GratiTuesday: Moving beyond retirement into jubilación

Yesterday, as we were out running errands, I mentioned to my husband that it was the 2-year anniversary of my retirement. His response was, “Wow, really? Time has gone so fast, hasn’t it?”

Yes and no.

Although he was right that the two years went by rather swiftly, I also feel as if I’ve been living my retired life for a long time… and I’m getting pretty good at it. In fact, I don’t really feel “retired,” as if that word defines a specific post-work chapter of my life. I’m not just moving through a phase; I am fully engaged in my life. The Spanish word for retirement is jubilación, which I think is much more fitting.

Jubilacion, La Paz style
Jubilacion, La Paz style

A few days ago, I was at an event where I didn’t know many people. I thought it would be interesting to do a little experiment if when anyone asked employment-related questions. I wanted to avoid describing myself as “retired” because I’ve found that often that word can be a dead-end to a conversation. I was interested to see if a different response could generate more engaging dialog.

It didn’t take too long to find myself in the familiar, polite back-and-forth that often occurs with a stranger in a social situation.

Polite Stranger (PS): What do you do?

Me: I dabble in photography, write a bit, read, and travel whenever possible.

PS: I mean, what work do you do?

Me: Some housework, although not as much as I should, perhaps. Also, yard work.

PS: No, full-time. I mean, what do you do full-time?

Me: Oh. I guess I don’t do anything full-time. There is so many great options that it would be impossible to pick something to do full-time.

PS: Really? Tell me about some of the things you are doing.

And, then the conversation really got interesting. I don’t think it came up that I was retired until quite a bit into the discussion. I also don’t remember if PS told me what kind of work she did… it wasn’t important. I learned some interesting things about her that had nothing to do with how she spent 8-9 hours of her day. Who we are is so much more than our chosen career. And, when we are no longer wrapped up in that career, being retired is just a single data point, not a description of who we are.

I am so grateful that two years ago I had the good fortune to be able to leave the work-world behind and embrace jubilación. The word may mean the same thing, but it sure sounds more like how I feel.

Searching for balance in retirement

Sometimes it seems like it’s been much less than two years since I was wrapping up my final weeks of employment and looking forward to the day I retire. At other times, it’s as if I’ve been living this leisurely lifestyle for many years and I can hardly remember having full-time work obligations.

I had a lot of plans for my retirement: I wanted to take classes, travel, socialize with friends, complete household projects, and explore my creative side. I also wanted to allow enough leisure time in my non-existent schedule to relax, read books, and daydream.

Mission accomplished… sort of.

Is it possible to have too much leisure? Maybe so.
Is it possible to have too much leisure? Maybe so.

Since retiring, my husband and I have gone on some amazing trips (and more are planned), I’ve taken advantage of free—and nearly free—educational opportunities, I’ve joined a wonderful book club, we’ve completed multiple house projects (and have more in the works), and I’ve spent time writing and improving my photography skills. Life is good.

But, just recently, I’ve started to struggle with the feeling that I would like to do more, that I want to have more to show for my time. This doesn’t mean that I desire to go back to full-time work, or even that I want to find part-time employment. What I want is more balance in my life.

Besides receiving a regular paycheck and subsidized healthcare insurance, going to work every day provided a lot of intangible benefits. Daily interactions with colleagues wove a social network that helped to make work a pleasurable experience. Because I worked for a large company, my network web included people from a variety of backgrounds and with diverse interests and skills.

I miss that.

I also miss the feeling of working together towards a common goal. We took on projects and supported each other as we met our objectives. In addition, work gave me opportunities to challenge myself and to enjoy the feeling of satisfaction when I successfully expanded my comfort zone.

I’m not sure where this sense that something is missing will lead me. Exploring volunteer opportunities might be a good start. Perhaps I need to get involved with a cause that I believe in. Maybe some type of part-time employment will supply the diverse community I miss. Perhaps it’s a combination of all three possibilities, or maybe something else.

I fully realize how lucky I am that I actually have a choice about how I spend my time. If I make no changes at all, I have a pretty good life. But if I can find something that allows me to make a positive contribution, I think my retirement could be more purposeful and satisfying. It also might help me re-discover some or all of those missing elements: enjoying an expanded and more diverse social network, being inspired by a vision shared with others, and embracing the opportunity to help others and to challenge myself.

The key will be to find something that also allows me to travel when I want and to enjoy the retirement I envisioned when I said good-bye to full-time employment.

May I have this dance?

I remember the moment that I decided that I must learn how to dance. I was out to dinner with my boyfriend and, while waiting for a table, we were seated next to a large, nearly empty dance floor. I don’t remember the type of music being played, but my attention was grabbed by a lone couple gliding across the floor in seemingly perfect harmony with each other. After watching the dancers for a while, I turned to my boyfriend and said, “I need to be able to do that.”

The next day I researched local dance class options, and signed the two of us up for jitterbug and swing lessons. As I remember, my boyfriend was less than thrilled but he was nice enough to humor me.

From the beginning, I was hooked. I loved the music, the moves, the exercise, and the community. Even though it was a challenge to learn the steps, I had a clear vision of where I wanted to end up: I longed to be able to dance like that couple.

The boyfriend didn’t last, but my love of dancing did and, to this day, it is one of my favorite things to do.

I was reminded of my first dance epiphany when I read a recent post by Donna on her blog Retirement Reflections, in which she wrote about a retired friend who was learning how to dance. Because this friend enjoyed dancing at her high school reunion so much, she decided to sign up for lessons. Much like me, she discovered – then embraced – a hidden passion.

I was in my late twenties when I took my first dance lessons. At first it was just jitterbug and swing, but soon I was also learning to waltz, foxtrot, cha-cha, tango, and even to do the hustle (remember that??). I was never what anyone would call a gifted student, but I enjoyed the challenge and loved learning different dance styles.

Jitterbugging at a 50s party 26 years ago
Jitterbugging at a 50s party 26 years ago

 

Learning to dance has introduced a lot of positive aspects to my life and I often encourage others to give it a try. Many classes don’t require having a partner – in fact you will become a better dancer when you dance with a variety of partners. You can pick just one type of dance, or branch out as your skills and interest develop.

Here are some other reasons to consider learning to dance:

  • It’s a great way to get exercise while having fun
  • You’ll enjoy a sense of accomplishment as you master a new skill
  • It’s social – you can meet people you may not otherwise encounter and it is a great excuse to get out of the house and go
  • It’s challenging – crowded dance floors require timing, balance, and mental focus
  • Music is a language used all over the world; learn it and you have learned an almost universal language
  • You can take your dance skills with you on all your trips and it takes up zero space in your luggage
  • If you are looking, taking dance lessons can be a great way to meet someone special. I met my husband 26 years ago in a jitterbug class and dancing became our early connection.

Although my husband and I haven’t taken lessons for years and the opportunities to go dancing don’t present themselves as often as they used to, we still enjoy getting out on the dance floor when we can. Our moves are a little rusty and we sometimes struggle to get in rhythm with each other again, but soon, the muscle memory returns and we start to glide across the floor just like that couple did so many years ago.

Finding my happy place

Last week, Sammy over at Bemuzin, posted a list of ten things she loves and ten things she hates. She had been tagged by a fellow blogger to participate in the Love-Hate Challenge, then she tagged ten different bloggers to pass the baton to, including me.

Fortunately, she didn’t list “procrastinators” as one of the ten things she hates, because I’m a bit tardy submitting my lists to the blogosphere.

Blueberries definitely take me to my happy place!
Blueberries definitely take me to my happy place!

For my lists, I’m going to change it up a bit (Sammy also didn’t include “rule-breakers” on her hated list, so I think I’m in the clear). First, few things rise to the level of “hate” in my life, so I will modify my list titles a bit. Second, I’m not going to tag a new group. But, give some thought to compiling your own lists, it was a lot of fun!

Ten things that take me to my happy place:

  • Beginning the morning lazing about and cuddling with my husband
  • Sitting on my deck and enjoying the sunshine
  • Taking walks with friends for exercise and conversation
  • Starting a new book and, after just a few pages, realizing that it’s REALLY good
  • Our blueberry bushes bursting with berries
  • All the yummies we make with our blueberry harvest
  • Small get-togethers with friends – good conversation, good food, and good wine
  • Road trips
  • National Public Radio
  • Coaxing a contented purr from a kitty by scratching behind its ears

Ten things that harsh my buzz:

  • Guilt-tipping (I talk all about it here)
  • When people post controversial things on Facebook without checking its authenticity
  • Drivers who endanger themselves and others by texting or talking on their cellphones
  • Mean people
  • Cooked carrots
  • When I forget someone’s name and have to fumble around in my brain to retrieve it
  • Missing Stephen Colbert and, soon, Jon Stewart on Comedy Central
  • Gophers
  • Ever-shrinking seats on airplanes
  • People who don’t pick up their dog’s poop

Lucy, you got some splainin’ to do!

Several years ago, I cut out and thumbtacked to the bulletin board in my office a section of an article about relationships. The article must have contained a list of “dos” and “don’ts” because this one was labeled “No. 16.” I have no memory of numbers 1 through 15, nor any that proceeded Number 16, but this one stopped me mid-read, and prompted me to get up and grab my scissors.

No. 16 Don’t Be the Ricky

On the 1950’s sit-com I Love Lucy, Ricky and Lucy Ricardo had very different ways of approaching life. Lucy was always doing crazy stuff and getting into trouble. Ricky was always there to bail her out of whatever disaster she got herself into. The premise of Number 16 was that people tend to either be Rickys or Lucys.

Ricky and Lucy4

Rickys are practical, responsible, and live life relatively conservatively. In a relationship, they are the caretakers; the ones who make sure the bills get paid, the finances are in good shape, and plans are made and followed.

Lucys, on the other hand, are crazy, fun-loving, and charmingly irresponsible. They have a “live for today” attitude. They are the ones who are out having fun and not paying too much attention to the consequences.

Number 16 warned about being a Ricky (who is stuck being responsible) while your partner is being a Lucy (forever starry-eyed, wacky, and impractical). One person is Homer, and the other Marge. One is Hans Solo, the other Princess Leia. The message was that one was having way more fun than the other.

I have a dominant Ricky gene. My husband also is a Ricky. We know how to have fun, we enjoy being silly, we even can be pretty creative (after all, Ricky Ricardo was an accomplished singer and bandleader) but, for the most part, we have a vision of what we want to accomplish and we take the steps necessary to get there. Most likely, being Rickys throughout our working lives has helped us get where we are today: being able to retire relatively young.

That’s not to say that Lucys are all screw-ups who have great fun but are ultimately destined to be financially unsound or be dependent on Rickys to save them. Some people I love and admire are Lucys. I imagine that many brilliant multi-gazillionaires are shoot-for-the-stars Lucys. Who knows, when I decided to cut out and keep that article, if I had been more of a Lucy I may have had the crazy idea to create some sort of an online bulletin board that people could, I don’t know… maybe “pin” interesting items to. And, throwing caution to the wind, I may have sold everything and taken out ill-advised loans to fund that insanity.

My husband and I got where we are today by saving more than spending, economizing more than splurging. That’s not to say we haven’t had great adventures or wonderful experiences, but we have said “no” to opportunities more than we would have liked, and probably more than we needed to.

Ricky and Lucy5

Suddenly becoming total Lucys is probably not possible or desirable. Rickyness is in our DNA, and that’s not a bad thing; it will most likely keep us out of trouble as we get older. But I think we have reached a point in our lives when we should start channeling our inner Lucys regularly. We need to say “yes” more often, seek out some crazy adventures, and do a few marvelously impractical things that may leave the Rickys out there scratching their heads.