What's it Like to be Retired?
by Irwin Lengel
I must be different than other retired folks because folks younger than me never seem to ask me that age-old question: “What it’s like to be retired?”
At one point during my retired lifetime, had that question been asked of my grown children, the response would have been something in the order of: “Retired, my dad? He hasn’t retired yet. Oh, he doesn’t work the normal hourly routine of 9-5 like other common folks, but the fact of the matter is – he still works even though he says he is retired!"
That was when I had officially retired from my day job but kept myself busy earning a few bucks here and there either teaching insurance courses, writing insurance curriculum, or working a few days a week at Busch Gardens. But these were what I liked to call fun jobs. Not once did we ever consider them to be “work!”
Besides, had they asked me that question, (What’s it like to be retired?) I would have had to respond by saying: “I haven’t a clue.”
Many individuals today think that retirement, as many people know it, is something that we all aspire to do – leastways at some point in our lives. We have been told all during our working lives that retirement is our reward for leading a truly productive life.
Yeah, sure – that and $1.89 or more will get you a cup of coffee at a restaurant and then you would still have to be picky about which restaurant you were frequenting.
Some people do not even consider retirement as being something they want to aspire to. And then there are some people (usually the ones that consider themselves to be not only entitled to eventually be retired but that it is not their responsibility to plan for their own retirement), that expect it to be provided to them once they reach a certain age.
These are the same youngsters as I would like to call them (if I called them whippersnappers – well – that would make me feel old and I am not old!), that would be the ones when led into a barn full of horse pucky would also be expecting to find a pony somewhere amongst the – if you will excuse the pun – muck!
I guess I was never that naïve as my dad passed in his mid-fifties so he never got to realize what retirement was all about and thus we never had anyone to talk to about what retirement was like.
One thing was for certain though is that, never did I think that retirement meant sitting by a swimming pool somewhere reading a book and taking a dip whenever the heat got to be too much. I guess that is what some people think retirement is all about – lying about the pool, reading books and drinking iced tea or golfing several days a week with old friends and neighbors. And then there are probably the jet-setters that long for the occasional trip to Europe or Australia.
Chances are that anyone spouting off information about this being the true life of a retiree is probably some bank retirement fund manager or a private money manager just hoping to convince you that they know exactly what it is you should be doing with your money so that dreams such as these do come true once you do retire. Back to the stables and horse manure or put a different way – horse- pucky!
One has to remember the era we were born in. Our generation never learned how to lollygag or jaunt for that matter. We lived through the depression years as well as World War II. We lived through some truly tough times and as a result what we learned got carried forward with us and is instilled in us yet today.
We were taught from an early age what was meant by the Protestant Work Ethic. And for those reading this that do not recall or ever remember hearing about it – here is the definition: The protestant work ethic was the view that a person’s duty was to achieve success through hard work and thrift, with such success being a sign that one is saved.
We never had the luxury to even think about a life of leisure. True, we may have dreamed of such moments were we to have a moment of weakness – say after seeing a movie or reading a book about such things but for the most part we accepted the fact that to get along and provide for our families – well, ours would almost always be a life of kissing some bosses butt.
Problem is though that we never actually thought much about retirement until one day we woke up and found ourselves attending that luncheon where everyone shook your hand and smiled when they said “Lucky devil” wish it were me instead of you walking out that door. Did we plan for it – no.
What were we going to do now that we had freedom from work, no responsibility other than to our family and a complete blank in our mind when it came to wondering what we were going to do with the void that was now going to take the place of our workday!
“Enjoy yourself” - “Have fun in your retirement years.” “Enjoy your retirement!” everyone said as the company door hit us in the rear end as we were leaving the building.
Our generation never gave much thought to leisure let alone leisure without penalty. To us – leisure meant working overtime so that we would make a few bucks extra to offset the cost of seeing a movie and maybe having some popcorn once every two months or so.
Enjoying something pleasurable without working for it was something old workhorses like us never thought much about. Let’s face it when folks like us retire, the word and every connotation that is associated with the word “retirement” is not in our vocabulary.
For us to say we are living the life of leisure and enjoying all that retirement has to offer would be like fitting two suitcases in the back of a Mazda Miata so we could go on vacation.
Most individuals that retire find themselves knee deep in “Honey-Do Jobs” that are never-ending or bagging groceries at their neighborhood supermarket or greeting people at the local Walmart supermarket. I must admit though, my wife loved it when we were able to retire together. She was not one of those wives that said: “Hey, I have managed this house without you in it 8-10 hours a day for as long as I can remember – I do not need you being under my heels 24/7 now that you are retired. Go find something to do."
Okay, so you are now retired and have been so for the past twenty years or so. So, what’s it like to be retired?
Well, other than being eligible for senior discounts too numerous to mention, senior moments or as I like to call them from time to time, ‘Brain farts,’ and visits to the doctor more times than I care to admit, I must admit that the biggest obstacle during retirement is finding things to do that occupy one’s mind.
From a physical standpoint, we became involved with Line Dancing about eight years into retirement and that has served us well from a “staying in fairly good physical shape” standpoint.
But, the older I get, the harder it is at times to stay in good mental shape. The thing I concentrate on the most as I get older is keeping my mind active. If there is one thing learned over these past 21-plus years of retirement – it is to pay attention to that old adage – “use it or lose it.” Let’s face it, keeping busy engrosses the mind. We should all take a lesson from Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbs fame:
“There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.”
So, for those of you contemplating retirement, those of you recently retired, and even for those of us who have been retired for quite some time now – forget about the guilt of not having to go to work every day. You have spent your life trying to be perfect. Take a walk on the wild side – do not pass “Go” go directly to being as imperfect as you aspire to be. In other words, just be you!