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INTERESTING STUFF - 26 October 2013

Adapting to Retirement

Some people plan the end of their working years. Others, like me, are forced into it before their time. The latter has been especially true for older workers following the financial crisis of 2008.

Many who were let go then never found work again; suddenly retired against their will.

The biggest personal loss with retirement, however it comes about, is identity. Before 2004, I was introduced (or introduced myself) as a television producer and, later, managing editor of the CBS News website, among similar job titles.

I clung to that description of myself for a year of job hunting until it became apparent that I would never again be hired for anything resembling the kind of work I had done all my life.

And then I had to learn to say “retired.”

It wasn't easy; I choked on the word for a long time because – as it cannot have escaped the notice of any retiree – retirement is not a concept the rest of the world, the younger world, cares about or, more particularly, is interested in knowing people who fit the category.

In time, you make peace with being retired, of leaving the workforce behind, but that's not the same thing as coming up with a new identity - not necessarily for others but for yourself. Who am I now that I'm not a teacher anymore or an engineer, pharmacist, truck driver, shop owner?

Maybe some people have no need to find a description for their retired selves. That's probably healthy but I'm not sure everyone is at ease with that. I'm not.

One way of finding a new identity is asking yourself what, without a job to go to, gets you out of bed in the morning? What's your passion? How will you spend the hours from now on that you once filled with work?

There may be things you spent a 40- or 50-year career telling yourself you'd do when you retire. Following one or two of those can become your purpose and identity - or a good part of it.

Maybe there's something you always wanted to study so you become a student again – formally or on your own. If there is time and money, you could become a world traveler to all the exotic places you've dreamed of.

You're not too busy anymore to learn a language, watch all the movies you've missed through the years, read all those books you didn't have time for or you could even write one.

Of course, there are a gazillion things to do with your retirement, including nothing at all and who is to say that isn't a perfectly good choice.

But no one can do the choosing for you and it's not necessarily easy, even as you take on a volunteer job or plant a garden, to emotionally work it into an identity that fits comfortably and feels right.

It's creating a new way of being yourself after decades of being something else so it won't happen over night.

Me? It happened gradually that as I wrote this daily blog over the first three or four years, I morphed from a kind of field reporter on the age beat into an advocate for elders. It took several years and I didn't notice how I had changed until my new self already fit like second skin.

How are you doing in adapting to retirement?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Memories of a German Childhood

Comments

"Advocate for Elders" has a nice ring to it, Ronni. There are probably paid positions out there with that (or very similar) title, if you wished to retrograde into being an employee. You found a new career while not really pursuing it. Fantastic!

Retirements are like finger prints no two are the same. Retirements are also a work in progress. I've been retired five years. Dose some one need "passion" to put their hand to something? No like the Nike ad "just do it" sometimes it works sometimes it don't. Pick a time in your life ( for me it was like 40 years ago when I got out of the Seabees). What were your grand plans what did you do what didn't you do? What can you still do? Circumstances and age not with standing.What were you before you were a producer or editor?This is a rhetorical question,your answer is your own.

I'm an artist. I knew what I wanted to be from the age of four. No matter the job I had to bring in money, I was an artist first. I spent eight years in college learning to be an artist. I spent equally as long painting and drawing with a couple of galleries. I resorted to being a security guard only when the stroke damaged hand eye coordination grew too bad.

Today I am a student, a volunteer, sometimes worn out, and always an artist now with a camera. Modern digital camera's gave me art back.

I actually heard my husband say, (depressed) during the months after he retired from his career : "I've lost my identity". He'd had no outside interests nor hobbies prior to the day he stopped work. His children stepped in to remind him that he was still a husband, father and grandfather.

I was an educator and I do
still tutor occasionally, but I really am a maker, an outdoors person and a nature lover. I love to make things , especially baby quilts, by hand. And I love to observe nature and take photos of what I see. I spend much of my time outdoors, wandering the trails or swimming. I couldn't do all this when I was working and raising both my children and then a grandchild, but now I can and I love who I am.

I retired voluntarily, because it was no longer fun and I wasn't doing as good a job as I wanted to. But teaching was my identity, and without it I was rudderless and a tad crazy for the first 2 years. Now I'm doing what I claimed I was going to do when I retired: indulge my short attention span. I exercise a lot, sing in 3 different choruses, audit classes (for free) at Kansas State Univ, and spend way too much time on the internet chasing passing interests. I get my intergenerational fix by mentoring students in a K-State gerontology class every semester. Life is better than I ever expected it to be.

I find I have to reorient myself periodically. I suspect now I am primarily a mom and grandmom again but I am an artist too. Right now I'm moving from my house into another living space. My art right now is acted on by teaching art to homeschoolers. I think my life is my art and after packing all my art materials and tools, I'm starting to see beyond the stress of moving to new place where artist will actually have some real space in which to work. That is if the move doesn't put me in the loony bin.

Like you, Ronni, I was forced to retire early. Hearing impaired people have a limited number of places that they can work and I soon discovered that I was never going to work again after losing my job due to my disaility.

I have had to do a lot of adapting in my life and this was no different. After retiring I tried different things to fill my time. I improved my house and yard and then I traveled fulfilling a lifelong dream.

I never thought of myself as having a special identity. A a bookkeeper and a real estate secretary is not glamorous; it's just what I did. Therefore, I did not have an identity crisis Per Se.

It didn't take long for me to enjoy retirement and I never minded the label "retired". I guess that gave me an identity as one who formerly worked.

There must be a correlation between retirement and widowhood, because that is where I am. Just trying to figure out what to do next.

Oh crap !! Typos abound for me now. That strange word should have been disability. A double a at the beginning of a sentence does not speak well for my typing ability; especially in a comment that I am a former secretary.

I just had to draw attention to the irony. ;-)

I never really found my identity after the empty nest. I was a stay at home Mom with a few part time jobs along the way. Then I spent a lot of time with the grand kids and now some time with the great grands. I am mobility impaired and have chronic pain but find that I can distract myself from some of that by being busy. I feel guilty when I just read or watch TV-like I am not doing something useful. I went to college online for a couple of years recently but it was a bit much and I am not going right now. I found that I could not go just to learn-I had to make the grade as in my younger days. That made it all too stressful. I am still searching for something I love to do that will also help or bring joy to others. I hope I will grow into that place soon where I can feel comfortable with what I do or don't do. I wish the same for all still searching.

I had to retire from my job as a hospital pharmacist when I developed a progressive neuromuscular condition. I had always assumed that I would hate retirement, would be bored and lonely. Not at all! I took to retirement like a duck to water. I quilt, garden, read, and cook. I sit and watch the birds. But mostly I am the cat concierge.

We all want to think we make a difference, so volunteering, which I started doing before I retired, fit me to a 'T'. I didn't think I would enjoy returning to painting as much as I do, and wish I could make myself do that on a daily basis. I think I have ADHD. *>) Boredom in retirement has never been a problem though.

In my retirement, I have found what seems to be a nice balance of being a grandmother, a volunteer helping to start a "village" (like the Beacon Hill Village in Boston), and part-time consultant (long term care program development). Several years ago I moved from the east coast to the west coast to be nearer to my two daughters in the Bay Area.

I now live next door to my younger daughter, son-in-law, and 5 year old granddaughter. I help out with my granddaughter several times a week. My older daughter travels as a singer songwriter doing house concerts across the country so I don't get to see her as often. We stay in touch by email and I follow her on Facebook. I do still struggle to find time for taking care of myself - exercising and doing meditation, just reading a book.

My younger daughter and I are both struggling with health challenges (fibromyalgia, weak immune system, etc). I try hard to stay rested so I can help more when my daughter is sick. Her husband is a wonderfully hands-on father and supportive husband so that helps a lot. I am so grateful for my family - that is the "magic" in my
life.

Being semi-retired now "fits well" but it has taken time to work through the transitions (geographic move, career transitions, making new friends in a new home). Still a "work in progress!"

When I retired more than a decade ago, I determined to pursue a lifelong dream of just devoting myself to writing, sharing the knowledge I've gained over the years on a particular subject that has long fascinated me. Developing and maintaining my blog has provided a structure to my life. As you put it, it gets me out of bed every morning, and I treat it like a daily job: up at 8, commute to work (i.e., walking from bedroom to home office, by way of the kitchen), and as I said, I structure my day around research and writing. That's the Monday-Friday routine, and it gives me a feeling of accomplishment, that I'm doing something meaningful and useful in the autumn of my years. It also frees me from any guilt I might have over sitting on the couch all weekend watching football.

What has been particularly gratifying are the emails I get from academics working in that field, real scholars of the subject expressing their appreciation for my blog, and often seeking more information on one thing or another, which I always do my best to provide. It's also flattering that several film history professors have added my blog to their supplementary reading lists for their courses.

I am happier "professionally" than I have ever been. It makes me wonder at times what might have been had I gone into teaching, research and writing as an academic career back when I was young. But I also wonder if I would have enjoyed it as much doing it for a living as I now am having doing it as a hobby.

I never identified what I worked at with me. It was a job. Mind you I never went to college so I never prepared for a career. I was a secretary, then worked with my husband in his business, and finally worked for the Postal Service. I retired from the USPS at 58 due to my husband's health to take care of him. This is what I identified myself with...his caretaker. When he died, I realized I had lost my most important job. And I missed it because I missed him. So I am looking for me now. It's hard. But I am taking life in and it should work out eventually.

Ronni, you haven't retired. You are a highly skilled writer, a public-policy analyst who writes every bit as trenchantly as anyone at The New York Times, an advocate, a volunteer in service to older adults, a humorist and oft-cited elderblogger who is doing a job few mainstream journalists or media outlets bother with, mostly because so many senior reporters have been downsized, leaving writer duties to 25-year-olds who work cheap and whose skull plates haven't yet fully fused.

I sure wish you would start using Twitter so that your blog entries would post to far more people. You'd be surprised how many hashtags would be available to you to spread your absolutely invaluable WORK and sharp insights.

It is hard when your career is your identity. I found it harder to retire from being a parent than to retire from my working life. I say 'retired' with a little relish because I am healthy and financially secure and feel no guilt in that as I worked toward both.

I had started reading your blog several years before I retired, so in the back of my mind I had blogging as a retirement activity. I've found it very fun, leading to all kinds of new and unexpected experiences - like photography and HTML classes.

Thank you for the example!

My husband said I was born to "retire"

Now that I don't work I have time to do sooooo many things.

I was forced into retirement 15 years ago, at age 55, although it took me another two years or so of futile job hunting to admit to myself that I was "retired" whether I liked it or not. (It didn't feel like retirement; it felt like rejection.) Since then I've found assorted hobbies to keep me occupied, there's no way my pastimes constitute an identity.

A friend still laughs about the day a year before I retired that I told her I was worried about losing my identity. Hasn't happened yet, three years later. First I started blogging. The local paper editor asked if they could publish some of my blogs, which gave me a new identity. I went back to school to learn how to write a novel. Still working on that project with the hope that another identity will come out of it some day. Even if it doesn't I've acquired many new writer friends as a result. Retired life is good.

Funny, but this topic is really timely for me. I'm on, arguably, my last "real job" or at least the last reasonably paying job in my field and Monday I meet with management to talk over how much longer I might stay, a combination of how long they can afford me and how long I want to be there, and under what circumstances. Monday looms large. If I negotiate a last day, then I must decide what I'll do with my idle time and how I'll go about inventing a new identity. I'm not sure, but I toy with various ideas. Currently, I think it will be:
I am a financial adviser and money manager! For whom? Myself. Also, a few hours a day in home maintenance (I will become a property manager). Then the other 3 or so hours are up in the air. Long story short, I'll be an independent business person running an empire (my own). I think I can hold my head high? I'll try to and hope it works.

I, too, never really felt that my identity was intertwined with my jobs. Maybe it was because I had one career for 15 years, and another career for 20 years with changes, so transitions became easier.
And I, too, found it much more difficult to end the life of a full-time parent.
I have been retired for 9 months. I could have continued to work: I liked my work, but 5 years ago a man in our community put out a call for anyone over 50 who wanted to pick up a musical instrument that they might have played many years ago. I retired because I am completely dedicated to improving my flute playing (in a way that I didn't even know I had in me!)
And we are part of an international organization of bands of older people: the organization is called New Horizons if anyone is interested.

Never had a career - just jobs. So retirement was a big relief for me. At last - my time was my own.

Can't help but wonder what life would be like if we weren't all wage slaves.
We define ourselves by our work...we spend all our youth preparing for work. Is it worth it?

I've had jobs but also a career and am fortunate to still be working at the latter P/T. I'm not sure "who" I'll be when I fully retire. I stepped down 10 years ago at age 67 from a top management position at the nonprofit I work for, and not being the go-to person any more after 20+ years was--difficult, shall I say. I've come to terms with that now, but it took a while.

I also discovered the homeless cat adoption/rescue movement and started volunteering for a no-kill cat shelter almost 3 years ago. There are far too many abandoned/surrendered cats (and dogs)! Shelters can always use more help.

I loved my work and could not envisage a life without it until my early 60s when I met a guy, moved to a foreign country and had to learn how to live with someone after a long time on my own (which I also loved).

The challenges have been varied and interesting and I was surprised when I didn't miss working. I did think, however, that my experience and knowledge of working with people was wasted, so began volunteering with Age Concern, training other volunteers and as a caseworker. This is a minefield in a country whose bureaucracy knows no bounds.....it keeps me on my toes.

This is an amazing post. Very thought-provoking, as witness the number, length and heartfelt nature of the comments. I'm loving it! Because it underscores how critical work seems to be, to our lives and our sense of self. And as Fred Doe said in the 2nd comment, retirement is as individual as fingerprints.

great post. succinct and to the point. Life really is good.

This blog has inspired me to start blogging again in a few months when I retire. Thank you for the great write. Once again I feel excited. Now to get a web site and get ready.

Babysitter, retail clerk, camp counselor, secretary, student, teacher, comedian, motivational speaker, supervisor of student teachers, landscape gardener, volunteer, writer.

My careers to date. (I volunteer a day a week teaching English to new immigrants, and in a food bank.)

Writing is my favorite gig. No commercials, no dress code, no boss, no limits, no borders.

Like many here, I never had a career, but my jobs were difficult and demanding. But I came to SF to study art and be an artist and finding time to be an artist had always been difficult. So when my former employer laid off the whole administrative staff of our program and turned to me with a sharked toothed grin, proclaiming that they "weren't going to lay me off," I got the heck out of there.

I went back to college to refresh my drawing skills, took as many classes as I could get into, did volunteer work and painted. But I "found" myself blogging more and more about art, applied for a "job" at an Internet newspaper and find that covering Bay Area art takes up more and more of my time. I didn't realize that I COULD write, much less get people to read my writing. It's been a fantastic addition to my original retirement plans - gets me out of the house several days a week, allows me to meet the local art community and to interact with all kinds of wonderful people.

I can't claim that I just fell into retirement without a lot of anxiety. Although I had been planning for retirement for ages, saving money and examining my options, I wasn't prepared for a more open ended schedule. For the first couple of years, I was glad for school assignments because they kept my mind from worrying about what I hadn't done or was supposed to do. Forty years of demands while working in a very hierarchical company weren't left behind that easily. But every year it got easier and easier. Now I don't wake up in the middle of the night with an anxiety attack, fearful that somehow I hadn't managed to do one of the 100 plus things that was demanded of me. Now, if I wake up in the middle of the night, it's to think about my next painting or the next art show I want to review. I know that I am lucky - health is beginning to be an issue but other wise, life is the best it's ever been.

And now that I am on the Internet, I have a forum for my life long talkativeness!

Another very timely and relevant subject! After my forced retirement in 2008, it took me several months to decompress after working 40 years in dynamic and often demanding administrative roles. I’m proud of my past career and I still work occasionally for a former employer on an "as needed basis" (3-4 months out of the year, maybe). It’s not steady and I never know when they will call. I remain frustrated with this economy and the fact that ageism still abounds and I no longer have the opportunity to contribute in any meaningful way.

I’m inspired by classic and fine art and have taken several painting and composition classes at the local junior college. I’ve even sold a few small paintings. However, I've become more challenged daily to remain creative, disciplined and motivated. Not sure what’s happening.

When I left teaching, taking the retirement offer from the district, I truly planned to get a job in nonprofit, preferably in San Francisco. Rented a studio apartment there and applied for every job where my skills were a perfect match. Even volunteered for a couple of organizations so as to make connections.

Nothing, absolutely nothing came from it. The organizations with whom I volunteered thought I was terrific but nothing in the way of paid employment.
I packed up and returned to Fresno where I continue to volunteer, using my great skills. I stay very busy, just wish I could make a small income with those skills.

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