Mary the Retiree: A Story
by Jeanne Savelle
Retirement Didn’t Turn Out the Way She Expected
Mary thinks about the very different lives of her friends. Some seem to be living “The Dream,” having fun, enjoying life, being happy.
But others are not. They seem listless, bored, uninspired, and maybe a little trapped, if they were honest. Like her, they watch too much TV, overeat unhealthy food, and don’t exercise.
She thinks: “How did we get here? Why are we so unsatisfied? Were we cheated?”
Something is clearly missing, but she can’t identify it.
She doesn’t want to tell anyone. What would they think? She messed up her retirement! How can anyone mess up retirement?
She knows she wants to live a different life, but she can’t articulate it. She yearns for change.
Everyone Has an Opinion
Her friends offer advice:
· Get a hobby.
· Get a part-time job.
· Learn a new skill.
· Babysit grandchildren.
· Start a garden.
· Learn to meditate.
· Read a book.
While these seem like good ideas, she doesn’t think a hobby will fix what’s wrong.
She doesn’t just want to fill her time, though she could certainly benefit from doing something.
Every day seems to run into the next. Each one is the same.
She thought retirement would be more fulfilling, not the same thing over and over. She feels like she’s in that movie, Groundhog Day, living the same day over and over and over.
Somewhere along the way, she got lost there and can’t get out.
Regret Makes an Appearance
She looks back on her work life. Oh, how she misses it.
As a nurse, she had a purpose. Yes, some days, she was fed up, but looking back, she sees her work gave her purpose.
She loved the professional challenges. Solving problems. Helping people. Sharpening her skills.
She misses talking with the other nurses, with doctors, with patients. Working kept her mind active, and her brain engaged. She felt connected and needed.
Some days went by without her hardly realizing their passing, because she was always learning something new.
Now, without her job, she doesn’t:
· go out to lunch
· drink coffee in the morning with the other nurses
· help out when someone takes their kid to the doctor
· keep her mind active with ongoing nursing coursework
· communicate with and assist patients
· interact with doctors and surgeons
She feels so lonely and out of place, rarely seeing anyone other than her husband. And the pandemic has made it worse.
Almost everyone she knew when she was working no longer reaches out. They have all moved on and left her behind. No one cares about her now.
Maybe she shouldn’t have retired. Maybe there was a way she could have stayed on.
If only . . .
Mary decides to listen to her friends and take up a hobby, gardening. She loves flowers and eats vegetables, so why not? How hard can it be?
Browsing Amazon, she buys a few books. A friend suggests she contact her county extension agent to see if they offer any courses. She visits the garden department at Home Depot.
Overwhelmed at all the options, so many plants, pots, bags of soil! How will she ever choose? She doesn’t have the expertise to design a garden!
“What was I thinking? If I do this for the rest of my life, I’ll NEVER learn it all. I’m no gardener!”
Just thinking about it depresses her, and she goes home.
It’s all too much, too overwhelming. She’ll pour a glass of tea and turn on the TV or take a nap.
The following morning finds Mary unable to get out of bed.
“What’s the use,” she thinks?
“I have nothing to do.”
“I can’t go anywhere. “
“Is this how the rest of my life will be?”
Lying in bed, she turns on her computer, and looks at Facebook and Instagram.
“How can other retirees look so happy? Is everything they post a lie?”
When she was working, she dreamed of being retired. She could see herself walking to the beach from a little bungalow just after sunrise with her first cup of coffee.
She sees pictures like this on Instagram, and it all seems so incredible.
While she didn’t really think she’d be living on the beach (WAY out of her retirement budget!), she did think she would be living a leisurely life: no stress, no pressure, no demands.
She couldn’t wait to leave her job. Now she wonders, “What was I thinking?”
“Why didn’t anyone tell me that doing nothing all day is just boring?”
“Why didn’t someone tell me that making the adjustment from work life to retired life would be a struggle?”
Her workplace didn’t offer any type of retirement counseling except for financial counseling.
She never understood that retirement went way beyond just money. That it would impact every part of her life: emotional, social, physical, mental, spiritual, all of it!
She learned the hard way that retirement is a huge life-changing experience, like getting married or having children. Something she should have thought seriously about and planned for.
Before she retired, she thought it would be easy. You leave your job, and your new life takes care of itself.
Now, she doesn’t know who she is anymore. She’s not a nurse, or a professional, or a caregiver. The kids are grown and raising their own families.
Her husband still works. He can’t or won’t stop. She’s starting to understand why.
Before, she viewed retirement with a passion, thinking it would give her the freedom to live the way she wanted. Do whatever she wanted.
Now, looking at her life, she finds herself wondering if she made a big mistake?
Maybe she should go back to work, even part-time. Her emotional instability is beginning to take more of a toll than she’d care to admit.
But she doesn’t know where to begin, how to start digging out of this hole, what to do.
“If I can’t even get out of bed,” she thinks, “how can I find a way out?”
She starts to feel resentful and ashamed. “How could I be so ignorant?”
Her energy lags. She doesn’t care anymore about what she wears. She has stopped taking care of herself and feels almost burnt out in a way that reminds her of her last year at work.
Can one feel like a fraud as a retiree? She’s not sure, but it feels “wrong” that she doesn’t know what to do.
Her friends tell her retired life is so great, she should be grateful. “But how?”
She has no idea. She feels lost, alone, helpless, and tired.
Her thoughts go down the rabbit hole:
“If only I had done more research, asked more questions, planned better. What’s wrong with me? Is this all my fault? I know I am not perfect, but maybe I wasn’t good enough when I was working. Maybe I am a fraud, and now that I am confronted with myself, I don’t like what I see.”
No wonder she can’t get out of bed, and spends the day watching TV, snacking, and scrolling Facebook without engaging. Hiding seems a much better response.
This is not the life she was supposed to have.
A Beam of Light Shines Through
A few days later when waking from an afternoon nap, she remembers a dream where someone (a friend, an ex-coworker, an angel?) gave her a roadmap for her retired life.
How nice that would be! She could just follow the roadmap, and everything would be fine.
She could leave her worries behind and lean into a new fulfilling life of connectivity, activity, and growth. A life that allows her to apply her knowledge and skills, encourages her to grow and to explore the possibilities a deeper life can offer.
While thinking about this dream, a light beam hits her brain.
She sees an opening to create new goals and accomplishments. In this roadmap she sees a future doing what she loves with passion, integrity, and curiosity.
“Maybe I can change my life. Just maybe.” Her brain goes wild.
“Maybe I can look at retirement differently than I did before I stopped working. Perhaps retirement isn’t just about having enough money. It could be about living a life regardless of your financial situation.”
“I can learn what I need to know to create the life I want. I don’t have to keep going down this dead-end path.”
She makes some notes. What can I do? What action can I take to start me on this new path?
· Research some books about retirement and started educating myself on what I don’t know.
· Find other retirement resources or groups to connect with.
· Look for workshops or courses on different aspects of retirement.
· Find a retirement coach who can be my guide on this journey.
A coach can teach me tools and help me find my own path but changing her life will require commitment.
She asks herself the most important question, “Am I ready and willing to change?”
Making the decision, she says, “Yes, I genuinely want to change. I want to grow. It might take time, but I am willing to do the work to improve my life.”
She feels anticipation and excitement for the first time in months. She imagines the freedom she’ll have from her depressed state of mind.
Looking into the future, she sees new friendships, new adventures, a sense of purpose, direction, and clarity.
Taking the first step, her journey to a new retirement begins.
I invite you to learn more about living a fulfilled life in retirement by following me and reaching out.