The Trick to Retirement

As most people know, I am not a fan of the ‘someday’. That time in the distant future when something that is not happening right now will finally happen. As in ‘Someday, I will visit the Taj Mahal.’ or ‘Someday, I will learn to mountain climb.’ To me Someday is a dangerous thing. It keeps us out of the the here and now.

But, like most people, I have done my share of someday-ing. I am a human being, after all. And I spent a large part of my life doing a version of this. Someday, when our kids are grown, I will… Or Someday, when I’m retired, I’ll xyz. This is natural, I suppose, because when we’re working and raising a family we don’t have time to do all the things we dream about, or day dream about while looking out the office window. We’re busy. Very very busy.

And then that day comes. The kids are grown. It’s time to stop working and retire. Now what? I sort of did that when we moved to Spain. Although I eased into it as I did some serious consulting for the first two years. But, I was essentially retired. No dressing for the office unless I was giving a speech at a conference, or giving a presentation at a client site. Mostly, I got up when I wanted and my time was mine to organize. It was an interesting experiment into my psyche.

I have a friend in Spain. She said she promised herself that her retirement wouldn’t include long liquid expat lunches. She had things she wanted to accomplish and places to see. And I felt the same way. Because, it turns out, the secret to retirement is, well, not to retire. And I say that in all seriousness.

My roadmap for retirement is my Mom. She sold their business and immediately hopped on the volunteer bandwagon. It was good for her. At times she would joke that she was busier in retirement than when she was working. There was no money in it, but she wasn’t retired. So, I assumed my retirement would be much the same.

‘You’re too young to be retired.’ You are probably thinking right about now. And that would technically be true. But, I did leave the traditional working world five years ago. And have never really looked back. And I have learned a few things about myself in that time.

  1. Children need guardrails and so do I. When you set boundaries for your kids, it made them feel safe. They knew how to operate. When you set boundaries for yourself – I get up at 6.30 every day – It helps organize your day.
  2. Human beings need a purpose. All of us derive some purpose from the things we do in our lives. We raise our children hoping they will grow up to be productive members of society and help change the world. We work in our careers hoping that when they throw that retirement party we can look back and proudly say ‘I did that!’ or ‘At least I didn’t do THAT!’
  3. Make a difference. If you can combine being busy with making a difference you’ve won retirement. Jane Austin would call it ‘Useful employment.’
  4. Chart your own path. Time spent doing what everyone else is doing gets old, fast. I’ve had friends call me crazy for doing what I’m doing. But it makes me happy. And that’s what matters. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else.

The pandemic years – I can’t believe it was years – were difficult for me. I painted and I wrote, and fir a year I slept more than I was awake. So, in that respect they were restful. But, my days were admittedly, a bit rudderless. When you don’t get out of your pajamas it’s not a good sign. I needed a project. And I needed a purpose. Not someone else’s. Mine.

At one point, after that first battle with Covid, I was worried about my brain. I could tell that Jeff was concerned, as well. Even I knew I wasn’t as sharp as before. I couldn’t find words. And my ability to do simple math had flown south for the winter. It was the weirdest thing. But I think the brain is a muscle, like any other. You have to continue to challenge yourself and exercise it. Or it won’t be there when you need it.

This little food truck that could – has been so good for me. My Spanish comprehension has gotten much better. I can actually hear words being spoken rapid-fire that I couldn’t before. And I have to speak to people, too. In my pigeon, mistake-filled awful español. And I am learning to spit out numbers like a pro. Making simple change for a €20 note. Is it hard some days with the language barrier? Yes!! But everyday I am open before the sun comes up. And drinking my coffee as the first Pilgrims head lamps quietly come down the lane. Ready and willing to try, again.

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