Tag Archives: retirement

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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Five Years On

As I begin my sixth year as a “retired” person, I can no longer claim that I am “in transition” between having a career and not having one.  The career ended and the transition is over.  I am unequivocally retired, yet I have continued to feel uncomfortable about being in retirement.

“Retirement” connotes something negative, something given up, a loss of position.  At the outset of my retirement, I worried about being no longer useful.  But as I look back at the last five years, I see that I have managed to be useful to others, though perhaps in a narrower sense than I felt during the last decade or so of my working life.

My work had a greater impact and affected more people than anything I have done since I closed the door on my career.  Admitted, it is merely my own perception about the significance of what I did for a living.  The fruits of my labor were under-appreciated at the time and are less than legendary now.  Those thirty or forty years of work that I call my career—did it matter?  By retiring, I allowed my life to become irrelevant to my career.

Or, to be more positive, retirement has made my career no longer relevant to my life.

I do not feel regret for choosing to end my career.  I feel grateful for having the choice.  My work—and my wife’s work—made that choice possible.  It is toward our younger selves that I now feel gratitude.

Gratitude is affirmative.  That was my first clue.  I now believe that there can be something deeply affirmative about retirement.  Retirement is an accomplishment, not a loss.  It is a new opportunity, not a final defeat.

The word “retirement” dates from the sixteenth century out of the Old French “re-“ (back) plus “tirer” (to draw), meaning “to withdraw.”  It has the sense of removing oneself from someplace and to someplace—often meaning to a place of privacy or seclusion.

It is that place of privacy that should be viewed affirmatively.  Retirement is a retreat, yes, but not a defeat.  The army, withdrawn from the field of battle, occupies its stronghold.  There is privacy within the castle walls.  There is a world of privacy in retirement.

In that period of transition into retirement, I found myself shaking off the twin sensations of the Never-Ending Weekend and Retirement Guilt.  At times, I felt liberated from a Monday-to-Friday work schedule.  I no longer had to maintain the delicate life/work balance between five-day job responsibilities and two-day weekends when my responsibilities were largely about doing household chores.  There was so little time left over for simply enjoying life that I almost convinced myself that household chores were pleasurable.  Career was at the center of my life.  Even on those weekends of more or less fun, work overshadowed me as Monday Morning Dread set in on Sunday afternoons.

When I retired, I was quick to discover that every day felt like a Saturday or Sunday and that the dread for Mondays was only a phantom.

The other post-career sensation—feeling guilty for retiring—was more pernicious.  It was the feeling that I had “given up” too early when I could have continued my productive working years.  There was something shameful about retirement.  I should not have thrown in the towel.  I had to justify myself to myself by claiming the right to retire at a youngish 63 thus sparing myself the nightmare of keeling over on the job.

Both of these feelings have faded if not completely vanished from my mind.  Retirement as a never-ending weekend remains an apt description in a technical sense, I suppose.  But I cannot remember the last time I felt Monday Morning Dread or Retirement Guilt.

My experience of retirement is changing.  A new rhythm has emerged.  It is as though, withdrawn from the ambient chatter of work and career, I have heard my life much better.  I cannot say that I am accomplishing much—but I am not obliged to accomplish anything.  Instead I am guided a lot by what I find enjoyable.

I did not face retirement as a task that I had to analyze and plan for.  When I retired, I did not know what would happen next, and I still don’t.  It is all a new piece of music and I am listening for the harmony of the moment.  One way or another, my days are full and not without pattern.

I have come to acknowledge the affirmative in retirement.  In a private way, this act of withdrawing is a gift that I gave to myself.  I am aware of the passing of time, and in whatever time I have left I want to celebrate that gift.

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