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.