Boo!

The jack o’ lanterns are grinning maniacally.  The ghosts are keening.  The witches are flying on broomsticks against the harvest moon.  Costumed freeloaders will soon be knocking on our doors demanding candy and threatening mischief if none is forthcoming.  At least that would be happening if we didn’t live in an age restricted community of oldsters in central Florida.  Halloween is just around the corner.  Maybe we should talk about zombies, werewolves, and vampires today.  Or maybe we should talk about something that is really scary…. Five common fears people often face when thinking about retirement.

So…. Turn down the lights and get ready to do some ghost-busting!

  1. I will not have enough money to live as I wish in retirement.

It is difficult not to feel anxious about money when you are facing a rather substantial decrease in income upon retirement.  Most people have a sort of intuitive feeling about how much money they can spend without having to think about it too much.  We live at a certain standard of spending, based on what is often a fairly stable work income.  We buy things we have always bought because we have always been able to afford them.  We have a “set point” in our minds about discretionary spending. We have a sense of some dollar amount at which a non-recurring payment stops being an impulse buy and starts being an expenditure requiring deliberate decision-making.  When we retire and cut our income 30-50%, that “set point” may change.  In fact, our whole intuitive sense of what standard of living we can afford becomes murky.  We don’t have any empirical practice at what living on this lesser income feels like when it comes to buying stuff.

One way to mitigate this dilemma is to “practice” living on a lesser income while still working.  This helps show us that we can live the way we want to, even on a smaller income.  It also helps train our financial muscles to work differently.  It hones that intuitive sense of what we can afford.  For more information on how to “practice” living on retirement income, you can review my blog post, “The Elephant In The Room. http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/02/the-elephant-in-the-room/ 

It is also important to remember that you don’t have to stop earning income completely when you retire.  Earning doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition.  Presumably, you don’t need to earn as much money as you did while working full-time.  Maybe, though, you find you need some amount of additional income to shore up your retirement lifestyle.  You can probably find a part-time job to fill the gap.  You might even decide to start a small business to share your skills.  Maybe you can babysit.  Maybe you can do light caretaking, like running errands or doing housecleaning or laundry for elderly or disabled neighbors.  Maybe you have a skill from your working life or a hobby that you can monetize. It may help you embrace retirement with financial confidence if you know that you have a back-up plan.

  1. I’ll start gaining weight or….

Smoking too much, spending too much money, drinking too much, getting depressed over a failed relationship, or…. insert your bad habit of choice.

When I retired, I was worried about eating too much and gaining weight because I would be home more and have more time to consume food.  When I was working, the amount of time I had available to eat was so restricted, it seemed like it shouldn’t be all that hard to minimize my caloric intake.  Once I could reach for a snack from my own kitchen cabinet or refrigerator any time of the day, I was afraid that there would be no external circumstances to limit my grazing.  I had friends who had the same concerns about being able to smoke without having to wait for a moment to run outside the office for a smoke break.  I am sure it is the same with any unhealthy habit.  It can feel like the freedom retirement brings may also take away the work-related limits on bad habits.

I found that it was actually easier to maintain and even lose weight once I retired.  Yes, I had more time to eat.  Yes, I probably do eat more than I did when I was working.  However, what I eat is very different.  Since I am eating from my own kitchen, my choices are limited to the pretty healthy stuff I’ve put there. I am no longer wolfing down a candy bar at 2:00pm because I could get it at the vending machine and it is the only food I have had time to acquire since I ate breakfast at 5:00am.  I don’t feel as compelled to soothe myself with high fat and high carbohydrate comfort foods because I am not as stressed.  In short, I am eating more, but the more I am eating is higher quality, more nutritionally dense foods.  The other element is exercise.  Because I am retired and have much more flexibility in my schedule, I walk over six miles a day and do water aerobics once or twice a week.  The exercise has many benefits, including helping to manage my weight despite not eating perfectly.

The additional time you find in retirement can result in the expansion of unhealthy habits, but it all depends on how you look at it and what you decide to do with that time.  That time can also provide you with the opportunity to explore, at your own pace, why you built those unhealthy habits in the first place. Rather than gaining weight (or bankruptcy, lung cancer, liver disease, another dysfunctional relationship, or some other consequence of an unhealthy habit), retirement can be the time when you gain happiness.

  1. I’ll lose my friends.

Most of us have a social network that we establish through our jobs.  Most of my friends were my work colleagues.  Having these wonderful people in my life certainly enriched and sweetened my working years.  I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope if those relationships withered when I left the workplace.  Guess what?  I never had to cope because those relationships never withered.

It is probably naïve to think that all your work friendships will endure after you retire.  It is also counter-productive to think that the relationships that do endure will be exactly the same.  However, it is defeatist thinking to assume you will lose your whole work-related social network.  I found that, for the most part, the people I cherished from my working years are still closely in my heart’s orbit today.  For more information about maintaining friendships after retirement, you can review my blog post, Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot. http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/12/should-auld-acquaintance-be-forgot/

It might also be helpful to “practice” a new social network before retirement.  If you are worried about not being connected to your work friends any more, perhaps it would be good to start expanding your circle of friends to other areas- church groups, civic organizations, neighbors, etc.

  1. People retire and then they die.

Many of us know people who worked their whole lives in relative good health and dropped dead soon after retiring.  There are enough of these stories circulating that we can get a little superstitious about entering the retired ranks. I think the logical fallacy of “because something happens after an event, it must have been caused by the event” is at play in those superstitions.

It is probably true that some people are so connected to their work that they get bored and lose their spark when they retire. I suppose that could contribute to a premature death.  However, I don’t think most people die after retirement because they are so depressed they lose the will to live and just fade away.   There may be a period of confusion and depression, but most of us find our way through that time and find our new lives.  If a person does die shortly after retirement, seemingly for no reason, I think there is likely some reason.  That reason may have actually been present before the retirement, but the person may just not have wanted people to know about it.  The condition may have presented itself after retirement, but would have reared its ugly head at the same time, whether the person was working or retired.

  1. If I retire, I’ll lack purpose in my life.

Most people think that their purpose in life is what they do. In reality, the opposite should be true.  We should do what is our purpose in life.  Unfortunately, for many of us, the work that we do to make our living isn’t what truly makes us feel whole and the best version of ourselves.  We may find it satisfying and interesting and reasonably lucrative in providing for our wants and needs, but it probably isn’t what makes our hearts sing and our souls expand.  Even though what we do for work probably isn’t truly our purpose and driving force, it’s easy to get in the habit of thinking that it is over many years of a career.  Partly this happens because we just don’t have any time for much else while we are working.  Partly it happens because it is much easier for us to measure progress and success towards “purpose” by keeping our focus on a career than it is to explore where our true purpose lies. After all, no one gives you a raise or a promotion for self-actualization.

If you are one of the lucky people whose “career” purpose and “self” purpose intersect, it is likely that you can find a way to live out that purpose passionately in retirement.  You may be able to work part time or volunteer to follow your heart.  If you can’t physically do the work that is your purpose, you can probably still consult, mentor, teach, or write to share your skills with others.

For more information about finding your new life, you can review my post Get a Life. http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/09/get-a-life/

So maybe the shadows of retirement are not so scary after all.  Now that we’ve pushed these skeletons back into the closet, how about some candy?  Trick or treat, anybody?

Now it’s your turn!  What were your fears about retirement?  Do you think those fears were well-founded? How did you overcome them? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you an email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Happy Haunting!

Terri 🙂

 

 

You CAN Go Home Again

I thought I would stop feeling chronically stressed and overwhelmed once I stopped working.  I realized that work issues are not the only stressors in life.  I knew that thinking I would NEVER feel stressed again was patently unrealistic.  Still, I thought the relentlessness of the condition would disappear.  I was wrong.  The stress storm that raged inside me through my work life hasn’t really blown away.  It has abated from hurricane level, but I’m not taking the storm shutters down just yet.

I think I’ve hit on a theory as to why that constant feeling of vague panic hasn’t left.  Somehow, in the rush of changes and new experiences, I’ve become less the sum of my parts and more my role in the world.  I seem to be less who I am and more what I am.  It seems “me” is no longer a compilation of my attributes, preferences, perspectives, values, and unique quirks. To the world, I am the senior citizen living in a retirement community.  To most of my former employees and colleagues, I am the retired leader who isn’t in the loop.  To my mother, I am the administrative assistant and caretaker.  To Max, I am the strategic and tactical partner in carving out our new life.  None of these roles is bad.  In fact, they all contribute to who I am.  Still, feeling that I am always the somewhat one-dimensional role and not the multi-faceted person is stressful.    Every now and again, I observe myself in a moment just being myself and reacting to others in a way that feels genuine and effortless.  It is wonderfully refreshing.  Most of the time, though, I am doing and saying things that seem right for the role I happen to be filling at the time. The living of my life seems to be a performance and a rather forced one at that.  I often feel like I am waiting to be me.  I’ve found that this can be as stressful as postponing a priority of my own when something happened at work that forced me to change my plans.

So how do I stop living in the role and allowing myself to be who I am?    I have a few ideas.

I need to notice what is happening when I observe myself just being me and do what I can to replicate those conditions.  I think those “me” moments often occur when I am talking about something or doing something that is quite apart from any of my roles.  I guess the common denominator is that I am usually focusing on a passion of my own.  For instance, I joined a book club about a year after we moved.  I have always loved books and revel in the artistry that goes into truly elegantly constructed literature.  About a million years ago, I majored in English in college.  During my career, I was not called on to discuss books.  However, many of the most satisfying aspects of my job involved analysis, discussion, and communication.  Those elements of analysis, discussion, and communication are certainly present in the book club.  I find the conversations at the book club to be fascinating and wonderfully soul-nourishing.  The club discusses a wide variety of genres and styles, which broadens my understanding of the world.  The other members’ comments enrich my understanding and enjoyment of the books.  I also love it when I can offer a perspective that the majority haven’t considered.

I also need to allow myself to speak genuinely of my interests to the people in my life.  I find that I have started to communicate in a rather sparse, functional way.  Instead of sharing my thoughts and feelings about my passions, I often edit myself and only talk about what needs to be done in the context of the role.  For instance, if my mother asks me how the book club went, I may just answer “fine” and move on to asking her about how she feels or what tasks I need to complete for her.  There is no reason to withhold my thoughts about the book club discussion.  It isn’t a secret society or anything.  In fact, my mother is interested in what I do when I am not with her and is always pleased to hear about my activities.  Maintaining relationships instead of merely fulfilling roles requires honesty and sharing ourselves generously with others.

Another strategy that will help is to protect the time I’ve set aside for doing fun things with Max and enjoy the day adventures we take.  I often find myself most relaxed and light-hearted when we are sitting watching a movie at home or spending a whole day together at a theme park or shopping mall.  Unfortunately, though, I will sometimes sacrifice that time either to do something that needs doing or compromise it by overscheduling myself and feeling rushed when I should be having fun.

I also need to make time for activities on my own.  I love doing things with Max.  I love doing things with my mom.  I love doing things with my new Florida friends.  Still, it is really fun and refreshing to sometimes just go out and have an adventure on my own without having to worry about what the other person wants or needs.  When I was working and before we moved, it was relatively easy to do something on my own because malls and events and other activities were all around us.  It was pretty easy to stop somewhere for an hour or two on my way home from work to get a little “me” time.  In our new home territory, things are more spread out, so going somewhere on my own is a little less automatic.  With a little forethought, however, I find it is possible and necessary to have Terri Time.

And, finally, I CAN go home again when I need to feel like me again.  Usually, that “going home” means a phone, text, or email conversation with a much-loved faraway friend.  However, planes do fly both ways and I certainly can travel to visit the folks who understand the real me best.

A few months ago, I made a quick trip to my home state to do just that.  I had not intended to go back so soon after moving, but there was a confluence of circumstances that motivated me.  A dear friend from another state was coming in to my home state for business.  The opportunity to see my three bestest friends in the same geographic vicinity was too good a chance to miss.

It was a whirlwind trip and very busy. I did not sleep late or loll around doing nothing.   It involved lots of planning and scheduling and visiting multiple airports.  I rushed hither, thither, and yon to spend time with the people I cherish.   I rented a car and drove about 800 miles in the four days of my visit.  I didn’t spend more than one night in any one location.  Still, I arrived home feeling re-energized, happy, and loving life.

When I thought about why the trip had been so wonderful, I realized that, to the friends I visited, I was just me.  They didn’t need me to do anything for them.   They relished in hearing me talk about our common interests and about my new life.  They had been looking forward to just being with and laughing with me.   I was not filling a role.  I was simply Terri- their sister of the soul.

So what are your thoughts?  Have you ever felt “on-you” after a major life change, like retirement or a move?  What did you do about it?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a wonderful day!

Terri 🙂

Note: Next week, I’ll be back to posting on Wednesday morning.  Thanks for your understanding…. and for reading!  You all rock.