So Far, So Good!

I really didn’t know what to expect of the first week my retirement. I had hoped to check several things off my to-do list as well as explore a few activities I thought I’d enjoy, but I also gave myself permission—at least during the initial few weeks—to just kind of see what happened. Ease into it slowly. No pressure.

I hadn’t envisioned that I would jam my little toe into an unmovable object hard enough that it’s been too painful to wear anything but flip-flops. It also never occurred to me that I (who NEVER gets sick) would come down with a cold bad enough that I would have stayed home from work for a couple of days, had I a job to stay home from. Neither ailment is a big deal, but they have impacted my plans enough that I am anxious to be rid of both.

I know there will be many discoveries—both good and bad—along my retirement path, but two that stand out after just over one week are:

The retirees’ mantra, “I’ve never been so busy” is true. I always figured that it was a conspiracy among retired people to say this to their still-working friends just to annoy them. But, it’s a fact! It’s not that I’m running around (actually, hobbling around) all the time – but it’s so easy to fill up the day with… stuff.

Because it’s easy to forget exactly what all that stuff was, I’ve started to write a few lines in a journal before I go to sleep so I will be able to remember the highlights a week, a month, or even years from now. I may never look at the journal entries again, but I have a feeling my future self will want to look back to see what the heck I was doing to fill up my time. Better yet, if I maintain the journal into our retirement journey, it could help me recall the name of a restaurant where we shared an amazing meal, a hotel where our room featured a breath-taking view, or the details of a once-in-a-lifetime experience we were lucky enough to have.

It’s so easy to get distracted. There are so many things I want to do; so many projects that I’d like to start or finish. Without the hard deadlines that work provides or the confines of a weekend to accomplish a task, it’s easy to start something then get distracted and move on to something else. I find myself starting something, let’s say, a blog post… then I realize that I need to water the plants… when I’m outside, I notice that our 20-year-old patio furniture needs cleaning… but, why clean it when we really should take advantage of the sales and purchase a new set… hmmm, I wonder if Costco has what we are looking for… I should check online to see… oh, there’s my half-written post… I really should finish that. (Yes, this really happened.)

Several friends have asked me how I am enjoying retirement so far. Although I try to be gentle (they are still working, after all), I have to say that I LOVE IT! I understand that it’s only been a little over a week and I’m in the honeymoon phase, but so far, I’m settling in just fine and anxious to fill my journal with tales of adventures—both big and small.

Now… which plants did I finishing watering before I got distracted?

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.

Dropping Ballast

I was going through my husband’s closet the other morning helping him find something (yes, I found it… I always do) and realized that he has a bunch of clothes that he has very little use for just taking up space. Since retiring two years ago, he has seldom, if ever, worn one of his several nice suits. He’s had little need for a sports coat, and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t worn a tie more than a handful of times in many years. His current attire mostly consists of jeans or shorts and a comfortable shirt. He wears khakis once in a while, but often with flip-flops. Now that he’s taking culinary classes (for fun), he heads to school wearing funny striped chef pants and a chef’s jacket.

I suggested that we make some time soon to weed through his clothes. He will keep a few remnants of his past working life for those more formal events that come up now and then, but I hope we can get rid of a lot of items that no longer fit into his life.

In anticipation of my retirement, I stopped purchasing work-specific clothes awhile ago. No more pencil skirts, no more pumps; nothing that tends to function only as business attire. That’s not to say that I envision a retirement wardrobe entirely made up of “play clothes,” but I think the items I will reach for most often will be on the casual side, and definitely comfortable.

I plan to donate many of my work-specific clothes and shoes right away. Those that I can’t quite let go of yet, I will box up—with a date indicated on the outside—and store them somewhere convenient, but outside of my closet. If I go one year without needing the clothes, they will be donated too.

When my husband and I remodeled our house years ago and added the upstairs master bedroom, I got my own, rather large, closet. At first, the clothes I had barely took up half the available space, but, over the years, I’ve managed to fill it up… and then some (I’m much better at intake then I am at outgo).

Culling our belongings is an initial goal of our grand retirement plan. We are looking forward to acquiring more experiences than possessions, and putting greater value on traveling light and often rather than being burdened by schedules and obligations.

Of course, clothes are not the sole focus of our efforts to clear out the cutter. We have too much crap stuff in general and I think it is getting in the way of our ability to enjoy a calmer and more organized home. We are by no means hoarders, but let’s just say that, as we’ve navigated through our life together, we’ve picked up a few barnacles along the way. Many of the things we’ve acquired to complete our home are now just bulk we no longer need to balance our lives.

It will take some time and effort, but we need to scrape off the hull and empty the bilge. Life is too short – and getting shorter. It’s time to drop some ballast and sail on.

Puzzling Together the Pieces

With only eight short weeks remaining before I leave the 8-5 work world and begin my next chapter, I am experiencing an array of emotions. Excitement and enthusiasm, yes, of course, but also… not quite fear… more like apprehension and just a little unease.

Barring a huge economic downturn (which we now know can happen), I feel in good shape financially. Health insurance—at least for now—is available and budgeted for. Because I have a pre-existing condition due to an illness many years ago, without the Affordable Care Act I’d be concerned about the possibility of not finding coverage.

My unease stems mostly from two questions that I can’t answer yet:

What if this is the wrong decision?
Although I could probably find another job if I discover that I absolutely hate not working full time (something I doubt very much), it would be hard to match what I do now – both in salary and in satisfaction. Because my intention to exit work has gone from concept to commitment, I am feeling the finality of my decision.

A part-time job could provide some structure without a major time commitment, but then I would lose the freedom to pick up and go anytime my husband and I wanted to. Consulting? Maybe, but I’d have to spend time marketing my services, which doesn’t sound like much fun.

How will I replace the social network that I’ve developed at work?
Knowing that this was one aspect of retirement that my husband had a hard time with, I’ve become acutely aware of the large and small interactions that occur throughout the work day. Even simple greetings and casual conversations add to my enjoyment and I know that I will miss the easy comradery of being a member of a well-functioning team.

Over the years, I have developed varying levels of friendships with co-workers. Some of them I see outside of work, and I hope that will continue, but most are those types of friendships that are based on our shared circumstance. I imagine that most of these relationships will fade away soon after we are no longer working together. Our intentions might be sincere, but it will really take an effort—most likely mostly on my part—to stay in touch. Because they will still have the constraints of a full-time job, it will be up to me to arrange get-togethers that fit around their schedules.

Bucket

I know that the most effective way to mitigate my concerns is to start putting in place several items on my “bucket list” of activities I want to enjoy in retirement; the ones that I find difficult to do now because of time constraints. A few that come to mind are:

Find—or start—a book club
I have “test-driven” several established book clubs over the years, but have yet to find one with the right combination of serious and social. Great books and stimulating conversation, enjoyed in a social atmosphere that includes shared food and wine… that is what I’ll be looking for.

Identify exercise buddies
Soon I will be able to go to the gym, power walk, ride my bike, take yoga, etc. anytime I want so I need to find others who are on a similar non-schedule. There are lots of things I like to do alone, but friends can make exercise more enjoyable and help maintain the motivation.

Sign up for some classes
After years of reading longingly about classes, workshops, lectures, etc. that I couldn’t participate in because of my work schedule, I can now attend! Although I expect that my desire to learn new things will be ongoing, I want to identify a few possibilities right away so that I am inspired to get up, get dressed, and get going.

Volunteer to usher for a local theater
There are a lot of worthwhile causes and organizations that need volunteers, and I hope to identify several to give my time to. By ushering for a theater company, I not only provide a valuable service, but I will see performances I might otherwise miss. Because these opportunities are seasonal, and most likely have waiting lists and specific training schedules, I want to be sure I don’t miss a deadline.

Between several of these activities, all the projects that need to be done around the house, and a couple of trips we have planned this year, I should be quite busy. I hope that soon whether I made the right decision and how I will create a new social network will no longer be in question.

Road Skills

I am back in Southern California following my two-week vacation (“Practice Retirement”) spent driving across the country with a friend. The trip was a positive experience overall and I’m happy I was able to have the adventure.

Looking back, I have several observations that I need to consider for future road trips I hope to take with my husband after I join him in retirement.

Bring a paper map
In an earlier post, I wrote of my love of paper maps. Although we were well-equipped with a GPS, two iPads, and a smart phone to help us get from here to there, I would have felt lost if I hadn’t had my US Road Atlas with me so I could track our progress along the way.

Keep a journal
I brought along a small tablet for general note-taking, and, every evening, to write a page or two about my experiences that day. Because often details can slip away from the memory banks, keeping a journal helps me capture moments I don’t want to forget.

It will also come in handy, if I ever pass that way again, to help me remember what not to miss – places to eat, things to see, experiences to be had.

Be aware that small moments can become big memories
Random conversations with strangers, eating at a local hole-in-the-wall, seeing a rainbow through an opening in an otherwise cloudy sky. These are the experiences that stay with me and make the journey most memorable.

Don’t be shy
I am not an extrovert by nature, but, over the years, I have become more and more comfortable striking up conversations with people I don’t know. Away from home, I think this practice is even more important. I had a so many enjoyable interactions and learned so much just by opening myself up and initiating conversations.

Two new friends with benefits (they can cook!)
Two new friends with benefits (they can cook!)

Often a simple “hello” said with a big smile can be the beginning of a memorable exchange. Even if I only got a smile in return, that’s one more smile to add to my day.

Try the local cuisine
Since we were traveling along a southern route, we had the opportunity to chow down on barbeque in Texas, slurp gumbo in Louisiana, and sample fried pretty-much-everything in multiple southern locals. I’m not a big fan of bacon fat and I prefer my vegetables fresh as opposed to being smothered with oil and cooked beyond recognition, but I thought it was important to at least taste everything.

When we wanted to take a break from heavy food, we looked for, and often found, a Panera along the way so we could supplement our diet with fresh salads.

Make room in the suitcase for a little vanity
Because it was just my girlfriend and me for two weeks, I didn’t bother to bring any make-up. Although it was freeing to just wash my face and go, I often wished that I packed a little something to brighten the bare face that stared back at me in the mirror every day.

Although I don’t wear a lot of make-up (and often none at all on the weekends), I know that wearing at least a bit makes me feel perkier.

Allow for alone time
Even though it would have been cheaper to share, it was money well spent to have separate hotel rooms along our route. My friend has very different sleep habits than I do (she stays up late, and rises late in the morning), and, after spending many hours together in the car, I needed to have some time by myself.

Fortunately, my husband and I share sleep schedules so we won’t be needing separate rooms, but having a bit of time by myself allows me to recharge my batteries. I do much better and am much less cranky if I can carve out an hour or two of “Me Time.”

Only pack what is needed (and learn to need less)
I had envisioned that I would post to my blog regularly during my trip. In the end, I managed to make only one post, and it was more difficult than I thought it would be.

I love the writing process. I write, I edit, I rearrange, I delete, I fuss, I re-write. I brought along a laptop because I thought it would be too hard to do that on an iPad. Now, I’m not convinced that the laptop helped at all, and it added bulk and weight to my luggage.

Before going on another trip during which I want to blog, I need to practice writing and posting from my iPad.

“If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good.”  ― Dr. Seuss
“If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good.”
― Dr. Seuss

In two weeks, we went through three time zones and fourteen states. We experienced temperatures up in the 70’s on down to the low 20’s. We enjoyed warm sunshine, thick clouds, bone-chilling wind, and driving rain storms. I rode a bigger-than-life, cut-out buffalo, visited Elvis’ birthplace, and got to view Edward Hopper’s painting, Nighthawks so close I could almost smell the coffee.

I missed my husband, my house, and sleeping in my own bed, but I’m so happy I didn’t miss this journey.

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

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.

More than a paycheck

When my husband retired a little over a year ago, he quickly realized that many of the things he took for granted over the 40+ years he was in the corporate world were no longer easily available to him. You might think this realization could probably be placed in the “No Duh” file, but I can imagine, until one actually makes the jump from working full-time one day to not working at all the next, it’s impossible to anticipate all of the changes to come.

In addition to the easy social network that is left behind (several post topics in itself), problem-solving help, IT assistance, data, and other useful information that used to be a stroll to another cubicle or simple phone call away, are no longer as accessible. Because he was employed by a pretty large corporation (where I continue to work), he probably had more resources than many who work in smaller companies – surely more than those who are self-employed. But, I imagine that many new retirees from companies of just about any size not only miss their work friends but also the perks of shared resources.

One of the largest gaps in our knowledge base involves things technological. We own three computers, two smart phones, and one tablet, and, as long as things are working smoothly, we are fine. As soon as we experience a glitch, we are lost (for instance, just recently, the “back” button on my desktop mysteriously stopped working for the most part and I have no idea how to fix it). I am savvy enough to know that I can often find the answer to my latest puzzlement by Googling my problem in the form of a question. Unfortunately, just as often, rather than the simple answer I was hoping for, I find that my limited technological knowledge doesn’t include what is necessary to understand the solution.

As long as I continue to work, I’ll have fairly easy access to people who can help solve whatever IT problem we throw at them. When I join my husband in retirement, we will either need to put the Geek Squad on permanent retainer, or find a bright 15-year-old in the neighborhood that we can bribe with treats in exchange for help.

Picking a Date

Unlike many people, I don’t have what I’d call a precipitating event that will set my retirement date in stone; I’m not reaching a magical age, my health is great (thank goodness), my job is as secure as any these days. I am lucky enough to be in the position of choosing to retire, and to retire relatively young. The only problem with this flexibility is that the date is fungible. Setting a timeline that is so far in the future doesn’t feel real. Earlier this year, I identified September as the month. September and October are often two of the nicest months weather-wise where I live. Not too hot, not yet cold and most of the tourists are gone. Yes, September is it!

So now, it’s the second week of September and I’m not only still working, I plan on working through December. I don’t remember actually changing my mind about leaving in September, but, as someone once said, “sometimes not to decide is to decide.” I just let enough time slip by so I could no longer give my work the several months notice I want to, and I didn’t do what I needed to do to mentally prepare for such a big change.

I have now identified the end of January as “the date.” Why? Several reasons come to mind. 1) January is my birth month and I can’t think of a better present to give myself; 2) My husband is making noises about wanting to travel (yay!) and I want to go with him; 3) I just found out that a co-worker is pregnant and due in March. When she went out on maternity leave with her first child, my “dream” job became more like a nightmare. I didn’t have the bandwidth to do both of our jobs so I started to stress out and to dread coming in every day. This had never happened to me before in this position and I vowed at the time never to experience it again.

The joy of a new baby has become a huge precipitating event that has pushed me into making a decision… just what I needed! I will be retired by January 31, 2014; well before the baby arrives so I can train my replacement and slip away without guilt.

There, it’s in writing and you are my witness.

What happened in your life to help transition you from the career world to retirement? If you aren’t retired yet, what is going to help you decide when to “pull the cord”?