Yes, definitely should have planned a bit better. Financial planners tell us that if you work hard, are disciplined with your spending and take care of your health you will reach the promised land: retirement. There were horror stories everywhere: responsible, hard-working folks who thought they had saved enough, only to realize they hadn’t and therefore couldn’t retire or folks who developed health problems which forced them to retire sooner than they planned. We also have the ever-increasing group, the one we talk about in hushed tones: Those who were “encouraged” to retire in an effort to “restructure” the organization. All of these scenarios are scary. It causes uneasiness when you get to retire on your own terms; however, it is even more upsetting when circumstances cause you to make that move sooner than you feel ready to do so. Let’s face it: this society is not kind to retirees with insufficient resources. That’s too soft: it’s brutal and unforgiving.
I recently retired, am in relatively good health and since by nature I have always been frugal (some close to me would say too frugal) I expected that things would go well for me in retirement. With that said, I still should have known something was amiss with this retirement carrot. My husband retired about five years ago; however, he flunked retirement and happily returned to work. Yes, he went down in flames, although he gave it a most valiant effort. Stayed out for a year; however, that was only because I kept telling him (or nagging, depends on whose version you want to believe) to take a break and try to settle into it. He complained constantly and said he was afraid he was starting to feel depressed. Husband was so miserable in fact that after feverishly looking in the local job market, he took a position six hours away and commuted home on weekends. He now works locally, returned to singing off-key around the house and is miserable no more.
As a result of my husband’s experience it’s not like I didn’t know that transitioning into retirement was not for the faint of heart. My planning involved constantly reviewing our finances to make sure we would be ok. Real talk: I was obsessed with our finances. I reviewed them, checked with the experts, attended seminars and read everything I could on what was needed for this next stage of my life. I gamely stepped up my exercise and nutrition game with the hope of minimizing future medical expenses. I was one smart cookie, until it happened.
When you first retire, it seems like a dream come true. How could I be sooo lucky to no longer have to work every day?!! I no longer had to sit in a five-hour meeting only to learn that, yet another meeting was needed before a decision could be made. It felt exhilarating to be able to slow my pace, rest a bit and handle tasks I had put off simply because I was too exhausted and didn’t have time to handle them.
Within two weeks of retiring I watched YouTube videos of Marie Kondo and decided I needed to tidy up! I spent weeks with stuff piled high in my kitchen, closets and bedrooms while I followed The Kondo method meticulously to get things in order. I asked myself repeatedly: Does it (the specific item) spark joy? (I am not sure when your life involves buying an outfit in a size you never dreamed you’d wear, if that item could ever “spark joy” but you get my point.) I bragged to friends about what I had accomplished all the while ignoring questioning looks from my husband as he seemed concerned that I just might be losing it in retirement.
I am not losing it, but I am facing what a former colleague told me to be prepared for. My colleague retired and returned to the workforce after a year (where I met him). He said that while he too planned financially for his retirement, he didn’t plan enough to ensure he would be ok socially. My colleague said after a few months into retirement, he looked around and there was no one to play with; everyone was working. Wow. Really wished I had let that point soak in a bit more.
When I was working, I sorely yearned for more free time; now it feels like I am out of kilter. I don’t have a set schedule and feel a bit lost without one. Just acknowledging that this adjustment is a bit harder than I anticipated takes some effort. No, I am not being dramatic. It takes a bit of courage to admit to yourself and others that I am just not enjoying this retirement thing as much as I thought I would and as much as others (liars!) told me I would.
I felt a range of emotions when I finally acknowledged this to myself: others would kill to be able to retire, how ungrateful must a person be to not consider this a huge blessing, stop complaining or the universe will give me something to complain about! Yes, I experienced all those emotions. It’s been 10 months now and after experimenting, I now have found activities and a schedule that I enjoy. However, what I finally figured out was that I was having such a hard time because of an unexpected emotion related to my retirement; an emotion I had not factored in or even considered in my meticulous planning: guilt.
As a minority person who comes from a lineage of people who toiled relentlessly under the harshest of conditions, all the while being constantly devalued as human beings, my discomfort with rest (retirement) seems incredibly disrespectful. But alas, it is that very history that now proves to be the biggest barrier to my future siestas. Friends and family tell me to enjoy my time off, that I have earned this time. However, I do feel a bit guilty and imagine my ancestors shaking their collective heads and wondering when I will get back to work.