Having friends has been important at every stage in my life, but especially in retirement. I recall this song from my childhood that I think makes even more sense to me today Make New Friends, But Keep the Old, Visiting an old friend from West Virginia yesterday felt so good. We raised our children together, survived losing our husbands together, and now enjoy our grandchildren together. We are bonded forever; even if we only see each other once a year, we pick right up where we left off.
Being friends is easy at this stage. We know each others’ families, have common friends, been to all the same places, and share a lot of things in common - like wearing a comfortable pair of old shoes. But, retirement changes the landscape. Finally, there is time to participate fully in activities that have been impossible until now - golf, travel, sports, dining, crafts, photography, writing - whatever looks to be fun. Maybe old friends or sometimes relatives are available to accompany us, maybe not. Do we dare go it alone?
I recall my mother-in-law and my grandmother complaining as they grew older that all their friends were gone. They had us, the family, but still felt like something was missing. Because they were primarily homemakers (and wonderful at it), they did not develop outside interests and friends beyond the neighborhood. They did not belong to any club or groups; they did not play cards or exercise. Never having ventured out of their comfort zone on their own, when they had to relinquish the housework to others, they did not know what to do with themselves.
So, the lesson here is keep making new friends all your life. Venture out. Fearful? Great! Do something every day that scares you. (Quote may be from Eleanor Roosevelt, can't be proven, but it is a good one!) Try something new - something on your own. Be open to developing a closer friendship with someone you meet in your regular day to day out of the house activities. Be brave and interact with people of various color, culture, and class. Be aware of attraction and chemistry that sparks when you meet someone. Share your business card (Yes, you are in the business of being retired!) to invite the friendship to blossom or better yet, put their contact information right into your phone. Connect on Facebook - a great place to get to know a new acquaintance better. Be an up to date retiree! The song, Make New Friends, But Keep the Old, was sung as a round for a reason, and it usually went on and on, because this is one job that is never done.
Advice whether or not you ask: Make seeking new friends part of your retirement job description.
This stage of life called retirement is the gift of time - the time to finally do what one wants. That distant light at the end of the tunnel - the destination - is finally reached. You have arrived! Now what? Viewed as a destination, retirement proves disappointing. You are still the same person, but have lost your identity in this process. How do you now define yourself?
Do you obsess about financial or health issues? Do you uproot and move to a different climate? Do you seek a creative living arrangement around other retirees? Do you join life long learning classes? While each of these conventional ideas of retirement are valid activities, they do not feed the new identity that you seek. In his book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, William Bridges calls these ideas diversions from the work that needs to be done in retirement. He says, "The final chapter of the work life may or may not involve salaried work, but it must return to society the fruits of those discoveries made during the third quarter of life." (97)
How to share your gifts, skills, and life lessons can be hard to identify. One repeated recommendation for mining the fruits of your life experience is to meditate. I am trying to learn how to do that. It is easy to pray to a higher being and wait for a response. It is much harder to look inside and honor your own thoughts and being with action. Silence, helps.
Early in my retirement I committed to a week without TV to explore this concept of silence and quieting of the mind. Since the news and weather were my main reasons for watching TV, I subscribed to The Skim, read online news on Twitter, and checked the weather on my phone. Done. I rarely turn on TV now, and find that comforting. I do watch one specific program, Downton Abby (can't help it, I love the cultural conflicts!), AND when my daughter calls me to say that the sky is falling, "Turn on the TV!"
I find this silence refreshing and imagine that my brain is working much better than when it was on media overload.(No scientific evidence, just my feeling.) A good friend advises that life flows by like a river with many distractions, diversions, attractions, and addictions and the challenge is to pay attention and snag those attractions that resonate with you and act on them. Honoring that advice, I am taking a two week vacation from this blog to respond to an attraction that has surfaced - to assist in completing a grant application for a start-up non-profit, Reading Kingdoms, with a looming due date of March 18 - honoring my own thoughts with action. It's something that will make a difference for children in Pawtucket, RI and in American education. Teachers have good ideas. I want to support solutions that come from the trenches, not from the top.
Advice whether or not you ask: Change it up! Whatever is your passion, do it!
Destination weddings are the new rage. I just attended a mountain top wedding in Vermont , temperature 18°. Seated on benches, the guests were wrapped in blankets, surrounded by outdoor heaters. Under the toile fabric and pine decorated birch-log chuppah, the beautiful non Jewish bride in a strapless gown and her Jewish groom vowed to honor and cherish each other for the rest of their lives. The reception included toasts, dancing, and fabulous food, but no cake cutting drama – the five tiered cake was cut and served up from the kitchen! Tradition and modernity were juxtaposed in the creation of a moment that will reflect the couple’s lives from now on.
I am looking in the mirror for a moment and reflecting on my own marriage of 42 years to the only Jewish boy in town. Colleen and Misha’s story is yet to be written, but my thoughts on this major transition in life may be of interest. In 1968 our interfaith marriage was viewed with curiosity and concern; we were cautioned by both families and friends that it couldn't work, but we didn't listen, of course. At nineteen and twenty, we knew everything, and it felt right to us - all that mattered.
I confess that religious practices and food preferences created conflict, but we addressed these issues head on, because they were obvious cultural differences. Luckily I liked to cook and eventually learned how; some of Frank's favorite Jewish dishes even became favorites of mine and my gentile family. As for religion, we agreed to disagree and carried on with our lives, never merging the two, and never abandoning our beliefs. Our children grew up respecting both religions and are moral independent thinkers today. All that worry and concern about the children was for naught. As our cultures clashed, our lives became richer and more interesting, as we mined family traditions for the best and sometimes created our own.
It was those subtle cultural traditions that color everything that caused more trouble. How do you react to a crisis? What are the rules for spending and saving money? How do you discipline the children? Who will do what household chores? Those daily decisions, clouded by family of origin culture, threatened peace in the union. The cultural piece was invisible and the conflict became personal. Most conflict has culture at the root.
The caution that should be observed in forging relationships, not just a marriage, is not to avoid the possibility of conflict, but to embrace it with ferver and learn the lessons that exploring different cultures provides. Tradition and modernity can co-exist peacefully. An adventure awaits.
I have become addicted to running, since I retired in June. No one is more surprised than I, that I can run (actually jog slowly) three miles. It takes me about an hour, and I credit the loss of most of my arthritic pain and my asthma symptoms to it. How it happened is a story worth telling.
I would wake early, excited to be free, like a young child again, anxious to meet the sun and get busy. What exactly to do with that freedom was a mystery at that point. It was too early to go golfing or call a friend, but I felt like leaving the house. I knew I needed some kind of interesting activity to replace the routine of going out to work every morning, so I went for a walk.
I took the route of my very occasional after-school walk, circling around my rural neighborhood for about a half mile. After about a week of that half mile, I felt like that wasn’t quite enough, so I did another trip around the circle. Getting bored, I downloaded some new music to my iPod to entertain me and changed my route to across the road and around a different neighborhood. It worked. Walking became my work for the day.
As my stamina grew, I combined the two routes, walking first the circle and then across the road into a different neighborhood and home – adding up to almost two miles. It was July - high summer in Rhode Island. The sweat was pouring even early in the morning. When boredom set in, I changed my route again, instead of quitting. Change is good.
Within a few days, I had an interesting three-mile route (my iPod tracks distance) – starting out on level ground, then some uphill and downhill, ending back on level ground. Because I didn’t take any days off, like I now do, my right calf and hamstring started cramping at about a mile and a half into my walk. In an attempt to ease the cramp, I picked up the pace to a slow jog; it just felt like what I needed to do. I finished that walk, alternating walking and jogging.
I continued to alternate walking and jogging that three mile loop into town, enjoying the sun beaming on farm pastures and the shade along Wood River. Running past the waterfall every day, I developed an awareness of subtle changes in the water flow. I passed through a historical section of town, where every house has a plaque, declaring its original owner and date of establishment – kind of like stepping back in time. Focusing on the sights and sounds of the day, rather than the exercise, made it a very appealing activity.
I gradually started jogging more than walking, when the humidity was low. One crisp October morning, I started out jogging and it felt good. I kept going and did the whole three miles at a jog. Not a fast one, but a gentle jog. It took me about an hour. Amazed even myself and have been doing it every day since. The snow has driven me into the YMCA, which I am grateful is close to where I live, but I am anxious to return to my favorite route outdoors.
Why do I share this story? Because I give advice freely, whether or not you ask. My friends and sisters cautioned me against running so much - bad for my joints and arthritis. Funny thing, the more I ran, the less I suffered arthritic pain (I had a lot and had to medicate before a walk, when I started this story.) Now I take no pain medication for arthritis.
Read this latest research on the topic of Jogging for Older Adults. Try it if you dare. It’s a good addiction to have. http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/11/24/jogging-helps-older-adults-preserve-energy/77710.html
Chances are you will not miss the work, but you will miss your work friends. In the worst workplace situation, there is a feeling of camaraderie, that helps you survive. This loss of community is real and if it is not addressed early in the transition period, it will become more difficult to revive. The people who are still working are busier than you, and you may wonder if they even remember that you exist. They do remember and wonder what you are doing, but don't want to intrude on your new life. You need to be the one to reach out to your favorite workplace friends to maintain these friendships.
One of the best ways to stay connected is through social networking sites. Not on Facebook? Scared of Twitter? Sick of all the computer demands from your job? Understandable, but not acceptable excuses. Spending the last third of your life out of the online social loop will narrow your world into "bored, tubby, and mild" before you know what happened (See Born to be Wild blog, 2/16/15). Embrace social networks now, and guarantee yourself a window to the world and a lifeline to people near and far for the rest of your life. Get serious about building your retirement social life.
Do you feel like you are out of the loop already? It's never too late to learn! Research has shown that acquiring new skills at any age keeps the brain healthy. So, seek help. Take a class in the community. Ask a social networking friend, or even better, a tech-savvy grandchild (most are), to help you get started. Learning eight new definitions for vocabulary words, that you already know - post, like, unlike, share, follow, tweet, retweet, notifications - and the new meaning for @ and # will put you into the social networking loop, one that you design, to include only your friends and with content specific to you. Fear not! You can do it!
Of course face to face time with friends and relatives is important too; social networking can generate more opportunities for meeting up with people than you can imagine. An important piece of a happy retirement is staying socially connected to your current friends, your family, and new friends that you meet on your journey. Be open to everything. Social Networking is your best chance to maintain existing and explore new relationships.
Check out Facebook and Twitter.
Comment from a fellow teacher retiree upon the release of my website . . . “I thought you'd be toting your golf clubs through Florida or Arizona by now! You've gone in a whole other direction.” He is surprised and honestly, so am I. So why am I not somewhere warm and sunny enjoying my long-time passion of golf, instead of inside my house at my computer, wearing three layers to endure the below-freezing cold temperatures, staring out at waist deep snow? All I can say is, “I believe I am where I am supposed to be.”
My retirement in June 2014 from 44 years in public education has given me a surprising sense of peace and purpose. I have learned to follow my inner voice, pay attention to my intuition, and fear not. A specific incident revealed my retirement path and peeled away the stress of a lifetime of work. On the plane to a family reunion the day after my official last day of school, I plugged in my music and experienced what I now know was a “Soul Journey.” Basking in the well-wishes of my co-workers, family, and friends, I was on a natural high. (Really, it was natural.) My mind wandered into the past, as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Neil Diamond rocked away in my ears, and I entered a state of dreamlike awareness - not sleeping, but not really awake.
It was a Pulp Fiction kind of journey, disjointed, but connected by the string of people who appeared along the way, people who had influenced my development in life – deceased husband, close relatives, friends, and some brief acquaintances. By the time I landed, I was inflated to a super-natural high, vowing to pay forward the same kind of support that had been given me. I try to “Make someone’s day, every day.” Perhaps it’s just a smile to a stranger, lending a helping hand to a neighbor, sitting with a friend during chemo infusion, cooking (my favorite) for my family and friends, encouraging a young person in his/her career, or supporting my family and friends. This vow and my newly recognized inner voice guide my every day.
As a result, I am much more open to what comes floating by and attracts my attention, like the SCBWI conference in NY in February. My inner voice (from the heart) echoed, “You know you have always wanted to write. It’s now or never.” So, I scratched my plans to play golf and visit friends in Florida this winter and registered for the conference. I couldn’t afford both (from the head). So here I am, experiencing the wildest New England winter since arriving, compelled to share my experiences to encourage more expressions of gratitude in the world and to perhaps make your day and loving every minute.
Advice whether or not you ask: Listen to both your heart and your head, but act on your heart and you will be where you are supposed to be.
Here is some hard evidence that retirement is a mixed bag, depending on how you approach it. Maybe some of you have seen this video parody, “Baby Boomers Begin Collecting Their Social Security. . .” on Facebook, since it has over two million views. Please watch it now with a different eye.
I laughed my a _ _ off the first time I saw it, but then realized that it is not really funny. It’s a sad treatise on stress as we age. We were “Born to be Wild.” What happened? How did we lose that spunk that rocked the world and turned us into “Bored, Tubby, and Mild?”
We grew up, despite distrusting anyone over 30. I distinctly recall my traumatic 30th birthday – I was suddenly someone who could not be trusted! Talk about a major transition and I wasn’t at all prepared for that gap, but I adapted the best I could, sliding down that slippery slope into middle age, where stress takes over. Maintaining relationships, raising children, holding jobs, and coping with life events was almost consuming. But, the ember never dies. When the nest is empty, and the job is gone or reduced, it is time to invite the oxygen in and fan the flames.
My mother once said, "When you are old, you can say and do whatever you want. Speak up. It's your last chance!" Decide what is really important to you and act on it. Cleaning the basement can wait. If you get too busy to ever clean out the basement, oh well. Someone else will eventually do it!
Getting older is no excuse to abandon your personality. Peel away the stress. Do things that make you really happy. Make sure you are laughing; it's good for your health. Although relationships, having children, holding jobs, and major life events have tamed us, we are still the same Baby Boomers. Enjoy this blast from the past video, Born to Be Wild by Steppenwolf, and forget bored, tubby, and mild.
Search “RETIREMENT” in Google and you will get financial advice only. Important, yes, but there is so much more to be addressed in this stage of life, projected at today’s longevity expectancy to be about one-third of it. Retirement is often anticipated, but just as often disappointing. Tales of boredom, anxiety, loneliness, abandonment, stagnation, and ill health abound in the retirement community. And, no wonder.
According to the Miriam Webster dictionary, to retire is to “ stop a job or career because you have reached the age when you are not allowed to work anymore or do not need or want to work anymore; withdraw from one's position or occupation; conclude one's working or professional career.” Notice there is not one positive verb here. By definition, to “retire” is a not-so-subtle reminder of our mortality.
While mortality is not an option, how we spend the last one-third of our lifetime is. Some may continue working, either full time or part-time, from desire or necessity. But for those of us who take the retirement path, we must watch the gap; this gap can be disastrous, if we are not paying attention. The gift of time is finally ours, and if we aren't alert to this time gap, we risk squandering it and creating a life that feels lacking in something.
Teaching was my life. Even when I wasn’t at school, I was thinking about my classroom and what was coming next. So, I welcomed the stress relief, as I let that part of my work life go. It was euphoric and energizing to feel so free. I woke early and went for a daily walk – a walk that evolved into a slow jog of three miles (I had never been a runner!). My health improved. My golf improved. My outlook improved.
My point is this. Be open to things you have never done before in this gap between work and your retirement life. Do not fall into perpetual relaxation just because you have stopped working, are not allowed or do not need or want to work, have withdrawn from your occupation, or concluded your professional career. Do not get comfortable with yourself as you are. Continue to improve. Continue to embrace new ideas. Look out the window, not in the mirror!
Advice whether or not you ask: This is a life-changing read for anyone, but especially those of us with the gift of time in retirement.