Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Retirement: Is the Honeymoon Over?

Since I have retired, I have been reading other blogs about retirement. And everyone seems so productive and happy.

This week's blog is for those other folks.  Folks like me.

Much like the realization in marriage that the hearts and flowers of first love are being replaced by dirty diapers, arguments about chores and in-laws, it appears my "honeymoon period" of retirement has reached an end. 

It's been almost three months and to be honest, I am in a slump.

As I look back on my earlier posts when I was anticipating this big step, I can see that I was aware of the pitfalls, but there was a real sense of excitement about the freedom I had to look forward to and the opportunities I imaged.

Imagined is a good word and freedom is a double-edged sword.

The first week of retirement was a real period of adjustment. 

I felt guilty.

I felt guilty because I was leaving a good job when I was perfectly capable of continuing.  In my family, you didn't leave a good job if you were able bodied and I am.

I came from a family that not only valued work, but enjoyed it.  My Dad was like those Jamaican characters on "Saturday Night Live."  He always had at least four jobs.  He had his regular 8-5 job, and then he might be working nights managing a bowling alley, weekends at a men's clothing store, and playing in a dance band. 

He also wanted to be a cowboy.

I sometimes think my Dad's underlying motivation for working all of those jobs was to avoid my mother, but he also liked having that money to fund his many interests.  He gave my mother his 8-5 pay check to cover the household expenses, and then he worked those other jobs to finance his passions: cars, guns, model trains, the trumpets that would help him play like Doc Severinsen

In retirement, he continued to work - at a bakery, in the band, managing an apartment building.  He loved the apartment management job.  He would chuckle and say he could do that job "as long as I can sit up and take nourishment."  The little old ladies living there loved my Dad, too, if you know what I mean, always finding little jobs for him to do like opening a jar for them or moving furniture.  And he was still doing that and playing in that band into his 80's.

My mother was a housewife, but she, too, made extra money by taking in ironing and babysitting the neighborhood children.  She actually liked to iron.  I think it was a combination of pride in her work - and she ironed to perfection - and a little voyeurism checking out other people's clothes.  I will never forget that she ironed downstairs in the basement with nothing to look at except out the little basement window.  No music, no television.  She liked having her own money and that was probably a reaction to my Dad's overspending.


My grandmother taught music in the high school for over 25 years and gave private lessons well after she retired.



So I came from a long line of hard-working people and inherited a good work ethic from people who actually liked to work.  I was rarely ever late for work, despite the fact that I despise getting up in the morning.  I rarely took a sick day, though I allowed myself one "mental health day" per year, and I always wanted to feel I was accomplishing something.

But after that first week of retirement I actually got over feeling guilty, and I really started to enjoy it.  I mean, who wouldn't enjoy sleeping in, looking like a slob most of the time and watching television or reading all day? I started thinking, hey, I can do this. 

But you can only do that for so long. 

In my earlier blogs, when I first started chronically this new life called Retirement, I gave myself some good advice.  Unfortunately, I have had  difficulty taking it. I wrote that my job was "me," but I am discovering that I am boring, lack motivation and can go days without ever leaving the house.

The reality of my situation and how I am handling it has finally set in.  Those three essential items to a happy retirement - structure, purpose and community - have so far eluded me and have me worried.

Though I started out by planning my days, from getting up late to Happy Hour with Hubby, and my weeks to include "special days," something is missing.

I recently whined to my son that I was feeling a little depressed about things and he responded, "Do what makes you happy."  But what if you are not sure what that is or if you come to the scary realization that what makes you happy is watching Lifetime Movies and drinking wine with my wine-guzzling poodle?
We might not like getting up in the morning to go to work, but at least once we get there, we are afforded the opportunities to make a difference in the world. 

What happens when you don't have to be anywhere?

So despite my good intentions, some days you would have to use a can opener to pry me out of here.  I worry my body will be found in a pile of 1990's power suits screaming "Where will I wear these?" 

Speaking of my clothes, I feel sad when I look at my three closets of clothes and boxes and boxes of shoes.  I will probably never wear most of them again, now that I don't have to get dressed up for work.  I mostly wear work-out clothes in the sometimes pathetic hope that I will actually work out or leisure wear (no, I didn't say leisure suits).  And don't say give them to charity.  I could maybe part with some of them, but I am not just a wearer of clothes.  I am a collector.  Alright, a hoarder, but I feel I have a personal relationship with many of my items.  And to give them all away somehow symbolizes that I have no need to look great anymore, that I really will never wear them again.   I'm just not ready for that yet.

There is a common saying that I hear over and over again. 

People will say to me, "Boy, I bet you are busier than you have ever been." Busy, yes. I can be busy.  But are we retirees kidding ourselves? 

Is the price of freedom a lack of true achievement and a life of busy work?

I can be busy. 

I volunteer at the Senior Center, I have joined a book club, I go to the gym, I cook, work on my blog, meditate, attend the theatre and concerts, eat out at great restaurants, read, watch movies, but does all of that take the place of my work accomplishments?  Am I going to live out my days by keeping busy but not making a difference in anyone's lives or in the world?

Something is missing.

When you have been a high achiever all of your life, it's not easy to see accomplishment in the little things.  How does going to the gym every day (which I haven't yet managed) compete as an achievement against helping people achieve U.S. citizenship?  How does finally cleaning out all of the kitchen cabinets measure up to teaching computer skills to unemployed older workers who need these skills for the first time to get a job?  Is learning to meditate as important as learning how to use Twitter to market my library?

So finding meaning and purpose in retirement have become my next big challenges. 

And challenges they are.  I don't have some of the built-in structure that many retirees have.

I don't have the benefit of family to give me purpose and community.  Both of my adult children live hundreds and thousands of miles away and likewise my grandchildren, so I can't help with their care or participate in their upbringing.

And then there is the specter of increasing isolation. Ten years ago, in midlife, we made a bold move and moved from a town where we had lived for 30 years to a place where we knew no one. In so doing, I discovered that it's not difficult meeting new people but turning those encounters into more meaningful relationships is not something that is as easy to do as it was when I was in my 20's and 30's. Hubby works at home so neither of us now has the benefit of work relationships.  If I was lonely, I knew I would go to work each day, interact with my co-workers and get the occasional compliment from a library customer who appreciated what I did.
I know, I know.  Rosy, if you want meaning, get out there and feed the homeless or become a Big Sister or adopt an orphan.  But the problem is that I am not motivated to do that. 

I have found that in retirement, when presented with total freedom and "all of the time in the world," motivation becomes more difficult.

At least when you are working, you have the external motivation that you need to get up and go to work and once there, meaningful opportunities present themselves.

 As I said earlier, my Dad seemed to enjoy retirement, though he came from the generation that had to retire from the company at 65.  But he had those jobs and he also had his religion.  There wasn't a night when he wouldn't be up late doing his "lesson," part of the Christian Science routine.  No matter how late he had worked at the bakery, he would be at the dining room table with his Bible and Mary Baker Eddy's "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures."  He was also writing a dictionary using Christian Science to change negative definitions into positive ones.  I know, kind of nutty, but he thought he was going to change the world.  And that's all that mattered - what HE thought. And that is probably what sustained him in retirement.

But in the end, what do you do when you have all of the time in the world?  How do you not waste it all?  So how do I get that sense of achievement and purpose back?

My mind often wanders to becoming a nun.  I think of Audrey Hepburn in "A Nun's Story," and think of how noble I would be, not to mention not having to worry about what to wear each day.  But I'm not Catholic and my age would probably be an issue. 

Seriously, I accept that I might just be in a slump now as it sinks in that I have this vast freedom after 40+ years chasing a career, one that provided structure, routine, schedules, purpose and community.

Geez, the more I think about it, if I hadn't had a career I might have ended up one of those homeless people myself, swigging fine wine from a bottle in a brown paper bag trailed by that wine-guzzling poodle.

So I guess what I need to work on now is balance -
a balance between my tendency to want to stay home and watch TV or read - both solitary pursuits - with my desire to still be relevant in a world that does not hold age in high regard.  I need to give myself some time and some slack. Just as in your work life, some days are productive, some not, and it's important not to panic.  There will be good days and not so good days.

And if worse comes to worst, I can always get a job at Macy's. 
It would be satisfying to help people look fabulous!

I know I am not alone in these feelings

If any of you are in the same boat, I would like to hear from you!

NOTE TO MY READERS:  I am going to try a format change.  My very smart daughter, who is also a blogger and whose opinions I respect, suggested I try publishing shorter and/or different posts more often.  So I am going to try to publish my column on Tuesdays and my reviews on Thursday or Friday.  I know I have some readers who particularly like my reviews and I was thinking they were getting lost at the end of my weekly column.  So let me know what you think.  Separate the reviews from the column or go back to the one long post per week that includes everything?  Or separate the blog even more? You decide.


  1. Rosy,

    First - your daughter is correct - shorter and more frequent is generally better than longer and less frequent, at least with regard to growing your blog audience. :-)

    Second - honey, you are adrift because you haven't yet found your new purpose. We all need a purpose, or at least a lot of us do. I know I do!

    It's possible your 'new' purpose will be in the same field you left, but without all the demands and expectations that you worked under previously. It's also possible it will be in an entirely new area. Like improvisation . . . you are very, very witty!

    I struggled my first year of retirement as well, because it took me about that long to find the things that fed me. I was disappointed whenever something didn't feel right, or work out like I'd thought, but I kept going, and eventually things fell into place. Now two and 1/2 years into retirement, I love my life. It's incredibly full, but only because I kept plugging away and working at keeping it that way.

    What you are feeling is entirely normal, but I encourage you to keep searching until you find what will ultimately feed you. I may have recommended it before, but I'll do it again anyway - 'The Joy of Not Working' by Ernie Zelinski is an amazing primer for how to go about fashioning your new life.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thanks, Tamara for your thoughtful response. I will put a hold on that book at the library right now! I know a big change like this takes time to get used to. I am hopeful. And it's nice to build a blogger community. Thanks for the encouragement.


    3. Let me leave with one small example on how this has worked for me. I love to hike. I initially found a Sierra Club group to hike with one day a week, but because it was a workday, they were all older, which was fine, but they were also slow by my standards, which wasn't. I kept looking and found a group on MeetUp that was a little broader age range wise, but much faster. Perfect! Once I joined the weekly hike, I started getting invited to other special non MeetUp hikes. I had to increase my non hiking workouts to stay in shape for these special hikes. Then someone suggested we consider a Sierra club Wilderness Training for backpacking. That led to signing up for a course that will introduce us to about 100 other fledgling backpackers. Once we are certified, we'll be eligible to join in on Sierra Club backpacking trips, whereby we'll meet more people. That is leading us to looking into working in National Parks in the summer as volunteer trail guides, which I'm confident will open even more doors.

      Take away 'hiking' and perhaps substitute 'theater volunteer' and I am confident you'll find a similar path unfolding.

      A very similar scenario is playing out at the university where we attend classes. We're getting involved behind-the-scenes and it's like a roaring freight train . . . there's no stopping what's coming at us now!

      It's really amazing once the ball gets rolling what starts to appear. :-)

    4. I am sure you are right. It's taking that first step that seems immobilizing. When I was working, I pretty much worked and came home to my family. Not a lot of outside stuff going on so it's like starting from scratch.


    5. To hell with balance! You need to find your PASSION, which I think you have already found through your accomplishments at work. You can still do these things by volunteering--maybe in a venue where you get paid! Like a tutor. Consider volunteering at a local theater group. I was part of the Children's Theater in Palo Alto when I was in elementary school and Jr. High; I LOVED it. I was often on stage as an actor, but sometimes I just painted stage props. I just loved it. [I started my very first menstruating riding my bike home from a Children's Theater rehearsal] [I just knew you wanted to know this] You will find your passion soon, I just know it. Probably the first thing is getting out of the house more and taping more of your shows so you don't stay in the house to watch TV--you'll be surprised when you just don't have the time to watch everything you thought you "just had to watch" and more and more shows are less interesting than you used to think. Good Luck and Best Wishes--I will enjoy hearing about your journey (or journies).

    6. Thanks, Jeanne. I feel hopeful that my passion will present itself. In the meantime, I hate to say my next blog will be all about TV. So far, that's been a big passion in my life!


  2. Take heart - what you are experiencing is very normal. You mentioned a couple of things that stood out to me and that perhaps you could build on:
    1. the satisfaction of helping someone achieve citizenship or learn computer skills - you might want to volunteer or work part time doing one or both of those or start a group that does them
    2. making deeper friendships - push yourself to follow up with people you meet; perhaps ask their advice on how to set new goals

    I too have found that it takes time to find the right things to do and it is an ongoing process. I don't have the same trouble letting go of clothing I'm not using though LOL.

    1. Additional thoughts: Getting involved in making something happen in an area you love - help develop and put on a film, music or book festival; get involved with a local theater - you don't have to act, they need stage crews, fundraisers, etc. It is energizing to not only be a spectator but also an active participant in an area you love. You will make friends that way too. I started turning the corner in how I felt about retirement when I took my love of reading and get very involved in raising money for my library.

    2. Thanks, Juhli. Funny, you should mention theatre as I was once an aspiring actress. But that was years ago. I know you are right and I appreciate the ideas. It's just getting myself in gear to go out there and "join," which is something I haven't really done.


    3. For me the key was to take one small step at a time and not think of it as something big that had to be solved. Good luck.

  3. Okay,I just read this one. I am not an expert but I would say a couple things. If you don't know what yuor passion is, experiment. You may have to work awhile to get it right. I don't know what your job is but I contribute more to society than I did working. If you don't mind, I may extend my coming post "yes" blog to something along this topic, if that is okay.

    And for what it is worth, my number one rule is that my television does not get turned on until the evening news unless its the end of the world as we know it (like the colorado floods). I personally do watch tv in the evenings when I am home, but I have portable hobbies.

    You will work it out.

    1. Thanks, Barb. I really did like your post about "yes." It was very helpful. I was a community librarian and every day I worked with people who needed my help so that filled my need for purpose. I did feel I was doing something important. But I know adapting to change takes time and I am working on it. The TV thing is my addiction which I will blog about next week and then maybe I will try your tip -- no TV until a certain time. Thanks for your comment.


    2. Well, one immediate thought (assuming you actually liked your job)

      without knowing where you live or what is in your community, many schools I know of need volunteer librarians on a part time basis. I used to do this at an elementary school and help the kids choose book and do reading circles as well.

      I do believe you will find something......

  4. Love your honesty here. And it is amazing how much I relate to this, as a just finished graduate school and currently unemployed late twenty-something! Crazy how hard it can be to find what makes us happy and fulfilled. I think the most important thing is to just give yourself permission to find it, even if it happens slowly.

    1. I know, I think that's the only way, giving one self permission. And getting off my butt will help too!

  5. I'm just starting to look at retirement and it is surprising how many people do find it to be an anti-climax and lacking the pleasure they originally anticipated. I think you are already ahead of many people in that you have recognized the problem and are on the path to finding what it is that you want to dedicate your time to. As you mention you need structure, purpose and community, you wont find community sitting in front of the tv but must break that habit and get yourself out there but ideally you will identify your passion first and that will help make stronger relationships among those you share a common passion with - until you find the purpose or passion any structure can only be temporary. It is difficult for a person to find their own passion, never mind trying to suggest it based on a post - so best of luck trying to find it but the answer is often not too far from home or your childhood passions.

    Best of luck

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, James. The search continues but I am at least more at ease with this new phase of my life. I know, we all wish for all the time in the world and then when we get it we don't know what to do with it. But I am getting there. I hope you will continue to follow me on my journey. Rosy

  6. Thank you for sharing valuable information. Nice post. I enjoyed reading this post. The whole blog is very nice found some good stuff and good information here Thanks..Also visit my page  Munnar packages Munnar Honeymoon Packages from Bangalore for 2 nights, 3 nights, 4 nights etc starting at a price of Rs.4500/-, Munnar is the most sought after honeymoon destination in India.