Practice Retirement

Several months ago – back when I thought I’d be retired by now – I happily volunteered to go on a two-week road trip with a dear friend. She used to live in San Diego before moving to Pennsylvania, and now drives west each winter to spend several months seeing friends and avoiding the snow. I thought it would be great fun to join her on her journey back home.

Just like this, except in the snow and without Brad Pit to entertain us.
Just like this, except in the snow and without Brad Pitt to entertain us… and no cliffs.

I am fortunate that I was still able to arrange a two-week block of time off work, and lucky that I have a husband who understands the importance of the trip and is OK with me being away for that amount of time.

We planned this trip before the dreaded polar vortexes (vortices?) hit, so I’m now questioning the wisdom of leaving sunny southern California and heading to the east coast. To avoid as much cold weather as possible, we’ll take a mostly southern route before heading north once we reach Alabama. Since I’ve never lived in the snow, I don’t have the proper clothes, nor do I have a clue how to drive in the stuff. I really hope that the worst will be over by the time we head out in a few weeks.

Remind me again why I'm leaving the orange and yellow part in the lower left to drive to the dark blue and purple parts in the upper right?
Remind me again why I’m leaving the orange and yellow part in the lower left to drive to the dark blue and purple parts in the upper right?

I’m also nervous because I’m an introvert by nature and crave a certain amount of alone time. The thought of being with someone other than my husband, in close quarters, all day, for two weeks is somewhat unsettling. Fortunately, my friend and I share similar interests, and our taste in food, music, books-on-tape, etc. is close enough so I’m fairly certain we’ll be fine.

Although a two-week trip across country could be called leisurely, we won’t make many site-seeing stops. We’ve identified a couple of points of interest that will require longer stays, and plan to see a few friends along the way, but mostly our overnights will be in small towns, strategically spaced to break up the drive into reasonable chunks.

This trip is the type of adventure (albeit with my husband) I am looking forward to the most in my retirement. Without any hard deadlines or schedules, I hope he and I can take off when the desire hits us, and stay away as long as we want. I have no idea how often we will actually do that, but just having the option feels very freeing.

This road trip with my friend will give me a chance to practice being retired. Along with as many warm cloths as I can stuff in my suitcase, I will take my journal and my camera, a commitment to be flexible and open experiences outside of my comfort zone, and, most of all, my sense of adventure.

Opening Our Minds to Skepticism

All too often, we read stories about people who are duped by scammers. Sadly, the victim is often elderly and, tragically, large sums of money – money that they can’t afford to lose – are frequently involved.

As my late father’s physical and mental health started to decline, I worried about him falling for the various come-ons he received in the mail and on the phone. He had a good, analytical mind when he was younger, but I could tell that his aging brain was becoming less and less able to discern fact from fiction. Fortunately, I was able to protect his bank accounts and credit card before anything happened so he and his finances were safe.

Scams_Computer

Scammers continue to devise more sophisticated and devious ways to separate people from their money, but there are still plenty of victims responding to notices of large lottery wins, promised riches from Nigerian princes, and a variety of phony phishing emails. My innate skepticism will help protect me from falling for these scams now, but I worry that when I am much older, will I still be able to avoid being taken advantage of?

The same critical thinking skills that make me disregard offers that are “too good to be true” lead me to question much of what I read on the Internet and in social media. I can always count on a handful of “friends” posting items on Facebook or forwarding me emails (along with protestations of outrage) with a story sent to them by some equally outraged person. Most don’t pass my “smell test” and, after a quick search on various fact-checking sites, the stories turn out to be just that, stories.

I don’t think these people are stupid or especially gullible but when they read something that fits very neatly into their political or ideological mindset, they tend not to question its authenticity. This is how hate, lies, and rumors are spread; one unquestioned falsehood at a time.

Tennis Shoes

A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes” Mark Twain

We live in a society of people who self-select their news. If one source’s slant doesn’t lean in the right direction, simply choose another that does. We also tend to socialize, and even live in communities, with like-minded people. That way we don’t have to question our beliefs or, God forbid, alter them in any way. I guess this makes us feel smug comfortable in our convictions, but does it make us better citizens? Does listening to only one side of a story before deciding on its merits support our intellectual integrity? I think most would agree that it does not (although we still do it because, really, it’s others who need to open their minds, not us… right?).

Non-critical thinking makes us more vulnerable to scammers. If we trust a source so completely that we never question its accuracy, why would we question the authenticity of an “exclusive offer” from the same source (or one of its advertisers)? Even better if the offer is also couched in language that supports our biases. If we are distrustful of something or someone, are we not more likely to respond to something that reinforces our paranoia suspicion?

Less incendiary, but maybe in some ways worse, are the “innocent” but untrue items that are re-posted virally. If the poster had done some quick research or applied simple logic, they would have realized that the story doesn’t make any sense. In this category are those emails/posts that promise riches/good luck if you continue the chain (and usually include dire warnings if you don’t), and urban legends like entering your ATM PIN backwards will summon help. Although new myths are being created all the time, many have been around for years and are repackaged and posted over and over again.

When we get in the habit of using magical thinking in place of critical thinking, we make ourselves more vulnerable to hoaxes and fraud. Best case, we just irritate our friends and end up looking stupid, but worst case, we open ourselves up to scammers and thieves.

Recent studies have shown that changes in the brain as we age make the elderly more trusting. The negative “gut feelings” a younger person might experience aren’t felt as strongly by an older person. For this reason, we must be alert when caring for an older adult to protect them from unscrupulous individuals and businesses.

Fortunately, there are things we can do as we age so we aren’t as likely to become victims. We can actually practice our critical thinking skills, learn to be more analytical, and train our brains to question when something just doesn’t ring true.

The enemy of scammers and hoaxters is common sense, questioning, and research.

Be their barricade, not their bridge.

Shifting Sands

Today was supposed to be THE day. On one of my first RetirementallyChallenged posts, Picking a Date, I drew a line in the sand by declaring that I would retire on January 31, 2014. I did this so that I would have a date to focus on and to make the concept of retiring more real to me.

Sand shifts, lines get less defined, plans change.

Sand2

I knew that when I approached my manager with this date, the resulting discussion wouldn’t be a comfortable one. Although I would be giving plenty of prior notice (months, not weeks), I work with a pretty tight team, both in working style and in numbers. My leaving will create an unwelcomed challenge for my co-workers. The challenge will be temporary; work adjusts, life goes on, but our team is small enough that one person’s leaving impacts the others.

When I approached my manager a few months ago, although she expressed happiness for my new adventure, it was apparent that she was concerned about filling the void my retirement would leave. I felt guilty and conflicted. My resolve began to falter and I found myself looking for ways to “fix” this problem I was creating.

Yes, I whimped out, but only temporarily.

I will stay a few more months more to help with the transition. I will still be able to take my planned two-week road trip with my friend in March. And, when I return, my final two months will be made up of 4-day work weeks. Padding my savings a little bit more before the regular paychecks end probably isn’t a bad thing. Not leaving my co-workers scrambling to cover my absence makes me feel better about my ultimate decision.

Looking back, I’m glad that I set the January date. It prompted me to put the process in motion. The fact that my end date is a few months out doesn’t bother me too much. It would have bothered me more to have added extra stress to the lives of my team.

hourglass

The more sand has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it. – Johann Paul Friedrich Richter

Too Much of a Good Thing

Yesterday, my husband and I had a lovely day running a handful of errands, enjoying a relaxing lunch at an outdoor café, and spending the afternoon exploring a neighborhood we had never been to before. The weather was so sunny and warm we were able to drive around with our convertible’s top down.

This morning, I got out into our yard early before the bees showed up, to pick tomatoes from a “volunteer” vine that probably arose from the seeds of a discarded fruit from our summer crop.

photo

We don’t live in the southern hemisphere, where it is currently their warm season. We live in Southern California, where we are in the midst of the worst drought in a century. Warnings of possible wildfires, dangers that we are used to hearing about in September and October, are filling the local newspapers and the airwaves. The governor has just declared a drought emergency and we fully expect that water-use restrictions will soon follow.

Fortunately, a couple of years ago, we replaced our thirsty front lawn with drought-tolerant plants. Most of our backyard is either covered in hardscape or planted with bushes and succulents, chosen for their ability to withstand long periods with little water. We realize that, although our home is near the coast, we live in a Mediterranean climate and our landscaping should reflect that. We don’t know what the next few months hold for us rain-wise, but if it continues to be dry, our plants will probably survive, and maybe even thrive.

Sticks of Fire

I love these August-in-January temperatures, but I also know that every season brings with it possibilities and challenges, both abundance and retreat, and each must build on the other for life to flourish and grow. The same dry weather day after day isn’t good for plants, animals, or people. It is dull, it is boring, and it can be dangerous.

As I was picking tomatoes this morning, my thoughts turned (as they do more-and-more these days) to my upcoming retirement. I wondered, as much as I enjoy working in the garden, would I be happy doing it every day? Would I be happy doing anything all the time? Although I am looking forward to having unstructured hours and limitless ways to fill them, I know that too much free time can turn out to be too much of a good thing.

Working five days a week and having only two days on the weekends to get things done, I often find that, come Sunday night, I’ve checked off only a few things on my to-do list, and I didn’t devote much time, if any, to pure enjoyment. After I retire, “enjoyment” will be tops on my to-do list, but that doesn’t mean that I want my days to be exclusively warm and sunny. I look forward to challenging myself by taking classes and learning new skills, obligating some of my time with volunteer work, and creating a certain amount of structure so that I can maintain my physical, mental, and emotional well-being for as many years as possible.

Just as we landscaped our yard in preparation for expected periods of drought and to better reflect the climate we live in, I am laying the groundwork for my retirement. I am setting up my financial life for when paychecks no longer regularly re-fill the coffers, and my personal life to be more self-directed and open to exploration.

Like our current endless summer, a retirement devoted exclusively to relaxation and leisure will soon grow dull, boring, and quite possibly dangerous to health and well-being. It will be important that I search out variety, welcome change, and strive embrace each season for its diversity and its possibilities.

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy” – William Blake

Daze of Our Lives

Last night, my husband and I had an “ah-ha” moment that helped to bring into focus some of the challenges we will face when we are both retired. Fortunately it wasn’t too serious, but it made us realize that we had better start putting a few tools in place that will help us keep our lives organized.

memory

I’ve always been the main “keeper of the calendar” in our relationship. I know when we have social events planned, vacations scheduled, and (usually) due dates we must meet. I am the one who is expected to remember birthdays and anniversaries (both for his family and mine), and remember them enough in advance so cards can be purchased and mailed in time. For the most part, I’m able to keep most things straight by utilizing my Outlook calendar at work. Along with work-related meetings, events, and appointments, I add reminders of personal dates that I need to keep track of. Since I regularly access my calendar while I’m at work, and my cell phone is set up to alert me with reminder notices, this system has worked pretty well for us.

After finishing dinner and settling down to watch a little TV last night, I fired up my iPad to check my email and read a few blogs I follow. Good thing I did, because right there, on one of my favorite financial/political blogs (andrewtobias.com) was a reminder to “rush to the mail box with your fourth quarterly estimated 2013 tax payment, if you owe one.” Oh, crap.

Normally, this is something my husband might be expected to remember. He’s always been more focused on our financial lives and it’s mostly because he’s retired that we have to pay quarterly taxes in the first place. But, he’s currently taking a pretty intense culinary arts class which includes a fair amount of homework, so lately, he’s more about sheet pans than spreadsheets. In addition, over the past year-and-a-half of his retirement, I can tell that his attention is slowly shifting (as it should) from number-crunching and calculations, to exploring his creative side and spending time doing the things he’s always wanted to do.

Later this year, when I join my husband in retirement, it will be imperative that we have established a reliable and user-friendly way to organize our lives. The tool (or tools) will have to have a paper component because I like to have something physical in front of me as a reminder, and I don’t expect to be on my computer, tablet, or cell phone as often as I am currently. The tool will have to have an alerting function to ping us when pre-established dates and times arrive, and, it will have to be flexible enough to be able to send the alerts to just me, just him, or to both, depending on how each reminder is set up.

With all of the available computer tools, software, and billions of downloadable apps, I’m pretty sure we will have many serviceable options to choose from. I hope it will be just a matter of picking the one that best fits our needs and then setting it up so that it helps keep track of the day-to-day so we can get on with enjoying our journey.

After realizing our mistake last night, we quickly found the required paperwork, made the needed money transfers, and wrote our checks to the state and federal tax agencies. The postmark will be one day late, and we may get dinged, but it was a relatively cheap wake-up call that won’t go un-answered.

Ten Things I Learned About Retirement from Downton Abbey

As I move towards retirement, I have gained wisdom and guidance from many sources. Books, blogs, articles, and especially friends who have gone before me, all have helped pave the way and have made me more comfortable with my coming transition.

Tonight, as I anticipate the start of Season 4 of Downton Abbey, I realized that even the Crawleys, along with their extended family and staff, can teach me a thing or two about the road ahead.

try new things

1) Don’t stay in a rut. Try new things – even if it involves wearing unattractive outfits.

entertain

2) Stay connected with friends and entertain often. Everyone loves a barbeque!

weekends

3) Don’t forget what a weekend is. It’s that thing at the end of those other days you’ll lose track of.

idle

4) Don’t be idle. There’s always something to do, even if it’s just getting lost in a good book.

still working

5) Don’t forget that others are still working. Be grateful and respectful of their time.

travel

6) There is so much out there to see. Travel as often as possible.

frump

7) No need to start dressing like a frump just because you’re no longer going to work every day.

excercise

8) Exercise often. Even better, exercise with friends.

technology

9) Stay current with new technologies, and don’t be afraid of getting out of your comfort zone.

you never know

10) You never know how long you – or those you love – will be around. Never miss an opportunity to tell someone that you love them.

“Life is short, live it. Love is rare, grab it. Anger is bad, dump it. Fear is awful, face it. Memories are sweet, cherish it.” – Unknown

The Vision Thing

“Vision animates, inspires, transforms purpose into action” Warren Bennis

I’ve never been a big proponent of writing New Year’s resolutions. The few times I actually wrote down what I resolved to do (or stop doing) in the new year, I would forget about the list by, say, January 5, and pick right up doing (or not doing) what I’ve done (or not done) all along. I am a creature of habit and it takes much more than a few words on paper to make big changes.

This is not to say that I don’t believe in setting personal goals or having a self-improvement plan. I just don’t think the arbitrary date of January 1 is necessarily the day to begin. I remember when I worked out regularly at a gym, I always avoided going the first few weeks of January because it was overrun with wannabe gym rats. I knew that by the end of January/early February, gym attendance would return to normal and I would no longer have to wait in line to use the machines.

As 2013 ends and the year that I will retire begins, I am going to try something different: writing a personal vision statement. I have written many vision statements over the years for various organizations, but I have never thought to craft one for my own personal goals, ambitions, and dreams. Although I know that, like New Year’s resolutions, just because something is written on paper doesn’t make it so, I think having a well-thought-out vision statement can help me stay focused on creating the future I want.

A simple Google search will yield tons of articles about writing a personal vision statement. Some have handy step-by-step instructions, some give examples of what one might look like. Most of the articles suggest that it be kept to just a few sentences and to write it in the present tense; as if you have already achieved your goals. Your vision statement can cover several areas of your life (e.g. health, education, and relationships) or focus on one particular dream or goal. The important thing is that it speaks to your soul and inspires you to move forward.

Before I started to craft my personal vision statement, I thought it would be helpful to make a photo collage that created a visual representation of my perfect future. I gathered up a pile of old magazines, a pair of scissors, a glue stick, and a poster board and started to cut out pictures and words that resonated with me. As I assembled the pictures and words on my board, I discovered four main areas of focus: health and exercise, travel and recreation, creativity and art, and friends and food.

Photo Collage

Using this collage as my inspiration, I will next capture in words the life I want to create for myself as I move into retirement and beyond. I may not share the final product with anyone but I will re-visit it often to draw inspiration and to make sure I’m doing what I need to do in order to live the life I want to live. If any part of my vision statement no longer resonates, I can simply change it so that it reflects my new path.