Retirement Looms

by Charles R. Middleton

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There is a remarkable statistic that riveted my attention a few years back. The baby boom generation, it seems, is attaining retirement age at the rate of 10,000 people a day on average and will keep up that pace until December 31, 2027. Chances are that you, the reader, are going to be a participant in that onslaught – like it or not.

Conversations about retirement in my experience (full disclosure – I decamped on June 30, 2015) are highly correlated to the age of those talking. By this I mean that younger people, looking at retirement as a distant event, generally envy those who are on the verge of or beyond the work divide. They fantasize about the freedom, the things they will finally be able to do, and the exotic places they now will have the time to visit unfettered by the constraints of earning a living,

But listen to those a little closer to their actual retirement date. Much of the hope and dreaming of the younger folks remains, to be sure. But now it is tinged by greater certainty of the actual resources that will be available for such things as, say, that round-the-world cruise. Scaling back in ambition as well as the inevitable realization that there is just less energy to do so much as you age, and you get more realistic assessments of what it means to be retired.

Now we come to those folks who actually are “on the verge” of being able to move to whatever comes next. Well, I don’t know about you, but I, settled in on the other side of the watershed moment, found that even though I had lots of things I had hoped to do and now really had time to do them, they weren’t that easy to engage in once the paychecks stopped.

Two years later I must confess that as purposeful as I am and have always been about such matters, it still was a transition that I had to consciously work through. So here are some thoughts about how you might deal with your moment of transition, be it next week or ten years from now.

First, take some time to disengage for a month. This can take the form of many things but I found that doing something for pleasure that I did a lot of while working was an excellent way to spend the first month of your retirement. If you travel every summer to that favorite place, go there. If you visit relatives every summer, do that. In short, start your retirement with a vacation, or as I told friends, “I’m taking a vacation from my vacation.”

Second, think about all those things that you do outside of work, though perhaps related to it, that don’t stop just because you no longer get a paycheck. Your volunteer work or pursuing your pet hobby will continue. I found it to be a surprise, however, that the amount of time they took expanded. It turns out that I was squeezing them in when I could and now they opened up for me to take on more in each of them – if I wished. So when retired people say they are super busy, bet on the fact that this is one of the reasons why; they are, but it’s the mix of things done and to do that has changed.

Third, as time passes and you settle in to your new role(s), make yourself useful. You, of course, may be a person who has always done that in one manner or another. But I’m not talking about that sort of usefulness. I’m talking about something deeper and more personal. In my case I have found that one skill I have, that of careful listening, when coupled with a less frenetic life, made for my being useful in ways that were more intense and deeply satisfying than the more hurried, catch-as-catch-can manner in which I have always lived. I can adjust my life more readily to the schedules and needs of others and then leave open how long I have to listen to them. In that sense, I’m more accessible and less rushed and thus, far more useful to friends, family, and colleagues than before.

Finally, I believe that we never stop changing and that to embrace that reality is to open up opportunities in new and exciting ways. So my last point is that you will continue to become a different person the deeper you go into your retirement. And that will mean new opportunities that you didn’t plan on or even know could happen. And you will have new passions to go along with those you already have nurtured over the years.

Your life is a video, not a snapshot. Or, rather, it can be. Like the grandmother in “Parenthood” said, life is either like a merry go round, predictably going round and round, pleasant enough, but really when you come down to it, boring.

Or it can be like a roller coaster: exhilarating, full of twists and dips and turns, and continuously scary. In short, exciting.

Who knew that you would still have that choice to make after retirement? But you do, so make it wisely.