As I sit in my armchair with a book in hand, I ponder how grateful I am to be at this place in life.
It’s a weekday, around the time I used to be hard at work in pressure-filled corporate America. It would be untruthful to say I don’t miss being part of that, though.
But there are also many things I don’t miss: Meetings upon meetings, dressing up daily, constant time pressure, and corporate “politics.”
Even though I’m outside the daily grind, I keep in touch with professional educational opportunities and the friendships formed in the field. Why is that so? The people and the “field of work” are still close to me, but the job itself is not. Planning my own time and choosing with whom to spend it are gifts.
So, now technically “retired,” I’m busier than ever. I ask myself, “How did I do all this and work full time?” Retirement is certainly not what I initially thought it would be.
My earliest image of retirement gray-haired oldsters who breakfast together (or eat lunch at 11 AM in the same community diner), nap afterward, then read or watch television until an early bedtime. With all that time in the day, I imagined endless leisure and disengaging from life outside a small circle.
As I approached adulthood, that earlier image morphed into the “senior citizen”: With less gray hair and more active upon leaving the workforce, I still imagined plenty of leisure time to garden, read, and take walks. Retirees were generally healthier and living longer. These folks mostly owned their homes by this time; maybe they even worked a part-time job. Interactions with grandchildren included vacations.
As I approached 60 – on the precipice of being a “senior” myself – I dreamed of sleeping past 5:30 AM on workdays while formulating a mental “retirement plan” that included books I wanted to read, healthier meal preparation, regular exercise, and a trip or two.
Does this have the tinny sound of New Year’s Resolutions? I trashed that plan and refocused: What does retirement look really like?
First, the term “senior citizen” is passe. Families are increasingly intergenerational and retirees are more active than ever.
Grandma may be in her 70s, but she’s traveling, gardening, volunteering, possibly working, attending grandchildren’s sports events, and gathering with friends at a local wine bar. Hair may be fashionably white or a hip purple. She may wear pearls and sport a new tattoo. Maybe she’s started a new career. Kiss the old image of retirement goodbye!
That stack of books I’ve meant to read for years is still there — and growing. Frustrated by my lack of progress on the old pile, I now choose two or three “old list” books to read a year. By small degrees, the stack recedes. I’ve found there is no “vanishing point” to learning new things.
While working in corporate America, I measured time in dollars. Now retired, my time has an even greater value, which I enjoy sharing. I went cheerfully from a person who consistently said “no” to volunteer requests to a person who said “yes” to too many. I’m learning how to make the “yesses” less frequent and better balance my time commitments with other interests and obligations.
Put this all together, and my days are full. I am grateful to have so many exciting things to do seven days a week, the good health to stay involved, and the ability to continue managing self-imposed time pressures.
And it’s nice to sleep until I wake up naturally in the morning — at 5:30 AM. Old habits don’t just disappear. Some, it seems, fit very comfortably into retirement.