Should you one day find yourself in dialog with a veteran of retired life don’t be surprised if you detect a certain glimmer in those knowing eyes. Many who have weathered the years and often decades of retirement exude a rare confidence that comes with age. They are proud possessors of valuable experience that can only be gained having been there oneself. I am not saying they have it all figured out – unavoidable twists and turns along the journey typically preclude that. Rather, they have lived through enough life lessons, good and bad, to realize a level of comfort, a peace of mind that makes for a more tolerable existence. For the lucky ones day to day life goes beyond tolerable and is actually quite enjoyable. They are at a place we would all like to someday arrive.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I believe as long as you are learning from your experiences you are making progress, there is hope. The world around us is one big classroom and class is in session every day. Those who pay attention and adjust will receive passing grades. Those who remain set in their ways and stubbornly assume there is nothing more to learn may not fare so well. Here are a few valuable lessons those of us considering retirement might want to add to our curriculum.
You can’t prepare for everything
Despite all our best efforts at planning and preparing for the contingencies of retirement, it is almost impossible to foresee all the possibilities. You may have the money side of things covered but did not put enough effort into the non-financial side of living a fulfilling retirement. You may hold yourself to the most rigid of exercise routines then one day discover an unexpected pain in your foot that prevents you from fulfilling your weekly walking goals. It is even possible you might have overestimated the satisfaction of no more job only to discover you actually miss the old grind. Although it is not possible to predict all possible outcomes retirement has taught me to find strength in adaptability. I may not see it coming but how I choose to respond can help make the best of the situation. That attitude has more than once helped me cope where the younger me might have lost his way.
Getting old is a pain
Pain in the back, pain in the neck, pain in the butt – take your pick. It is not easy morphing into the older you. You have never journeyed down this path and despite the best advice of others the reality of living it yourself can be eye opening. And the frustrating thing is you have no real control. Knees are going to wear down, hips start to feel their age, and vision soon becomes anything but 20/20. Although the package may not be quite what it used to be the contents are the same. The person you are inside is that same wonderful you. Because things are not getting easier those who hope to enjoy their retired lives to the fullest learn to accept the new reality along with its limitations. One recipe for success might include more slowly navigating a flight of stairs, assuming a calmer pace while gardening, taking a well-deserved nap when rest calls, basically making whatever adjustments are required to live a meaningful life within whatever limitations you may encounter. Remember you are not the first to go through this and you won’t be the last.
Time trumps money
Numerous retirees have shared personal experiences as they endeavor to navigate their own retirement jungle. Although some may regret not doing a particular something earlier in life not one so far has expressed any feeling of loss at not putting in more hours on the job. All the accolades and praise and power a career may have generated fall to the wayside when compared to the real cost to achieve them. That cost is time spent away from family. The demands of raising a family and staying on top of the bills often suck up all we have. Downtime is a luxury few are able enjoy. Unfortunately it is difficult to explain to an eight year why anything could be more important than seeing him up at bat for his little league game. Retirement has taught me to appreciate the value of time. As the saying goes “life is like a coin – you can spend it any way you want but you can only spend it once.”
You can’t do it alone
Independence is a wonderful thing. The hard work and effort that goes into a lifetime is endured in hopes of one day being independent, free from the control of others to pursue what really matters to each of us. But as my education continues I am discovering you cannot always do it all on your own. I am learning the importance of a support network. The folks are getting up in years so having my siblings and me available to help with little things as well as big helps to assure a quality of life they could not enjoy flying solo. I find it a bit challenging to do the heavy lifting when it comes to yard work and am learning to lean on stronger younger backs to assist me. It is not always easy to accept I cannot do it all myself. But the sooner I do the better off I will be.
I love being retired. From the daily routine I personally create to the flexibility to do what I want when I want to exploring those passions and interests that fill my mind, it is a fulfilling life for sure. I accept that I still have lots to learn and that is okay. I plan to remain a good student and hope to continually improve this retired life I live. Feel free to join the class – there’s always room for one more.