Category Archives: Later, on retirement

What Was It All About?

The existence of this blog coincides with the retirement phase of my life.  I started writing here in November 2013 when I had been retired for 10 months.  I am in my seventh year of retirement, and this blog’s sixth birthday is coming up soon.  I marked my own 70th birthday earlier this year.  Writing these words, I feel astonished.  So many years.

I have not written anything remarkable here.  The numerous blog entries—nearly 130 posts so far—represent many hours that I have sat before a computer screen.  Too many to bother calculating.  I would like to say that in those hours I produced something insightful or inspiring, or at least something clever and entertaining—in a word, something valuable—but I realize that is not the case.

It would be easy enough, I suppose, to delete it all.  That would be the ultimate acknowledgement that everything I’ve written is ephemeral.  One day in the future, even if it is not my doing, it will all go away when my lease on a tiny portion of the Internet world expires.  Whatever I write here means little and counts for nothing in the long run.  It is a metaphor for my life.  Nobody will write my biography.

At best, what I have written here is a record—however short-lived and episodic—of thoughts that have occupied my mind from time to time.  These electronic scratchings have been of interest to me and, much less so, to those few curious others who have bothered to read my words.

The thought of aging is one recurring subject of interest.  It has been all along, of course, but marking seventy years on my calendar has put it into boldface on any list that I could make of subjects to think about.  What is the best way to live with the relative nearness of death?

I am seeking comfort and lately finding little.  I am not comforted by considering the odds.  The odds are that I will have another decade or two before I run out of time.  Thinking about the odds only teaches me that I had better take care of myself—and I do, but it is not enough.

Nor is it comforting to accept the notion that we all have to die sometime.  I gain nothing from this idea.  It is not instructive or helpful.  It merely restates the problem—as if I didn’t get it the first time.

For some people there is comfort in what they have accomplished.  There are great authors, great musicians, great mathematicians and physicists.  There are great explorers and inventors and great artists of all stripes.  Indeed, the list of greatnesses seems endless.  I do not know any people who are great like that and so I am speculating, but in their last years, I think that great people must have a sense of satisfaction about the great things they did in life.  Next to theirs my accomplishments are puny.  I’ve done some good things, but no great things.

I find that thinking about my life’s accomplishments only makes me less comfortable because I tend to remember my mistakes, my regrets, my errors in judgment.  It seems that the negative memories have a kind of adhesive quality.  They get stuck in my mind when I am trying to remember the good things that I have done.

Some people who cannot take comfort in great accomplishments, can yet find comfort in having great numbers of children and grandchildren—and even great-grandchildren!  It seems likely that having a large family would be comforting for some because they might imagine living on vicariously through their multitudinous offspring.  It might be comforting to think that they would be remembered more or remembered a little longer.

The quality of such vicarious life and legacy would depend on the quality of a person’s relationships with their offspring.  The odds of having good relationships and a positive legacy increase as the number of children grows, or so I presume, but even for me and my wife and our only child there is hope.  And there is some comfort for me in that.

Some people shaken by thoughts of death’s approach turn for comfort to religion or spirituality.  In my experience, though, religion promises but does not deliver.  When I retired, I started going to a church on a regular basis, but for most of my life I had very little to do with religion, and I have never felt comforted by it.  To the contrary, when I think about religion—and spirituality generally—I feel disquieted and uncomfortable.  I feel that I am alone on the outside of religion.  It does not speak to me, nor I to it.  I don’t know its language.  Maybe I am too old to learn.

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Some other stuff for later,

  • 77
    I am handling old age pretty well. Yes, I know that some people would say that sixty-eight is “not old.” Some would tell me with reassuring certainty “age is just a number.” Like hell. At sixty-eight, I am not a young man, that’s for sure, and I am pretty sure…
  • 67
    The concept of “successful aging” haunts me of late. Maybe it is just that I have time to think about aging now that I have achieved retiree status. Maybe while I continue getting older and older I wonder whether I am getting as much out of life as I should.…
  • 66
    Happiness—what it is and how to get more of it—has long fascinated this blog. The Pursuit of Happiness observed that “happiness is not a random event” and explored the notion that personal growth is the source of happiness. “Personal growth can mean learning something new, mastering something difficult, acquiring new…

Anticipation Rewind

In this blog’s early life, I was preoccupied with the notion that retirement was not a static condition but rather a process of transition consisting of distinct phases.  The concept of retirement phases was proposed by noted gerontologist Robert Atchley.  It seemed to me a useful framework to think of retirement in this way although the demarcation and description of each phase are imprecise and open to variations on a theme.  Atchley died recently in November 2018 at age 79.

As I look back now at my earlier blog postings, however, I am struck by the feeling that my own experience of retirement does not seem to fit well with the phases described by Atchley and others.  It may be that I am uncomfortable with the idea that my retirement could segment itself into categories of any kind devised by others, having long thought of myself as an oddball or, more honestly, as uniquely myself.

By now, according to Atchley’s formulation, I should have reached the “Stability” phase of my retirement, having passed through a series of transitional phases—the Honeymoon, Disenchantment and Reorientation—but these phases do not seem familiar to me.

To review: the Honeymoon phase is, in theory, a kind of post-career euphoria over liberation from work.  Euphoria is seldom if ever more than temporary, and following the initial phase of excitement about retirement comes Disenchantment.  Characteristic of the Disenchantment phase are feelings of emptiness, disappointment and uncertainty.  The next phase—Reorientation—kicks in as a coping mechanism.  If you are feeling empty and disappointed about retirement, what you need is an attitude adjustment.  You need to “reorient” or recalibrate your expectations.

I must have missed the Honeymoon phase, because work-liberation euphoria was not part of my retirement experience.  Consequently, because I didn’t experience the euphoria, I didn’t feel the phase of Disenchantment let-down either, nor the need for a great deal of Reorientation. 

It could be, as I wrote in an earlier post, that the retirement phases might not be distinct and sequential.  For some people, the phases of transition might be blended and experienced simultaneously.  Anyway, I think it must have been that way for me, each day seasoned with a just a spritz of euphoria and a pinch of disenchantment along with a dollop of reorientation and well-stirred.

According to the phase theory of retirement, eventually you find a nice balance between expectation and reality.  You are okay with the way things are.  Life is, after all, not so empty.  Come to think of it, retirement is kind of fun.  You have reached the Stability phase.

If retirement is indeed a transition, then Stability is the destination, the ultimate goal for retirement “success.”  Stability is nothing more than the ability to settle into a comfy niche.  It is a hygge-ish state of mind in which your general purpose for yourself may be simply to create more hygge.

But this definition of retirement success is grossly inadequate.  It leaves me nothing to aspire to.  There may be a comfy niche in disengagement from the world.  There may be stability under a rock.  Success in retirement requires more. 

Success is not a destination.  It is not a reward or a solution.  If to succeed is to find stability, then it is a kind of dynamic stability that embraces engagement more than retreat.  It is found in the choosing to struggle and strive and to find balance, even if only momentary.

It is as though I am standing with eyes closed, surrounded by the cacophony of my life, aware through some form of proprioception of a multitude of force fields some real and some imagined though as vivid and therefore indistinguishable.  Success is keeping my balance often without knowing how.

Success is found in continuing to strive for balance, and it must be earned in each moment.  Balance is an exploration.  It is always a quest, whether for light or truth or love or beauty.

The ground is always shifting beneath our feet, or as James Baldwin put it more poetically and with more insight than I possess, “the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing” and “nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever.”

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  • 91
    There were benefits that came with my exile. Among the benefits was the freedom to go places. A strange incongruity was that the more I thought about going places, the more aware I became of my home and its importance to me. I wanted to go places. I wanted to…
  • 84
    My exile from the land of earning was voluntary. I had, as they say, the wherewithal. It was not a case of being fortunate, though I knew that in many ways I had been. On a global scale, I was privileged. In a context more mundane, in the stratum of…
  • 80
    We can never know about the days to come But we think about them anyway And I wonder if I'm really with you now Or just chasing after some finer day. Anticipation, Anticipation Is making me late Is keeping me waiting [Carly Simon, "Anticipation"] I did not know what it…