Ready, Set … Bounce

I used to be resilient.  

At least that’s what a “How Resilient Are You?” quiz I took a decade ago indicated.

I came across the quiz the other day while purging a hanging file chockful of articles from Experience Life magazine. Featured in a September 2011 article titled “The 5 Best Ways to Build Resiliency,” my quiz results indicated that I was “highly resilient” and that I “bounce back well from life’s setbacks and can thrive even under pressure.”

No more.

My once optimistic self no longer looks on the bright side. Nor do I see difficulties as temporary. Instead, in large part due to COVID, I find myself in a perpetual state of ambiguity and uncertainty, a state sometimes even accompanied by a sense of dread.

Will I be able to join my sisters in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Will I be able to travel outside the United States while I’m still healthy enough to do so? When am I going to retire and where am I going to live?

Who the heck knows. I sure don’t. And I’m tired of trying to figure it all out.

I’m also angry more often than I used to be, sometimes for no apparent reason.

And once highly social, I’ve become a bit of a hermit. Many of my family members, friends and colleagues have as well.

Fed up with feeling alone and adrift, I’ve been working on being more positive and getting back in touch with that resilient me of a decade ago. She can’t be that far away. In fact, I know she’s not as there are days, even weeks, when she’s ever-present rather than elusive.

Books such as Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson have helped. So have books on resilience, four of which I discovered had been sitting unread on my shelf for years.

So now, when something goes wrong—like when I rolled my car into a parked car at my friend Pam’s husband’s funeral causing more than $3,000 worth of damage (even though I and the owner of the other vehicle could barely see the scratch)—I try to find the silver lining. In this case, it was being treated kindly by the owner of the car I’d damaged and by the friend who stayed by my side until I found him and told him what I’d done.

I’m also paying attention to my positivity ratio. According to Fredrickson’s research, we need three positive experiences to balance out each negative one. Normally those positive experiences would be part of my everyday life—a compliment on a new sweater, a hug when meeting a friend for coffee, a thank you for volunteering.

But being as I’m still not venturing out any more than necessary, those experiences are harder to come by. So instead, I make a point of calling at least one person a day and of sending at least seven cards a week. While the conversations sometimes last only a few minutes, they definitely brighten my day. So do the cards I send. I take pleasure in finding just the right one and in writing a heartfelt message or including a silly joke.    

I’m also striving to view my challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. That’s not always easy, in large part because I’m more of a “judger” who asks questions such as “Who’s to blame?” or “What’s wrong?” rather than a “learner” who seeks to grow by asking neutral, non-judgmental questions such as “What can this experience teach me?” or “Given my choices, what do I most want to do?”

But my favorite question, the one I’ve found to be most helpful is one I learned from Arianna Huffington who chose “resilience” as her word of the year. The question?

“How can I not just bounce back, but bounce forward?”

While I’m stilling working on my answer, I am growing more resilient—and bouncing a bit higher—every day. For that, I am grateful.

Preparing for Retirement

I took a hike today. Hiking is an activity I want to do after I retire on January 7, 2022. It occurred to me this week that I didn’t need to wait until then to research hiking groups. A simple Google search led me to a Twin Cities hiking meetup at Afton State Park on Sunday. 45 people had registered for the hike.

Crystel gave a hearty laugh when she scrolled my Facebook (she was home for the day from college). Twin Cities Bike Club, she chortled. I might do that when I retire, I said a bit defensively. Even though I have an electric bike I can still join, right? Doesn’t Crystel think that I pedal? Just because I put the bike on cruise on for an entire twenty-mile ride on my recent 63rd birthday?

Other activities I’m interested in are pre pre-beginner lessons in pickle ball. The few times I’ve tried the game I awoke my inner Frankenstein as I lurched for the ball. Most often I missed the ball entirely. I’ll also be pursuing writing, classes, reading, travel, and cross-country skiing.

I expected to be fully retired in January, but a recent job offer with minimal hours has altered my thinking. I’m excited about this new job opportunity.

I’ve also recognized an internal shift about the idea of being a grandparent. When the kids were in their teens, I preached, lectured, and cajoled safe sex. Topping it off with a trip to Planned Parenthood on a Christmas Eve. Though I feel the shift, I continue to want grandparenting to be years away. Jody and I were older parents to Juan and Crystel. We can be much older grandparents.

I’ve explored other meetup groups and added them to my profile: Twin Cities Indoor/Outdoor Sports, Minnesota Hardy Hikers, Outdoor Introverts, Outdoor & Snow Lovers, Cross Country Skiing, MN Sierra Club Outings and Intrepid, Fit & Social.

One group put my membership on hold. They required a photo to join. I had Jody snap one of me on our Sunday hike and uploaded it to their site. The administrator requested a new photo that showed my entire face with no sunglasses. She also mentioned that she couldn’t tell by my picture but wanted to give me a heads up that the members’ average age is just over 50. She didn’t want me to be surprised if I was a lot younger than that. I was still welcome to join but it was up to me.

I uploaded a new photo. I hope they can keep up with me.

When Will I Do It?

My friend Maery did it after fracturing her shoulder at a company outing.

My cousin Eugene did it when he ran out of staples for his office stapler.

My sister Karen did it when COVID-19 closed the dental office where she worked.

What did they do?

They retired.

But unlike me, they all had employers to retire from. They also all had a key moment when they knew it was time to do just that.

But as a freelance writer who works for dozens of clients, there’s no one employer to retire from and since I haven’t yet had a “now’s the right time” moment, I’m still saying yes to most client work that comes my way. Thankfully, I enjoy the work…and the people I work for.

That said, I am beginning to think more seriously about retirement and what it might look like for me.

Despite the fact that I’ve been dreaming about (and saving for it) since I was 22, I don’t have a very clear picture. That’s one reason why, when I turned 60 three years ago, rather than celebrating with a big party, a piece of jewelry or an exotic trip, I took a one-year sabbatical.

Though I missed having work as a way of structuring my days, I really enjoyed the downtime and the chance to unplug both personally and professionally. I also enjoyed the chance to travel for months at a time.

Although I’ve since returned to freelancing, I now say yes only to projects I can do from anywhere at any time. That way, I still have plenty of flexibility and free time, a lot of which I just putter away. Most days that feels like exactly the right thing to do.

Other days, I’m more engaged. I’ve also started journaling again and gotten reacquainted with art supplies I haven’t touched in years. I’m cooking some and reading more. I’m writing letters and calling friends. I’m even enjoying routine household chores, plus getting estimates for several home improvement projects.

Increasingly, it’s these things—not my client work—that’s giving structure to my days…and no doubt moving me closer to retirement. What sign will tell me that it’s finally time? I don’t yet know, but I do look forward to finding out.

Thinking Retirement

I have a date in mind. September 26, 2021. My 63rd birthday.

“Dream about what you want to do after high school,” I tell Juan and Crystel. Jody and I have offered our children many options. Gap year. College. Work. Travel. Imagine it all. Don’t put any restrictions on your visions.

I’m doing the same with retirement. Sometimes, I’ll have thoughts of staying in the workforce longer. I have a job I enjoy and leave satisfied, most days. After planning a trip to Japan for three weeks, I thought, well … maybe if I arrange a few more of these three-week vacations I could work longer. Then winter came.

The first time I stepped into the bone chilling Minnesota cold at 5:30 am to go to the YMCA and then on to work, I changed my mind. There is a difference between having to leave your home for work and leaving home when you want. For one if I were retired, I’d let the air warm up.

On numerous occasions, I’ve told Jody that I’m going to retire at 63. Just in case she forgets. Or thinks I’ve changed my mind. Since she is four years younger than me and has her own relationship with money, she will most likely work longer. I love her for that.

The kids graduate June of 2021. You would think that I’d want to work longer to help them pay for college. Jody and I have already come up with the amount of financial help we’ll give them. The rest is ours.

Some people add on to their house after their children leave high school, while others downsize.

Jody and I won’t downsize. We are going to keep the house as much for Juan and Crystel as for any reason. I always liked the idea of selling the house and traveling until Juan told Crystel one day that Mama Beth and Mama Jody were going to kick them out and sell the house after they graduated high school. After my OMG moment, I realized that he was saying that he needed a home to come home to. I always thought they could travel wherever we are.

The more Jody and I discussed retirement the more I realized that it didn’t make sense to be such involved parents and then when Juan and Crystel launch for college to no longer be present. In dreaming of their options maybe one of theirs is to live at home. Another OMG moment.

Now when I think of retirement I’m counting the winters left. One more winter. The Groundhog said it will be an early spring. Juan and Crystel will be starting their senior year September of 2020. I’ll be starting my last year of work. The days will go fast.

I’ve always said to people – get out of the workforce while you are still alive. Not everyone does. My parents and several siblings died young. This doesn’t mean that I will, but it lurks in my mind like a dirty swimming pool. I want many days of sitting in a chair with my eyes closed and my face to the sun. Our swimming pool sparkling.

How Time Disappears in Retirement

To the uninitiated, retirement sounds like a vast stretch of free time with maybe a few minor chores like laundry thrown in. Theoretically, yes.

However, all of the retirees I know are as busy—if not even busier—than we were when we worked for pay. It’s a fundamental mystery of retirement that I have so little free time. Or perhaps I should say “unscheduled” time, because really, I have nothing but free time. But I’m using a lot of it. Having fun.

Now that I can choose whatever I want to do with my time, I’m like a kid in a candy store. There are so many choices: classes, writing, travel, volunteering, two book groups and the associated reading, hanging out with friends, family get-togethers, etc. Why not set a date to make sure it all happens? As a result, I regularly confound my sons and working friends with how booked up I can be.

Here’s how a lot of conversations go:

“You want to stop by on your day off? Great! Oh, wait, I’ve got pottery class that morning.”

Or

“Happy hour? I’d love to, but not that Wednesday—I’ve got Guthrie tickets. How about Thursday instead?

I get that this is annoying to people who have less flexibility than I do. But if another day works equally well, I’d rather do the original activity I planned and paid for.

Of course, I’ll drop everything when something comes up:

“My car is in the shop. Can you give me a ride?”

Or

“Can you pick me up at the clinic? I’m not supposed to drive after my outpatient procedure.”

For years, other people controlled my schedule. The magic of retirement is that now most of what I’m doing I’ve chosen to do. This time feels precious. It’s a gift—not empty hours while I’m waiting for someone to call or visit. Not too put too fine point on it, but I don’t know how much time I’ll have or how long I’ll be healthy.

I want to use my time well.