It was not long ago when thoughts of Monday morning typically caused a quickening of the pulse, churning of stomach acids and noticeable tightening in the temples. After the oh so brief respite the weekend provided it was time to head back to the grind. Even if you enjoyed what you did for a living getting back into the swing of things was not always the highlight of your week. Wading through the sea of commuter traffic, fighting for a parking spot, leaping into the first-day-of-the-week meetings where managers shared newly inspired visions of the future magically concocted in the past 48 hours – and this was just the beginning of the week.
When you have to work for a living you can’t always pursue what you love. Priorities are pretty straight forward as you battle to raise a family, endeavor to climb the corporate ladder, and try to set aside a little something for the future. Maybe, if you are lucky or a bit stubborn you can find some time away from the rat race to do what you love, what really lights your fire. Without those moments of escape it can be a long tedious journey.
Welcome sweet retirement! Finally you have access to that so elusive commodity – free time. At long last you decide what to do with your day. It is up to you – so empowering and yet foreign a reality that not all are quite sure how to proceed. One way is to set your sights on doing what you love.
The other day I was scouring the bookshelf in search of a missing DVD when I discovered a stack of old piano sheet music. As a kid forced to go to piano lessons twice a week and put in my daily hour of practice I was not entirely appreciative of the skills I was developing. However, later in life and especially now I truly enjoy sitting down in front of the keyboard and playing a tune. One thing missing was new songs to play. Lo and behold here was a mish mash of tunes from a variety of genre. I happily carried the stack to the back room and soon was practicing the Theme from MASH, Bridge over Troubled Waters, and a collection of Dixieland jazz pieces. The old fingers are not what they used to be when I was in practice but now I have all the time I could want to get better. And now I love doing it.
My recently retired wife has rediscovered the joy of knitting. At another time in her life she was an avid knitter proudly displaying past accomplishments from intricate blankets to sporty caps. Then came the kids and the job and unfortunately there was no longer time to spare on this pastime she loved. Today I routinely find her online searching for new and challenging patterns for future works. Watching TV at night my peripheral vision detects a blur of motion as her hands quickly fly through the twists and turns that result in those unique creations that make the best gifts and home decorations. Recently a friend introduced her to the joy of quilting. I am not talking about just stitching together miscellaneous scraps of material but meticulously creating genuine works of art worthy of hanging on the wall. We will see how it goes but I would not be surprised if she found herself another passion to pursue in retirement.
I realize now how important it is to my own retirement happiness to know what I love and spend my time enjoying it. I cannot imagine waking up to start the day with nothing exciting to look forward to. Even the old job though painful at times at least kept me busy. I don’t do well for long in a stationary position be that mental or physical. I need to keep learning and trying new things. For me there is nothing better than looking toward the clock to see the day has flown by as I reflect with a smile on what I have been doing since rising. And not just doing but enjoying doing. It need not necessarily include any accomplishment of consequence. The real accomplishment is making the most of today doing what I enjoy and feeling good about me.
There will always be times that require me to do things I do not particularly like. However I notice this happens much less frequently than when I was on the job! Waking to a new day in control of my destiny, able to pursue those passions that excite me, that is the retirement I’m talking about. Who has time to be bored? There is so much to do. And I get to pick and choose what I want. I love being retired.
According to my dad when the first of the year rolls around it is time to get outside and prune the rose bushes. If you saw the impressive array of wildly blooming plants displayed around his garden you would agree he knows what he is talking about. And so with elbow length leather gloves protecting my exposed arms and sharpened shears in hand I head to the garden to go about my yearly duties. Since I have to get down on hands and knees to do it right I have added a Styrofoam knee pad to the necessary accoutrement, something I would have never considered years back.
We have a collection of 22 rose bushes in need of pruning. The Dave of old would have put his head down and relentlessly powered through the whole bunch, taking brief pause for a glass of water or to wipe away drops of sweat from a dripping brow. The pace would have been anything but relaxing and by the time I completed the task I would be pooped. Back then I had the stamina to get through demanding chores along with an ever motivating dose of impatience. I pushed myself wanting to get it done to move on to my next activity. How could I enjoy the football game until my responsibilities were met?
These days I view things differently. First off I accept it may take me a bit longer and require more effort to complete those activities I used to effortlessly plow through. And that is okay. The hard part has been accepting the fact I am slowing down, gradual though it may be. Secondly I am realizing there is no rush. What’s the big hurry? I have time. I can set my own pace, one that fits my current energy level. Why do I have to get all 22 roses pruned in a single day?
And so this year I started out slowly, taking a breather when I felt like it and enjoying the beautiful day around me. I patiently worked through the first ten plants, carefully trimming away dead wood while shaping the bush so branches grew outward and did not cross one another in the middle. When I got to bush number ten, I called it quits. I cleaned up and headed inside feeling quite accomplished with the morning. I did not dwell upon the remaining twelve plants to be pruned (well maybe a little). The next day I got up, had breakfast, slowly savored a cup of coffee and eventually meandered outside. I gathered my tools and proceeded to prune the remaining roses. I don’t know how long it took – I’m not on the clock. Once completed, I pulled up a chair to admire my handiwork. I am beginning to understand the virtue of patience.
One of the reasons my wife and I selected Carmel Valley to retire is the easy access to hiking paths scattered throughout local mountains and along the Pacific coastline. We aim to tally at least 20 miles each week and generally have no problem achieving that goal. I do face one small challenge. When our path leads upward – as in a hill – my wife goes into what I call “passing gear”. I swear she walks uphill faster than she walks on level ground. I often find myself doing all I can just to keep up as she streaks toward the summit. But I am learning. It is not critical that I match her energetic pace upward. I can slow a bit and find a rate that I am more comfortable with. She may get to the top first but at least now I am able to enjoy the journey there as well. And the paths we walk take us through some incredibly beautiful countryside. Why not enjoy?
When we moved away from the Bay Area one thing we happily left behind was the horrendous traffic. After 30 years of commuting you would think one would become used to the perpetual state of congestion but that was not the case. So many times during my career I found myself mired in rush hour traffic. It did not even have to be rush hour. My frustration and stress levels soared as I watched time tick by knowing I was late for my next appointment. And there was nothing I could do about it. Rushing from meeting to traffic jam to the next meeting was taxing on my sanity. Now in retirement traffic does not matter. We are able to plan our trips to avoid busy times. Weekdays have become our new weekends. And if we do run into a little slowdown it is all good. There is typically nowhere we absolutely have to be at a specific time. We have learned to turn up the music and appreciate the fact that slow traffic is now the exception rather than the rule.
In my retirement I am learning there are ways to adjust the pace of life to an enjoyable level. Rather than hurry off in the next direction as I used to I try to keep things in perspective. If it doesn’t get done today, what is the worry? Instead of missing the world around me as it rockets by in a blur I am able to appreciate the moment and savor each experience. They say retirement is about the journey rather than the destination. I hope to enjoy all I can at a pace that takes me far from the hurrying world.