Last week I celebrated one year of retirement. “Celebrated” is a key word. While I was happy to retire last August, I felt a little undercurrent of worry—I didn’t exactly have a plan. For many people, not having a plan sounds like what retirement is all about. But to me, making such a major and irreversible move called for a blueprint. As in what I am I going to do for the rest of my life? Which suddenly seemed more finite.
Retirement is an Identity Change
Retirement is a major identity shift akin to starting a career, marrying a spouse, or becoming a parent. You see yourself differently. A wise friend advised that it might take up to a year to figure out retirement, and it has.
Who Am I Without My Profession?
Americans often identify with our professions. I have worked since I was 16, and I babysat before that, so paid work has been part of my life since I was 11. I went to some effort (getting a graduate degree, moving across the country three times) to launch my career—first as a teacher and then as a copywriter. In 1979, when I started teaching college full-time, the working world wasn’t welcoming to women, and I had to fight to belong. By the time I started copywriting five years later, I had toughened up and the workplace was less openly antagonistic. My early experiences shaped me, and having a career became an integral part of who I am.
My other roles—wife, mother, sister, and friend—have remained constant in retirement. But last August I wondered, “What does it mean to let go of the career I worked so hard to have? What happens to all the experience and skills I’ve gained?” Today, the answer is that I’m still a writer—an essayist and blogger, and I volunteer as a marketing communications copywriter.
That’s how I see myself, but early on when I mentioned my new status, I learned that the word “retiree” conjures up someone who’s out-of-touch and lives for coupons. Now when I meet people, I simply describe the work I do.
People Openly Wonder, “What do you do all day?”
It’s a legitimate question. A year ago, I too wondered how to create a life that is fulfilling and fun. What exactly was I going to do with my time? The answer is more of everything I did before. I sleep half-an-hour longer. Most days, I walk for an hour because now exercising doesn’t have to be a trade-off (i.e., either I exercise or I have fun).
Housework, cooking, and grocery shopping still exist in retirement. I’m determined not to become obsessive about any of that, but now I might take an extra five minutes to dry the pots and pans after I wash them instead of letting them air dry as I did before. Why not? I have time.
Today, I read, write, travel, socialize, and volunteer more. Probably the main difference is that now I have more time to explore or learn new things in classes at the University of Minnesota, the Loft, or community education.
I wasn’t planning to retire last August at 61; I expected to work two-and-a-half more years. However, when a stroke of luck gave me the opportunity to leave early, I did. I am very grateful to be retired now. Eventually old age will find me. But for now I’m enjoying the gift of retirement. I want to use my time well.
It IS really hard to be so ready for the next stage while being stuck in the current one. I sympathize. I got really tired of the fire drill projects at work and found it hard to be cheerful and rise to the occasion. Hang in there!
I enjoyed reading about how you stepped into retirement and I’m glad you did so earlier than expected. My wife and I are planning on retiring from our teaching professions after this school year; mine of 42 years. This is my last year and I’m logging my thoughts at oneyeartoretirement.wordpress.com. Best of luck, and stay young!
I am so happy for you and consider you such a wonderful role model. And seeing you and all the changes you’ve made give me hope that I truly can follow in your footsteps…ideally sooner rather than later.
Thank you! Your support always inspires ME. You’re such a creative person that I can’t wait to see what the next phase of your life looks like.
I am in and out of town a lot through Tgiving (imagine you are at least some) but let’s make a point of getting together before the year ends.
Thank you for reading! “Year of self-discovery” is right. You’d think retirement would be nothing but sweetness and light, but it is also a transition, and truth be told, it’s taken me a while to figure it out. But I know I’m extremely lucky to have this time–I’m trying to use it well!
Envious. Awfully envious. I am at least 4 years away from retirement and living with my spouse who has been retired for a year – like you. He had no trouble adjusting but I am having such a severe case of retirement envy I have had some counselling. Sigh. Your year of self-discovery sounds wonderful and I wish you a long and happy retirement adventure doing nothing or doing everything.