Retirement Is No Time To Be Bored

Do you ever have one of those mornings when you just don’t want to get out of bed? For whatever reason staying tucked under those warm blankets just sounds better than any other option. There is nothing you must do – the calendar is clean. And if you are lucky enough to be retired you are free to stay right you are for as long as you choose. That is one of the great things about retirement – you get to do what you want when you want.

One of the not so great things is finding yourself in the situation where you can’t think of a good reason to get up. There is nothing that lights your fire enough to inspire you to exit your bed. Whether bored or unchallenged or maybe a little down in the mouth, some of those retired days you worked so long and hard to achieve can be a bit blah.

It’s not that every day in retirement should be action packed filled with excitement. A little downtime is an important part of the mix. But finding meaning in your day, experiencing new things and making the most of your second act requires more than sitting back and watching the world go by.

Most retirees experience the mixed blessing of no longer having to go to work. I say “mixed” because there are two aspects. The first is you no longer have to deal with the stress and worry of maintaining a job. On the other hand you may find yourself disconnected from people and surroundings that have been such a big part of your life their absence leaves an emptiness. Who will you share life experiences with now that you no longer have co-workers in your day? What will you do to fill your day? How will you avoid the curse of boredom that often dogs retired folks? Since most of us can hope to enjoy retirement for 20 or more years, answers to these questions is pretty important.

I have learned the secret to a happy retirement is often found in the little things. Experiencing meaning and joy do not require some momentous event. Each of us can hope to live a worthwhile retirement. Here are a few areas to look for inspiration.

Getting a task done

Whether I am pruning the roses or painting the garage, vacuuming the house or getting in a hike that inches me nearer my goal of 10,000 steps a day, completing the task in front of me gives a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. It probably has to do with setting goals throughout my career. Without a goal how do you know where you are going? Now I take pleasure in completing the little projects that come along. Best of all I get to decide what those projects will be.

Witnessing the incredible strength of others

Last week I went in for my annual checkup. While waiting my turn a myriad of people made their way to the counter to check in. Some were older, moving slowly often with the support of a loved one at their side. Others were not so old. The common factor was no one appeared over joyed to be here. I could not help but wonder about each individual – what was their story? Were they here to see the doctor to learn of lab results, anxiously hoping for the best? Were they taking the first steps in what would be a long course of painful treatments aimed to make them better? Few if any knew exactly what to expect, no doubt scared of the unknown.

Three Old Ladies

Yet despite their trepidation and uncertainty all tried to maintain a positive front. Whether a smile from the scarfed woman hiding wispy remains of lost hair or the sarcastic comment from a hunched elderly man as he slowly negotiated his way into an empty chair, each tried to rise above the situation. Loved ones supported those who could not manage for themselves doing whatever small thing they could to make it easier. The strength each demonstrates always chokes me up a little. And it helps me put my own issues in perspective.

Being part of a small town community

I grew up in Stockton California which back then was a pretty small place. From college on through my career I was part of the Bay Area masses aka traffic, tons of people, lines, waiting and always rush, rush, rush. Of course there were pluses like diverse nightlife options, massive shopping malls with every store imaginable and lots of restaurants to frequent. But ever since we made our move to a 4400 person community I realize how much energy and inspiration the small town offers. I love going into a local shop and being recognized by the owner, often greeted by name. I love the slower pace that life takes – what’s the hurry? I love the friendly locals who wave to you from their car when passing or say a genuine “howdy” when passing you on the street. And should I feel the need for a little faster pace I can drive fifteen minutes to get all I need. I realize that being part of a community is something I missed living the fast paced life of the Bay Area. Now retired I am able to enjoy the smaller world I am happily a part of.

The games people play

My parents have been life-long bridge players a passion that enabled them to meet similar minded folks when they first arrived in the home where they have lived since I was seven. Their calendar is littered with bridge lunches and dinners. It gets them out of the house, keeps their minds sharp and they are darned good at it! My wife is an incredible jigsaw puzzler. Anything less than 2000 pieces does not stand a chance once she puts her mind to it. The end results are truly amazing and she loves progressing through each completion. We were recently introduced to dominos which has worked its way into the evening rotation alongside backgammon and gin rummy. A little competition is a good thing. It keeps us engaged and striving to do better. And I realize at my ripe old age that it is not just about winning but about playing the game.  What fun!

A little this, a little that

Since I am retired my schedule can be flexible. I don’t even need a schedule if I don’t want. I have the luxury to move freely between interests, spending as much or as little time as I want on each. I stick with it until something else interests me more then move on. What some might consider erratic is ideal for me. Read a little, walk a bit, exercise some, clean a tad, write awhile, play a few songs on the piano, putter in the garden, nap as necessary, stir and repeat. The freedom to do what I want when I want for as long as I want makes retirement life click for me.

It is easy to become bored at times. That is okay as long as we do not linger. If we focus on the many inspirational people and places and things we should be able to move beyond any temporary boredom. Inspiration is often found in our own backyard.

Kudos to the Caregivers

Over the years as I endeavor to navigate my own retirement journey I often think of what lies further down the road. At 57 I am learning to adapt to and sometimes reluctantly accept the fact that I am not physically the person I was 20 or 30 years ago. Little aches and pains, a bit less stamina when exercising or gardening, and the realization that those small print descriptions on product labels are really small – all insidious developments slinking their way into my everyday existence.  But it’s okay. At this stage the pluses far outweigh the minuses.

But what about down the road? How will my life look when I am 67 or 77 or 87?

My folks are both 84, still living on their own in the house where I grew up since age seven. When I look at the life they live I am inspired by their independence and determination to stay in their home. I admire the love that has kept them happily together for 65 years and counting. They still make the occasional road trip up to the Mendocino coast or down to Fresno to visit my brother’s family. By all accounts they are doing very well. But as you would expect at their age they have challenges. Both move slowly and carefully, ever watchful of that dreaded fall that might incapacitate them. Dad has had to relegate much of the garden work he used to love to the care of others. Getting up from chairs requires extra effort as legs are not as strong as they once were. And balance is always a concern. One false step and bad things can happen.

For now mom is the more steady on her feet. Because of this she is able to assist with some of those responsibilities that dad used to own. Her strength affords that additional measure of independence that might otherwise elude them. If she could not do it they would have to find someone to help them. Once you head down that road it is not uncommon to find you are unable to return to the independent ways of earlier days.

Bronze of Old couple on bench

My parents are fortunate mom is able to help where she can but it is not always easy. Sometimes she is forced to step outside her comfort zone to do things that had always been dad’s domain. Occasionally she must walk a fine line balancing the temptation to offer too much help before letting dad give it his best. It is easy to want to help with every little thing, to make it easier for the one you love. But if you take away all of the activities and chores that are part of a normal day what is left? Instead of making things easier you risk triggering feelings of helplessness or uselessness. The best of intentions might be misinterpreted.

I think the biggest challenge faced when one gets to the point in life where he or she can no longer do it all on their own is dealing with growing feelings of frustration. So many of those little things that were easy to do are no longer so. From the simplest act of preparing the cups of coffee and morning repast to share in bed to changing those darn light bulbs to lifting a case of wine from the trunk onto the ground, nothing is easy. How do you not become angry when you must ask someone to do the littlest of things? What a helpless feeling it must be with each incremental loss of control and independence.  No one wants to be a burden yet if you must lean on another for the simplest of chores how can you not feel that way?

We have a friend who has made a career of helping those later in years manage their daily lives. He moves from home to home doing whatever it takes to make life tolerable, more meaningful and more enjoyable for those who can no longer do it on their own. Along the way he has dealt with “rich people” who are less than considerate and rarely appreciative. He has supported and championed those too weak or sick to fight their own battles. In many cases he sacrifices his own life to be there 24/7 for clients who have no other option. He does not shy away whatever the situation. And there is no doubt those he works with are better for having him in their lives. Kudos to you Kevan.

Chances are at some point each of us will be called upon to act as caregivers. Whether for a parent, spouse, sibling or friend it’s a safe bet someone will need our help. It may be a part time requirement or an all-consuming full time commitment. Until we walk in those shoes it is not possible to know what it is like, what it requires and how difficult it can be. To all of those willing to take up the mantle and give whatever it takes know you are appreciated. The world is a better place because of your efforts.