One night - that is the amount of time which you will have to transition to your new, retirement life. How is that possible? One day, you will leave your job. You will come home, (or you may have been working from home), eat dinner, go to sleep, and the next morning you will be living the first day of your new life. One often hears how difficult it is to adjust to retirement. Of course it is! Do we actually expect this monumental adjustment will take place in just one night? OK – now that this ridiculous notion is out of the way, let’s discuss some of the essential elements to a more realistic transition.
The Major Players Take their Place
On that first night, you will be straddling two worlds: the world of work, which needs no further elaboration, and the world of retirement, which needs lots! In those first few days, you will probably find that the previous supporting elements of your day now take very different roles. While time was a limited commodity, it now becomes plentiful. While all elements of domesticity were “work arounds,” they now take center stage. Your personal health will also join these players. Thank goodness! Otherwise, what would you have to do that first day? Friendships and social occasions now move out from the wings, in a post pandemic world. Decisions about your values will now dictate your future purpose in the world.
You are probably somewhat relieved. Most new retirees truly worry about how they will use their time. Unless you were in countdown mode to your final day at work or are completely burnt out or ill, this is usually an issue. Now that the major anchors of your new life have assembled, each new day of retirement can be viewed as a production involving the interaction of one or more of these elements: time, domesticity, health, social relationships, and your values. With such a long, important list, you will wonder how you ever had time to work. That is the whole point of a successful retirement – reclaiming those lost parts of yourself, buried under relentless work obligations.
Slow it all Down!
A little advice for those of you feeling overwhelmed by the time surplus: do
everything slower! Congratulations if you’ve been the paragon of efficiency. We know you can multitask. Hooray! You now officially have no need for those skills. Teach them to a younger person. If too much time frightens you, find yourself an older mentor. This person will probably tell you to acquaint yourself with the concept of “mindfulness.”
Without getting too “new agey”, mindfulness really means slowing down and enjoying everything you do, including washing the dishes, which is often given as an example in all the mindfulness self- help books. No matter what you are doing, whether it is eating, reading the newspaper, separating laundry, cleaning the bathroom, or unpacking the groceries, slow it all down, put on some music and try to get into it. This takes lots of practice, but it is, perhaps, the best suggestion of how to enjoy your retirement. This is not the time to be one step ahead, planning your next move, or phoning good friends in the car because you have too much to do at home. Live in the moment, or at least fake it.
A Plan for your First Day
On the first morning you wake up after retiring, no doubt there will be
food to cook, beds to make, errands to run, and a pile somewhere that needs
attention. Using your “mindfulness”skills, take some time to strategize your day. All items do not have to be completed before lunch. Which task “calls to you?” Give yourself some slack if none of these things “call to you.” It’s your first day, after all. No one is looking – go back to bed! Eat ice cream for breakfast! I used to have a sign on my refrigerator for my Rookie Year which read– NOT AS MUCH IS EXPECTED OF
YOU. I simply couldn’t believe there was no invisible task master watching me and telling me to hurry up and get to work. If you haven’t chosen the ice cream in bed option, pick a few domestic tasks to fill up your day, but remember to go slow and only do those things you really want to do.
On that first day, do a brief body scan. How do you feel? I used to feel like a “brain on legs.” I was only valued at work for my cognitive prowess. My body had to sit behind a steering wheel and computer for most of the day. It was compliant and didn’t give me too much trouble, but there’s no doubt it was grossly neglected. On day one and in those other early days, go outside and take a walk! If you were a gym member or had some favorite physical pastime, by all means, partake! Your "compliant body" will start speaking to you. Maybe it wasn’t as compliant as you thought. It speaks in the languages of aches and pains, weight gain, hunger, thirst, temperature, and appearance. Listen up! Make your body part of your day – you have the time.
When was the last time you met a friend for lunch who was not a colleague? Which relatives have you not seen or spoken to since the pandemic? Your calendar is now clear. Make some dates in the near future. Your “besties” will want to know how you are adjusting to retirement. Make them part of the process! A good mix of home time, physical pursuits and social engagements go a long way in filling up those first days in your rookie year. Time with “your people” are not just placeholders in your calendar. Those conversations will inform the new direction your life will take!
Unearthing your Values
Finally, we come to rediscovering your core values. These will be key to the new retirement activities you choose, especially in the area of volunteer work. Yes, many retirees in their rookie year think they have to start volunteering immediately. I am not of that school. Anyone who has worked for decades has already contributed enormously to society. Society has many facets, and it is the totality of every individual’s daily contribution which makes our world spin. If you don’t believe me, next time you are stopped at a traffic light at a major intersection at rush hour, think about how varied the work of all those commuters might be. You were just part of this passing parade.
In your early days of retirement, spend some quiet time in reflection both about
the world you have left and the world you are entering. With all its variety and opportunity, might there be a spot just for you to contribute?