In June 2010, I retired. It’s been eight years of a retirement without regrets!
When the hoopla of many retirement celebrations, parties and lunches ended I packed up my office. I felt nostalgic during the last elevator ride to the parking garage, but in my heart, I knew it was the right decision. I closed the door to the world I had known.
Initially, retirement felt like a vacation, particularly as I went to the cottage the day after I left the office and lounged on the beach for the summer. No meetings, no alarm clock, no work crises, no emails — it was heavenly. Occasionally I felt a pang of loss for the status and respect of career days. Fortunately, these feelings quickly vanished — replaced with gratitude that I could enjoy this next phase of my life.
Thinking back about the decisions made before and since retirement, some choices smoothed the way for a retirement without regrets.
- I planned the retirement. From what I’ve learned, choosing to retire and not being forced to retire makes all the difference in adapting to retirement rather than longing to be back at work.
- I rejected offers for contract work and for work with consulting firms. The demands of work in the not-for-profit sector such as dealing with the challenges of funding insufficiencies, grant deadlines, and mission creep held no appeal. A clean break helped with adjusting to retirement.
- After a summer at the beach, I focused on building a new network. I realized that the professional network I had before retirement was not going to fill social needs after retirement. My former colleagues moved on with their lives at work; I moved on with retirement. I joined a book club, joined a bridge club, went to meet-ups, and took cooking lessons. I developed new relationships at the gym as I had time to join in with coffee sessions or lunches after workouts. People I met in new activities saw me in a different situation; most knew nothing and cared not a whit about what I had done prior to retirement.
- I participated on boards as a volunteer and as a government-appointed representative. Some of the board work involved charities needing my skills in government relations. Other board gigs involved services outside of my realm of expertise such as an appointment by the mayor to the City Library Board. Volunteering structured my time in the first few years of retirement. Eventually, I realized that spending precious retirement hours preparing for or sitting in board or committee meetings was not fulfilling. With no regrets, I completed the appointment terms and then resigned.
- I created new health routines including regular exercise and better sleep routines. I paid more attention to nutrition, stopped eating processed foods and cooked at home.
- Most importantly, I developed this blog with the idea of writing about a successful retirement. I started the blog before retirement as I wanted a means to maintain cognitive outputs. By challenging myself to write regularly, my brain shifted to shift from professional writing to a conversational style of personal writing. Writing posts for this blog and monthly guest posts for exploringretirement.co.uk requires discipline but pays off in many ways. I never dreamed that I would develop a cadre of followers who comment regularly and send personal emails suggesting blog post topics.
Changes in Identity
Initially, saying ‘I’m retired’ when asked about my occupation in a social situation was difficult. Soon I learned to say these words with pride. Empowerment came when I viewed my status as a position of privilege and confidently described myself as ‘retired’. Changing the delivery eased the transition.
With self-identification no longer linked with how I earned a living, I was free to let go of a professional identity. I was another bridge player trying to succeed in fulfilling a bid, or another body on a yoga mat trying to master a pose, or another traveller in an airport searching for the departure gate.
Life changes after retirement. Regardless of whether retirement was chosen or forced due to illness or unemployment, retirement requires adaptation. I’ve learned to balance the positives such as doing things on a whim with the mundane such as doing the laundry or shopping for groceries.
Moving from the excitement and challenge of a career to retirement left a void of sorts. I needed a variety of purposeful activities for feelings of achievement. I stretched my mental capacity through writing and undertaking new hobbies. Swimming lessons and learning proper techniques for strength training brought physical benefits.
Spending more time at home deepened our marriage relationship. My husband of 50+ years and I re-learned how much we enjoyed one another’s company. Our marital connection grew stronger. We also learned the importance of spending time away from each other — alone time helps each of us maintain a personal identity.
Part of the retirement lifestyle involves managing the inevitable issues related to ageing. Life experiences cause a change of perspective. Health issues arise that cause re-thinking of retirement goals. Death robs us of dear friends and loved ones. Energy levels wane.
To counter the pitfalls of ageing, I’ve found the beauty of discovering relationships with grandchildren, strengthening the relationship with our adult son and daughter-in-law, and forming new friendships. Indulging in self-care and beauty rituals helps counter changes in my body as it ages.
My retirement without regrets began with the freedom from the institutional constraints of career and work. I realize that the sweeping generalizations I’ve cited reflect my experience and don’t apply to everyone. Ultimately, the approach to this stage of life will be unique to each reader. We choose how we approach this stage of our life.