Monday, September 23, 2013

When the Honeymood Is Over - Getting Over the Retirement Hump (Part one)

 This weekend was a lovely week in retirement (especially after the hundred year rain). The weather has cooled to a warm fall. My weekend was spent watching football and sewing-with a side trip to the Denver museum of art.  Enjoy the pictures from the artist Nick Cave-I may have to use one of these sculptures as an idea for my patio garden.

The last blog article I wrote had to do with saying yes-particularly about me saying yes in this new place.  I did share that saying yes can be difficult at times.  However, before we can say yes, we need to have at least SOME idea of what we want.  While jumping into new things in retirement has value, it's worth spending some time trying to find just what it is that is important and what we want out of life. Some bloggers know (or seem to have known) what it takes to make them feel motivated and fulfilled  since day one of retirement or before.  For many if not most of us, it's on ongoing process to find out what exactly will make us feel that way.  The most difficult time in that process can be the immediate post retirement experience.

When I retired, I went through a period of adjustment. My first and greatest adjustment was that retirement was not a choice.  I fully expected that after I had been a caregiver for my spouse I would return to the working world, that I would just "find another job". I was wrong. So My first few months were, I suppose denial. Me, retired??? I had never planned to retire early. I appreciate others who make that choice but it was not my choice of life plan (so much for plans). I had been an at home spouse for awhile and was ready to work-my work had to do with advocating for kids and it had it's own rewards.  (Although this is not a money related post, I predicated many financial decisions on the idea that I would go back to work).

After my period of denial, I went through my "summer vacation period".  In other words, I slept in every day. I wore whatever I wanted around the house. I spent a fair amount of time watching TV, reading, enjoying my patio, going to movies and sitting by the pool (the thing I miss most about Texas, boy, is that pool. even though I usually just sat beside it)!

After that, well, I went through my "is that all there is?" phase.  Believe it or not, this was true even though I had hobbies and non work interests by the bucket before retirement. It was true even though I had been an at home spouse (not just with small kids but almost always).  My hobbies had always been things that filled in around travel, kids, husband and volunteer commitments. I was not sure any of them were "passions" at that point. The volunteering I had done was primarily child and family oriented.  Even if my husband were living, HE would most certainly not have been ready to retire, so planning my days would have still been my sole responsibility.  Honestly, I had no idea what I wanted to do.  Also in my case, I was from a DOD/Military background, meaning I did not have "long term" neighbors or close friends in the area.

Unfortunately I had also already broken the unwritten rules of retirement (and widowhood). I had made many changes (financial, location and otherwise) due to situations that were completely out of my control for the most part (more on that another time). In addition to finding my way, I had to do so in an artificial, not chosen by me location and structure.

What followed was a long process of experimenting and learning, during which time I contemplated the following:
  • I made a list of the things I truly cared about in my heart of hearts-those things that were important to me from a societal, family and spiritual sense. 
  • I made a list of the things I liked to do, and all those wish list items that I had thought about doing-even in passing.
  • I asked myself what I needed in terms of outside stimulation and socialization. I'll say here that my experience is that this is different for different people. I'll also say that while I am not single, spouses need their own socialization (both together and alone) as well. 
  • I asked myself if I was happy where I was planted-at least for the moment.
  •  Looked at my financial situation in as realistic way as possible.
  • Looked at my physical limitations and desires (Going by Gail Sheehy's scale, I am a moderate at heart who is less moderate due to a permanent knee injury)
  • Even though I am NOT a planner or scheduler, I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what I would be doing in say three years (five or ten year planning? not my style).
This took awhile, during which time I continued my "vacation mode" life and began organizing all the flotsam (physical and otherwise) that followed me in my move across an ocean. In my case I am a journal keeper. Not in the larger sense, but in the smaller sense. I threw out my day planner with relish and I now use a journal notebook-to loosely plan my days, make lists, doodle and design.  Every day during my morning caffeine I sit down with this journal and write whatever comes to mind.

At the end of this trial period, I had something like this written down:
  •  Spirituality is at the top of my list as is contributing in a serious way where there is a serious need.  To that end I knew I needed a church that was right for me. I also needed to find a way to volunteer that met my personal goals (to be ministering with and not to, and to be meeting a real need that would make a visible difference)
  • I am a low energy, laid back person. For me, retirement would never be full of structure, and I needed down, uncommitted time on most days.
  • Although in my personal, perfect world I would live on the coast of the Carolinas or near the DC area, my family had migrated to Colorado and Texas and I would probably not want to be so far away (in my perfect world I would be in Beaufort or Hilt on Head). It was important to me to be near (or a reasonable distance from) family.
  • I did in fact have a few passions (the kind that when you sit down to do, you look up later and realize you spent longer at your passion than you had planned). I also had a very long list of things I had been wanted to learn and do.
  • Travel is important and enjoyable, but I had spent the last ten years traveling every weekend and vacation. I was ready to cut down my travel to three or four longer trips a year at most. I did not want my retirement life to be centered around travel, but to have travel as an accent or part of that experience.
  • I knew that whatever life brought, I needed to be around people of all ages (and ethnicity and income) as part of my regular life.  This has become more important to me as my retirement has progressed.
  • I knew that at some point I was probably want what has been called a "freedom business".  For some extra income, for stimulation and for creativity.
  • I needed specific, outside mental stimulation-be it pursuing a degree or taking part time classes.
  • Finally I decided that I needed to have outside of my house social interaction at least twice or three times a week. I also decided that I needed outside alone time each week as well-be it coffee in the big bookstore chair or something else. I recognized that for me, most of that social interaction would come by engaging-engaging with family, and with people through my hobbies and interests.
How I got from those lists to here?  Well, that would be several long stories, each worthy of their own blog post, which I will share in the near future. Let's just say that it took some time, but that time was not wasted. Certainly there were other considerations other than the major ones above. At this point in my life, I've managed to get to that place where as one blogger said, I have structure, community and purpose.  My questions are not "is that all there is" but rather "when did I ever have time to not be retired".

Eventually, we all figure out what retirement works for us. And that's what counts, after all!


  1. This is an excellent, excellent post. I'm right there with you. I admire what you've done with your time and your resources.

    1. Thanks Linda. Life is a wok in progress.

  2. I am inspired by this post,Barbara,so honest and to the point--addressing all issues from spiritual to physical to.. time alone necessary! Thank you so much for sharing..

    1. I've learned that as a single person I like my own company!

  3. I, too, made "many changes (financial, location and otherwise) due to situations that were completely out of my control" right about the time I retired . . . or actually, was laid off. I think I'm still in the summer vacation stage, but I'm working on my list ... trouble is, I keep changing my mind!

    1. IN retirement, you can change your mind as often as you like- I am a perfect example there! and I spend quite a few hours daily relaxing on the patio, staring at the stars or whatever, so some might say I am in vacation mode as well.

  4. Barb, you have accomplished so much just in the time that I have been following you. I am always inspired by your positive attitude and resilience. Your self knowledge and core values shine! Good lessons for us all.

    1. Thanks. I am still a summer vacation retiree much of the time, but do to a couple blogs and some emails about retirement let down I figured I should share my journey.

      Now if I could just, someday, get completely unpacked in my current reality I would be fine.

  5. Yes, Barb, you epitomize the phrase " Do life so life doesn't do me". I think your post is good advice for all stages of life. It's important to take stock of one's values, interests, abilities and what's available in our locale, then get at it. With or without a job, there are always things that need to be done and things that want to be done. Oprah Winfrey once said that when someone asks you "Who do you think you are?" our challenge is to stand up and answer that question. That's even more of a challenge without a paid job to go to if we allow employment to define us. I'd like to hear more about the unwritten rules of retirement and widowhood.

    1. Those rules mainly have to do with making no major changes for at least a year, but I will talk about them eventually. of course, who wrote those unwritten rules, I am not sure.

  6. This is a very thoughtful post full of important examples of self awareness and analysis. Too many folks sort of wander through life without taking the time to take a close look at how their life is being lived. Good job, Barb.

    1. Thanks bob. I am not nearly as organized or forward looking as I like, but I do my best.

  7. BARB, your thoughtful, intelligent, heart-felt posts really inspire me..thank you so much for sharing all of it!!


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