Making Friends in Retirement

It is not always easy to maintain a solid group of friends after you retire. Back in the day when working full time we regularly crossed paths with co-workers, office personnel, bosses and a variety of fellow human beings. Whether congregating at the coffee machine, sharing a table in the cafeteria or riding an elevator there were plenty of people to interact with. We had options when it came to sharing life stories or asking for a bit of advice. And when Friday came along it was pretty easy to attach to someone or some group ready to get the weekend started. The common bond that was the job extended into private life enabling us to be part of something more than just our self.

Once you retire the tendency is to drift apart from those you no longer see day to day at work. It can become difficult to squeeze in time to get together with the demands of work and family and all that life has to throw our way. Without that common bond of the job you may discover you have little in common. Your circle of friends can begin to shrink as each goes his or her own way. The travesty is now that you are retired you are the proud possessor of free time to spend with those you choose doing what you want – but those people are no longer available. It is easy to find yourself feeling isolated.

It is not healthy to be on your own all the time. We benefit from interacting and engaging with others finding comfort in the familiar and security in friendship. Some are more social preferring to spend the majority of their time in the company of friends and family. Others are fine with the occasional get together and don’t mind spending time alone. But all of us can benefit from some interaction – sharing, debating, laughing, crying, bragging, or just experiencing the nearness of another.

When my wife and I made our recent move to retire we left behind a neighborhood where the kids had grown up, neighbors had become friends, memories were many and we were quite comfortable. It was scary to think of leaving this behind and starting over. But at the same time we were ready for something new, a fresh start somewhere different.

After slightly less than one year in the new digs we are adapting nicely. We are getting involved with the community and the neighbors although it has taken some effort. Many people in our neck of the woods have lived here all their life and established their own circle of friends. We newbies cannot just force ourselves into their good graces – it takes time.

We started out meeting the neighbors closest to our home. Since we live on a small hill, those up and down the street often walk by to get a bit of exercise in the morning or evening. When we see a face we don’t recognize we shout out a hello and find out if they live on our street. So far we have not scared anyone off. All are friendly and typically as curious as we to meet their neighbors. We have a wonderful family living on one side with great kids and a cool dog. On the other is a lovely retired couple with lots of travel stories to share and they are introducing us­­ to bird watching. I can say over the past months here we have become acquainted with more neighbors than we met over multiple years back in the Bay Area. People just seem more relaxed, open and willing to engage in our new locale.

We also lucked out in that a couple we knew while working has a home about two miles from us. (Actually we knew the husband from the company where we first met. The executives there still say our relationship was the best thing that came out of that place!) My wife and I agree that could we have picked any one couple we would have liked to spend time with it would be these two. And we had no idea they were neighbors until we recently crossed paths. Can you say lucky?

For someone who is typically happy doing his own thing I am discovering how much I enjoy having others to socialize with. While I don’t miss the job despite numerous wonderful co-workers it is nice to have others to talk with and enjoy the wonderful world we lucky retirees are blessed with. Whether sharing a favorite hiking trail or best local vintner, hosting a summer dinner or attending a local event, playing dominos or just meeting up at the local farmers market, we really appreciate the friends who are part of our life in retirement. As Yeats said, “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met.” I wonder who we will meet next?

Tips to Help Your Transition Into Retirement

When I took the leap to join the ranks of the retired I thought life was going to be a breeze. All of the tough stuff was behind – right? The kids were in general independent and having families of their own. The house was pretty much paid off. I felt confident stress from the job would soon fade to a distant memory. And I had a ton of hobbies and projects I was just itching to get to. How difficult would it be to spend my days doing what I wanted rather than what someone told me to do?

It did not take long to discover the switch from full-time-employee to full-time-retiree is not without its own challenges. I was a novice at the retirement thing, a first timer with no history to look to for guidance. The retirement my parents live is from a different time and although they are very happy the vision I had for my own second act was not the same as theirs. Right off the bat I felt guilty if I did not keep myself occupied every moment. I had learned in the working world never to waste one precious minute lest an important deadline fall into jeopardy. Old habits can be difficult to overcome and I struggled to evolve. Then I faced the dilemma all retirees will one day confront when asked at a party “What do you do?” Without my career to fall back on I was caught off guard. What exactly does the retired Dave do? How should I spend my free time in some worthwhile way?

That was four years ago. Since then I believe I have gotten better at this retirement thing. It takes work but I figure there is no better way to spend my time now if I hope to make the best of the coming decades of retired living. Here are a few thoughts that helped me more smoothly transition into retirement.

Adjust your intensity to fit your new lifestyle. Now that you are retiring, you are free from any stressful job requiring 100 percent of your focus 100 percent of the time. The only deadlines you face are those you set. Your transition can be easier if you calm yourself and learn to find a pace that you are comfortable with. Concentrate on the journey rather than the individual steps. In the initial days of my retirement I often found myself kicking into a higher gear when doing simple things like gardening or cleaning the house. Rather than relax in the moment and enjoy the activity I pushed myself to get it done quickly and efficiently – just like the boss always wanted. But there was no more boss. It took serious effort to recondition myself. I had to realize there is no hurry. Not everything must get done on a schedule. Now I sweep the deck slowly, patiently, enjoying the nearby oak trees and savoring my freedom. It still gets done only at a pace that suits me.

Couple on the beach

Give yourself time and space to get there. Don’t be in a hurry to get somewhere you have never been before.  There are no more deadlines. Realize you answer to no one other than yourself. Don’t pile on unnecessary pressure to immediately achieve. If what you do is pleasing to you it is worthwhile. Cut yourself some slack – you have earned it. You are not the first person to retire and I would venture that few newbies get everything right from day one.

Channel efforts toward what you can control. No one can entirely control what life might throw our way. That does not mean we cannot influence our future. Retirement is the right time to focus on what is good for you. You finally have time for you. You finally have time to figure out an exercise regimen that you can stick with for your good health. You have time to work on that diet to make you fit not fat. You have time to explore the multitude of activities to engage your mind and heart and passion. Rather than focus on what you cannot do try to imagine what you can – and go for it.

Don’t hide what you are feeling. This is a new chapter in your life. You should not expect it to proceed flawlessly. There will be frustrating moments to cope with. But you are not alone. It is not healthy to hide or try to ignore feelings that cause you concern. Remember giving advice to a child or friend encouraging them to share what distressed them? Talking about it can help. That was good advice – good enough to follow yourself. Facing difficulties alone can feel overwhelming especially for those retired. We no longer have co-workers to lean on, children are out in the world living their own lives, everyone always seems to be so busy. It is often up to each of us to take the initiative to open up and begin the healing process.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to keeping busy.  With decades of retirement life ahead, one hobby or golfing every day is not going to make it. Variety is the spice of life even more so in retirement. The more options you have to entertain and engage you the less likely you are to become bored. Rather than bored we hope to find ourselves excited about what the new day has to offer. Don’t be afraid to try something – anything – to stir things up. What do you have to lose?

Being retired should be fun so don’t wait too long to dig in. Take advantage of the fact you will never be younger than you are today. Do those things now that down the road may become too demanding. Cut yourself some slack but don’t allow yourself to watch life from the sidelines. As long as you are healthy enough to get out there and play, join the game and enjoy. That’s what retirement is all about.