As ready as I was to leave my 8-7 (it was never 9-5) world after a successful and satisfying career, I had the usual feelings that many people experience upon the phenomenon our society calls retirement. No one tells you that retirement takes processing. It’s not a day in your life; it’s a transition.
For months, I felt an uneasy sense of displacement. There was a new time consciousness – not having to be anywhere – and the sheer issue of having time. There were the soul-searching questions: One minute I’m at the top of my game, and the next minute I’m out? What, exactly, do I mean now? Who am I?
No nameplate on my desk, no assistants, no responsibilities, no one to report to, no one to manage. Not being pulled in so many directions: family, work, community.
Fast forward two years. Yes, it took that long. Just yesterday, I was musing about how happy I am. Ridiculously happy. I had a revelation as I wondered, when was another time I was this happy, in this way?
The image of my college dorm room popped into my head. The middle of a weekday afternoon, lying on my bed reading Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment for a Russian Lit class, and then putting that book down to pick up Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain for a philosophy and lit class. My roommate walked in and said, “You want to take a break and get a coffee?” Of course I did.
Being a college student was one of the happiest times in my life. And I realized this is how I feel now. If that’s “retirement,” I’ll take it.
As a student I had a loose, minimal schedule. Yes, I had to be at classes at odd hours of the day, but each day was different. Today, time is my own to craft as I wish. I can get up and go to bed when I want. I can sleep late or read in bed. I can take naps in the afternoon to make up for late nights.
As a student, my job was to feed my mind and soul while learning a new field or discipline in depth. The same is true now in retirement: reading books and listening to music for hours on end, having long, meaningful conversations with friends, exploring ideas, sharing dreams, attending poetry readings, art events, wine tastings.
There’s the exhilaration of learning new things and of pursuing passions that I always had to put off when I worked because there was no time.
As a student, I enjoyed myself most of the time because I had no responsibilities to anyone but myself. So too today, with children grown and flown, my life is about pleasure and enjoyment. As a student, I had the time to travel but not the money. Today I have both the time and the money to travel the world and take it all in.
When I was a student, I recall walking down the street and seeing what was going on whilst the world was at work. I loved the feeling of being an observer of life, aware that people were sitting in offices all day. I watched the men and women pour out of buildings in the early evening and couldn’t imagine sitting in an office all day, missing out.
Today too, I can’t imagine sitting in an office all day and missing out. Been there, done that. The sense of time is rich and pleasant, instead of harried and imposing.
Weekends take on a new meaning when you’re no longer in the 9-5 grind; they’re less hysterical, less precious. The days flow beautifully into each other. Sunday night is no longer terror time. I recall an anecdote on the BBC’s popular Downton Abbey series, when the family was conversing at dinner. A middle class, i.e. working, non-titled guest mentioned doing something on the weekend. “What’s a weekend?” the Dowager Countess asked.
I find myself eating like a student: whatever I want, whenever I want it. I can cook, or I can fast. I can nibble or I can bake bread. There are no required meals to get on the table, no one to disappoint.
I learned to stop feeling guilty for previously “guilty pleasures.” I can indulge myself as I could in my student days, going to the cinema in the middle of a weekend afternoon, or reading for hours instead of squeezing in a few minutes on the train or before I fall asleep at night.
Now, as life after retirement sinks in, I embrace my senior student lifestyle; it makes me giggle. It’s living like a student but having money this time. Being a student of life feels like the greatest gift I can give myself. I’ve learned that retirement is not a banishment, but rather an exalted and earned privilege. It’s a prize. A time of great gifts.
How was your transition to life after retirement? What was the hardest part? Do you miss working? What do you love most about being retired? Please join in the conversation!