Yes, that's right. I have found the key to a happy retirement, and I am going to share it with you.
You know how all of the books on retirement warn you that the most difficult thing about retirement won't be a financial one, but an emotional and mental one? Where once your job was your identity and gave you a sense of purpose, in retirement it is now important to find another sense of purpose so you won't go out on the golf course and drop dead because you have no sense of self worth anymore? All those years that you worked, you had a purpose. Your job defined you to a certain extent so if you wanted to make the transition to a happy retirement, you needed to find purpose.
When I retired, that really scared me.
When I first retired, I felt guilty leaving a job I could have kept doing, but I was 65 and I wanted to leave on a high point. As Barbara Walters said when she retired from "The View," she wanted to leave when people would say, "Why are you leaving?" rather than wait for them to say, "Why don't you leave?" That's how I felt too. I had done what I meant to do, felt good about my career and the people who had crossed my path over the years, but it was time to go. But I worried about this purpose thing I had heard about. I had worked since I was 14 and when I married and had children, I worked and then came home to be with my family. I didn't really have hobbies other than happy hour and going out to eat once in awhile.
So what was I going to do with all of that free time I was going to have when I retired? How was I going to find purpose in my life?
So like the good little librarian that I was, I started to do some research.
Here are some books I read:
"The Joy of Not Working: A Book for the Retired, the Unemployed and the Overworked" by Ernie Zelinski (2003)
He recommended creating a "Get-a-Life Tree," a sort of chart where you list all of the things that you ever wanted to do. "Get-a-Life" Tree right away signaled that maybe I didn't have a life, which was kind of depressing. Anyway, I think he was trying to get me to realize I had more interests than I thought, but by the time I listed winning an Oscar and losing 50 pounds, it depressed me even more because it all seemed like so much work. Wasn't I retiring so I didn't have to work anymore?
"How to Enjoy Your Retirement: Activities from A-Z" by Tricia Wagner and Barbara Day (2006)
I know they were trying to be helpful, but their list of activities I might enjoy, such as learning to use an abacus or getting a face lift didn't seem like that would give me a sense of purpose.
"Retire with a Mission: Planning and Purpose for the Second Half of Life" by Richard G. Wendel (2008)
I was really hopeful with this book, because the people on the cover looked so happy and young! But when the author said, "A negative countenance and chronic complaining have always been and will always be the pathway to isolation," I could see that I was going to have to become a completely different person to find purpose and enjoy my retirement, and I didn't see how that was going to happen. Not this late in the game, anyway.
"How to Retire without Retreating: Getting Your Ducks in a Row for a Meaningful Retirement" by Johnnie Godwin (2004)
"As your formal career winds down, be sure to plan for the ten, twenty, or more years of retirement that await you." Too late. I'm already retired. Plus, she wanted me to go to church.
So though some of the ideas in those books were helpful, they didn't really spark me to make that many changes or to embark on a new way of life. In fact, they just made me feel pressured to fill my days with meaningful activities which reminded me of having a job again.
And then I had an epiphany that changed everything.
Yes, my job gave me purpose. As a librarian in a public library, I was able to help many people find information that helped them make sense of the world they lived in. I taught computer classes to help people find jobs, and I arranged for citizenship and ESL classes to be held at the library to help newcomers to the United States. All of that made me feel purposeful.
But I also realized that when I was working, every day I had to do a lot of things I didn't want to do.
Even if you loved your job, think of all of the things you really didn't want to do.
Think about it.
Every day you were confronted with activities and responsibilities you probably didn't enjoy very much and didn't really want to do.
- In my case, I not only had to show up at work, I had to show up on time, and you know I am not a morning person.
- I was only allowed a certain number of days off and sometimes when I wanted time off, it was denied.
- I had no maternity leave (I went back to work when my babies were only six weeks old), and if I had to leave to take care of a sick child, it could be a problem.
- I was a manager so I often had to address employee issues that I really didn't want to address.
- Library customers could be demanding and I had to listen to their complaints.
- I had to attend meetings that could be boring.
- I had to deal with traffic getting to and from work.
I could go on, but I think I've made my point, and I am sure you could make your own list of things you don't really like to do at work.
So as I have been wrestling with this whole issue of finding purpose in my retirement, here is what I have discovered.
Are you ready for it?
Do you need to find new purpose to enjoy your retirement?
And that's the key to a happy retirement.
You don't have to find purpose, you don't have to do anything you don't want to do any more. You are free of all of that.
The freedom of retirement is in and of itself your purpose: to be free of the constraints of a job and the realization that you don't have to do anything you don't want to do any more is purpose enough.
If you feel pressure to find a new purpose, that's like looking for a job. And when you find your new purpose, that's like HAVING a new job, which could lead to a whole new set of things you don't really want to do.
Hell, your existence is purpose enough.
Now does that mean I sit around all day watching TV? Sometimes, if that's what I want to do. But, no, I don't. I have gotten involved in a few things such as volunteering as a senior peer counselor, which I really enjoy because I still have that "I like to help people gene" in me. I exercise regularly and write this blog, and I have tried some new things like meditation and playing with tarot cards. But I don't have to keep doing any of those things. I can stop doing them whenever I want to. I don't have a boss telling me I have to do something. I am now my own boss.
I have also tried some things that I didn't like, such as Zumba and bird watching (just kidding about the bird watching - inside joke). The main problem with Zumba was that it was at 10am and I don't like to have to be anywhere that early if I don't have to be and since I am retired I don't have to be.
The main point is I have tried some things, didn't like them so I stopped doing them, because I can. I don't have to get myself into anything I can't get myself out of anymore...
BECAUSE I AM FREE!
So if you are getting ready to retire or have retired and are at loose ends about what you should do with yourself, just remember this:
You don't need to spend your retirement looking for your purpose or make elaborate plans before you retire. YOU are your purpose. Your existence is purpose enough. You are now free to do whatever you want and you are also free to NOT do anything you don't want to do any more. You are free!
When you free yourself of the "shoulds" in your life, your mind is free to discover what you really enjoy, and if that's solving the problems of the world, fine. But if it's sitting in a chair every day with a good book or watching "The View," that's also fine.
And for those of you out there whose identity is so tied to your job or career that you are worried about what you will say when someone asks you what you do (and this seems to be more of an issue for men), just say:
"I am enjoying my life and my freedom."
Now go out there and enjoy your life and your freedom.
I'm going to go watch "The View."
Thanks for reading!
See you Friday
for my review of
"The Fundamentals of Caring"
The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)
and the latest on
"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before
I Die Project."
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