Well, it has been exactly six months since I made one of those critical, life-changing decisions. After working for about 40 years in the corporate world, I walked away to that “retirement” chapter of my life (see my blog post from that last day in the office: My last workday!) I had been warned about finding enough to keep busy, losing that daily social interaction, forfeiting the workplace identity that took four decades to develop, and, simply, the possibility of losing some self-worth. I had read many articles about preparing for retirement and the anxieties and worries that unexpectedly come with it. Well, after this first half year of this new chapter, I have come to a very important conclusion… Retirement is underrated!
So, what has made my experience, thus far, so positive? Let me just list a few reasons (I do have to admit that I have been surprised that I have experienced so many of these so soon in this chapter):
- I am now able to savor those special moments, not rush to the next thing – The clock is now my friend, not my enemy. In the old days, there were many times when I needed to move from activity-to-activity to get everything done. Now, I find myself slowing down and enjoying the little things more. It is enjoyable sitting on the deck watching the sun rise without having to watch the clock. If something doesn’t get done today, no worry… tomorrow is another day. I have enjoyed thoroughly spending more time with my grandchildren and like the freedom of staying up late, if I want, or sleeping in, which is still hard to do.
- What’s important has changed… for the better! – A year ago, I was still spending much too much of my time thinking that work projects were too important. In reality, my focus has changed to “things that matter for people” rather than “things that matter for my employer.” Doing little things, just because I want to, now brings me joy that I didn’t have before. Let me give one example… my wife and I recently made an impromptu decision to drive from St. Louis to visit friends in Michigan. When I was working, the weekends were so cherished that making a rush trip like that would have detracted from the fun of the trip. Not now… doing these kinds of unplanned things now brings a sense of adventure, not dread.
- I’m doing more of what I want to do, less of what I have to do – It is amazing how your sense of direction can change in such a short time. It seems I am more driven now by “what would be fun” than doing things just because they are expected or part of the routine. Dressing up for me now is dragging out a pair of khaki pants and polo shirt rather than my standard shorts, tee shirt, and flip flops. We have really enjoyed spending time with our grandkids at the pool this summer… just for fun! (Don’t ask about the time I dunked my three-year-old in the lazy river.)
- My wife and I really enjoy our added time together – Before I retired, I had heard many stories of more time resulting in more friction between couples. However, I think we have experienced just the opposite! I am in awe of my wife and all the things she does to run our household and care for our children and grandchildren. It is honestly fun to spend all day with her! We have many common interests and sharing them every day is a joy. She is amazing!
- My morning rush hour has become my favorite time of day – For many years, my commute was through urban traffic for up to 44 miles each way. This tends to wear on you after a while. I don’t miss that drive, for sure. Now, that same time period of the day has become my favorite. I enjoy drinking coffee on our deck and watching the sunrise in good weather. That time of day has shifted from the most hectic to the most relaxing. I still get up early, but I think the reason is that I don’t want to miss any of that early morning time. On the other hand….
- I’m sleeping more, and better – During my working days, I probably averaged about six hours of sleep a day. That is too little for a healthy lifestyle. Now, I probably get more like 7 – 8 hours, counting naps. Have I mentioned yet how comfortable the hammock on my deck is? And, I might add that the quality of sleep is amazingly better. I have said may times, “Stress is self-inflicted.” But, it is impossible to turn off stress while in the work world like you can when you are retired.
- The future has become much less important than today – It seems that life is often a series of chapters with each one in some way pointing to some time in the future. We tend to focus so much on tomorrow that we forget to enjoy today. Well, I have certainly experienced that in my short time as a retiree. The future is now! I admit that I still go to bed almost giddy that I don’t have to battle rush hour traffic and corporate life the next morning. The present has too many positives that I don’t want to waste any of it anxious about tomorrow.
- I have more time for others – I have enjoyed doing some things these last six months that I probably never would have or could have when I was working. Spending more time and getting to know my neighbors has been good. Being available to do things spontaneously is nice. Feeling that I could work with a room full of third graders during evening Vacation Bible School at our church was truly fulfilling. Just being free to say “yes” is something I didn’t really anticipate.
- I’m really glad I took the plunge instead of over-analyzing it – Knowing when to retire is a significant decision for most of us. Someone once told me, “It is hard to say when you should retire, but when the time comes, you’ll know it.” That simple piece of advice has served me well. It is possible to analyze every possibility in life worrying about your financial situation that you can never get comfortable taking the plunge. I have seen it with a number of individuals. There comes a point when you just have to say you have studied the numbers, have mentally prepared, have the support of your family, and are just ready to go for it!
Certainly, I recognize that I have been blessed by God throughout my life with supportive parents, a good education, great companies to serve, and many wonderful opportunities to financially prosper. Not everyone has the same story. However, when you are finally faced with that decision and are trying to decide whether now is the right time or whether you should stay in your work routine, think about what things might be on your own “my favorite things about my first six months of retirement” list.
I do admit that I enjoy staying in touch with my colleagues and friends from work. I do miss you! However, I wouldn’t change my decision to move to this chapter at all. No regrets! After all, these days, I often have to check the calendar to remember what day it is…
Have a terrific day! Remember, it might just be one of your best yet!