past few years. (Not all, but some.)
  • Another gratifying new thing since last March: a perceptible improvement in my modest skills as a calligrapher. I will always be an amateur at this delightful hobby, but weekly two-hour classes taught by a remarkably gifted and intuitive (and generously encouraging) instructor, and the additional inspiration resulting from attending a few workshops over the past year have made a detectible difference. Other than using it to address my annual Solstice cards, I’m still rather shy about sharing my calligraphy with other people but year three of retirement has brought me the confidence that one day I might venture into additional ways to use calligraphy for more than the sheer satisfaction of trying to write beautifully as a form of solitary meditation.
  • A further source of satisfaction that Year 3 of retirement has highlighted for me: the benefits of my weekly tai chi classes and my modest daily regimen of tai chi practice. True, tai chi is not a form of aerobic exercise (it’s more of a stretchy/balance/ meditative thing than a way to improve my cardiac health), but I still feel lucky to have undertaken learning tai chi all those decades ago, to have rediscovered it almost ten years ago, to have such wonderful instructors and whose studio is so conveniently located, and to have noticed how much more these days I enjoy my daily walk in the park to do the form.

I suppose the overriding reflection I have about Year 3 of retirement is how paradoxical it seems that I have reached this new plateau in my daily round. It seems only yesterday that I was working, and yet my working life now seems so distant from my daily routines. These days my memories of a full-time working life seem like they belong to some other lifetime (or somebody else’s career).

Mixed into this paradox is another one: I am still aware of – and grateful for – how luxurious it feels to be (mostly) enjoying what amounts to a never-ending vacation (albeit mostly the stay-at-home type of vacation!), but I am also often chagrined at how short the span of any human life is, and how quickly time (usually) flies for me.

I would surely benefit from flinging a bit more carpe diem energy at the tempus fugit predicament I find myself pondering sometimes, but the main joy I can report at the end of Year 3 of retirement is that I highly recommend it, and that I am so glad that I didn’t wait a minute longer to begin it. My career was interesting and fulfilling and productive, but retirement is better!

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One thought on “Most Recent Retirement Reflections: The Third Year

  1. What a great idea it was to blog about this retirement thing, Cal. It is such a significant change in our lives. Your reflections on loneliness and solitude are certainly on point. I find that when I semi-retired, I immediately began to fill up my time with more group-joining, volunteer-work-doing, and class-taking. These were things I had promised myself I would do when I had more time and I leapt in with both feet. Now I have to leave town to find solitude, but the cabin fills the bill. I agree with your last sentence: “My career was interesting and fulfilling and productive, but retirement is better!”. Even semi-retirement is better. Really.

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