A recent post of mine apparently struck quite a chord with good friend and blogging buddy, Galen Pearl. A Retired Life: A Summary in Six Words was my attempt to attach three words to my life before my satisfying retirement journey began, and three words that describe where I feel I am now, some 12 years later. Besides writing her own blog post as a follow up, she contacted me to ask if I could expand on the original idea.
Galen wants to know my answers to some important questions that this post raised for her, and hopefully for you. Frankly, I wouldn't have thought of digging deeper until she asked. But, she is raising some important concerns that could benefit from clarification. In essence her questions centered on the timing and my awareness of the movement from the three words before retirement (angry, ambitious, unfulfilled) to the three words after retirement (calm, content, fulfilled).
For her, for you, and for me, let me attempt some explanations:
Q. Did retirement trigger this change? For me, the answer is definitely, yes. If I had continued running my business little would have changed. The first three words would have remained firmly in place. If I could project that into the future, I believe my marriage, relationship with my daughters, and my overall health would have been comprised. I guess I could add a few more words if I had continued down that path: divorced or separated, depressed and lonely, and physically sick.
Is retirement necessary for this transformation? In my case, yes, but that isn't likely to be true for everyone. Better self-awareness, a shift in how life is viewed, a good friend making a comment, an increase in your spirituality or faith – almost anything may be the spark. Working or not working isn't the key.
Q: How did retirement turn things around? There are a few obvious reasons why the closing of my business halted this downward spiral. All the pressures of running a business stopped. The fear of clients being unhappy and not renewing my contract was no longer my first and last thought every day. I was no longer spending 100,000 miles in airplanes and 150 nights in hotels year after year after year. My weekends were no longer a desperate time to catch up on work and home and family before leaving again Monday morning.
I began to step away from the horrible feeling of time pressures and performance anxiety. Like others I have talked with, for much of my career I always felt I was in way over my head. At some point people would figure out I had no idea what I was talking about. They would see the emperor had no clothes. I would be exposed as an overpaid fraud. With retirement I no longer had to worry about whether I belonged or not. I left the playing field behind.
Q: Did I actively pursue these changes? No. For such a fundamental shift in my world view and the old paradigms (my old way of thinking), time had to pass. It probably took me a few years just to realize how seriously damaging and wasteful my previous approach to living had been. I had bought into the American dream of hard work and total focus = success. That meant vacations on Maui, wreck-diving in Bermuda, a condo in Florida, a convertible when I wanted one, a large house with an even larger mortgage…and an empty life built around little of substance and meaning. I had no passions, no hobbies, no real relationship with others, no real living faith…. no core me.
I did manage to avoid the one, fatal mistake of some of my contemporaries: affairs. 150 nights away from home is a lot of nights with a lot of temptations and opportunities. This isn't bragging or hinting at any type of superiority, it is just that I never was even remotely tempted to break my marriage vows. Why I was so firm in this regard I guess I'll ask God at the end of my life. But, trust between Betty and me was never broken, strained, or even stretched a little. Maybe that is why we will celebrate our 37th anniversary in a few weeks.
Honestly, I don't think there was one instance or one occurrence when the three "bad" words were replaced with the three "good" ones. I don't think I was really aware of the shift until four or five years into retirement. and even then it wasn't as clear as it is now. By then I had developed some outside interests and hobbies that allowed some parts of my long-buried personality to blossom. I recognized a contentment that hadn't been part of my life since my days as a carefree DJ in my early 20's. That life was a total blast with few responsibilities and constraints, but it was a life of an immature semi-adult. It couldn't continue and it didn't.
Q: How did I become aware of my shift? Galen wondered if I noticed this change all at once, or it was gradual enough that an "ah-ha" moment never really occurred. I think the latter is probably true. Actually, until I wrote the post I hadn't put all this into words. And, that wouldn't have happened if my pastor hadn't preached on the life of Paul and had used the three word concept.
It is kind of amazing when I look at the attitude I approach each day with now. After all, there are still all sorts of problems that may lie before me: financial pitfalls I can't foresee, health problems that could change everything, the health and well being of my daughters, son-in-law, grand kids, and dad, daily issues caused by our government's inability to govern….I should be as nervous as I was before.
But, I'm not. My satisfying retirement is unfolding in ways I couldn't have predicted but I welcome with open arms. Maybe time does heal many self-inflicted wounds.