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.”
Some other stuff for later,
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