A beginner’s guide to retirement
Just imagine. You wake up naturally every day without the jolt of your alarm. You no longer have hundreds of daily emails you can’t deal with because you’re in endless, pointless meetings. No silly office politics. No more rah rah corporate bullshit-of-the-month strategies to increase profits and reduce your sense of security.
No more of that Sunday night pit in your stomach dread you’ve had since childhood.
Sounds great, right? So why did it take me nearly two years to find happiness in retirement? This is, after all, the goal. Work hard, make good money, invest well and then kick back into your golden years.
But it felt more like a golden shower to me. At 58, I was fired and forced to retire. That wasn’t the plan. I had more to contribute to my company. I had nine years left on my mortgage. My nest egg wasn’t complete. Hell, it was still in the chicken’s butt. I was too young to draw Social Security and too old to get another job. And the worst part was I had no control over any of it.
The more I read about my fellow, older workers getting the axe, the more I understood this wasn’t personal. And somehow that helped. I never liked the “misery loves company” theory. It doesn’t make me feel better that other 55+ folks were losing their jobs. But it did teach me that this is what happens in the business world. I disagree with the Supreme Court and Mitt, corporations are not people. They are bottom-line, profit-driven entities who didn’t see me as anything but a liability.
I am fortunate to have landed on my feet. I stopped bitching and started focusing on the half-full glass of my happy new life. Thankfully, I scored a pension from that heartless corporation (remember they are NOT people.) And although I have a mortgage, I can afford the payments, which allows me to stay in my beautiful house by the lake. An AARP analysis found “1.5 million people over 50 had lost their homes to foreclosure between 2007 and 2011 and another 3.5 million owed more than their homes were worth.” Jesus.
Obviously, money is a major component of a happy retirement. The first thing I did after divorcing my work allergic, shopaholic husband was hire a great financial planner. Unlike Hillary, I truly was dead broke. In 1992 that lovely man, who was a money pit, moved on to wife numero quatro – and I started saving. Twenty years later, I had enough to retire on!
So if you’re thinking about retiring, or if your company is thinking about it for you, or even if it’s in the distant future – I hope when you give up your throne, some of the following tips will help.
Prepare for the question “what do you do all day?” When retired people used to tell me they were busier than when they were working, I’d tell them to blow me. How could that be? An extra 40 to 60 hours per week added to your life and you can’t make it work? But it’s so true. You fill your days and nights with reading, writing, volunteering, walking, biking, redecorating, watching good and bad television, hanging sheets out on the line, going to movies, attending every farmers market out there and spending time with family and friends. And the things you used to hire out because you traveled or didn’t have the time (cleaning, gardening, cutting the grass, shoveling snow, etc.) are now back on your plate. Working stiffs won’t believe you, so just tell them you’re living the dream.
Don’t stress out over meeting new people. We used to be defined by our careers. I was, anyway. Since leaving the workforce, I fretted over how to connect with others. After a few misfires, I realized people see me as a woman in my twilight years (makes me want to bite them) and assume my career is either over or uninteresting and they really don’t care. I tell them I’m living the fucking dream.
Don’t live like a pauper. Six months after I was sacked, I jumped on an opportunity to tour London, Paris and Rome. The following year I remodeled my kitchen. Sure, I ferklempted big time over spending the money. But I say, live your life. Who knows how much time we have? And if I am lucky enough to hit 90 and find myself broke, I’m banking on not remembering the irresponsible lifestyle I adopted in my frivolous 50s.
Limit lunches with colleagues still at the grind. They have every right to bitch and moan about the prison from which you were released. But it does you no good to relive the yard fights and shower rapes.
Facebook isn’t a substitute for gathering around the water cooler. FB is a time-sucker, period. If you miss the comradery, join a club. You’re out of the corporate loop. Praise Allah.
Hang on to the fun parts of corporate life. Remember when Casual Fridays started? One day a week without pantyhose and I was over the moon. Management recognized a cheap way to boost morale and from there it went to Jean Fridays, Business Casual and pretty much just don’t come to work in your PJs. So I keep the fun alive with No Make-Up Tuesdays and Stir-Fry Fridays. Okay, French Fry Fridays.
Continue keeping a calendar. For the first time in 15 years of owning my home, I didn’t clean my garage. Why? Because I didn’t have to make time for it. I could always do it “tomorrow.” But never did. So I reinstituted my weekly calendar routine. Writing it down makes me accountable.
Your internal alarm clock shuts off and your sense of purpose flourishes. When I was working, I would wake up every day of the week at 5 a.m. Holidays, Sundays, vacations, it didn’t matter. I was sure that would carry on into retirement. But the morning after my last day of work I slept like a baby and have ever since. Like most people, I’ve always had a strong sense of purpose. But my career forced me to make compromises. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but when I got the news of my mother’s first stroke, I finished marking up my catalog press proof before driving the 50 miles to her bedside. I am sad she died four years later, but very thankful I dodged a big, fat guilt bullet that day. Since retirement, I cared for a dear friend as she gracefully and peacefully left this world. I happily spend loads of time going along on field trips, playing bingo and dominos and just hanging with my dad and his pals at the nursing home. And I am finally, joyfully, writing.
I’m living my dream.