Retirement – were you ready or were you pushed kicking and screaming? I asked this question in my previous post Accepting and Thriving – the secret to a Happy Retirement earlier this week. If you missed it you can read it here and I would love to hear your thoughts.
My next guest in the ‘Over 50 & Thriving’ Series is Leslie from ‘Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After’. I met Leslie through blogging and she has been a guest on the blog before . We may even be distant cousins although we are still working on confirming that. Leslie is a fun person although retirement for her did not start the way she had planned. Today she shares her story with us and also some thoughts from other Over 50s about their retirement experience.
I was honored when Sue invited me in December to write a guest post for her 2018 Thrive series. Thought about what I could offer then decided to share a little about my journey toward thriving in retirement. Because I didn’t go into retirement with grand enthusiasm, getting to this place of acceptance and enjoyment has been an adventure. Decided to enlist the help and experiences of a few retired friends of mine, too. Wanted to provide you with their wisdom rather than just sharing my own perspective. So, shall we?
A Little Background about Me
In July 2013, I had cervical spinal surgery to have a metal cage, mesh and plate inserted in my neck to replace my disintegrated C5 and C6 vertebrae and the disc between them. Returned to work as an elementary librarian when school began again in August. However, after a few weeks of teaching and talking more than I had been over the summer, I began having a choking sensation and hoarseness in my throat. The metal plate inserted to hold the cage and mesh in place had shifted, making talking and swallowing difficult. The “fix” would be a second surgery and I would need to be home for several weeks, requiring several weeks of sick leave I didn’t have.
While I loved my job very much, a new administrator had made things very difficult for everyone on our troubled school campus. Decided for my emotional and physical health, an early retirement was the best decision. But how I hated to leave behind my library and the children I loved so much! Spent the last days getting everything in order for whomever would follow me, took a few pictures before turning off the lights on Thursday, 12.19.2013. Called in sick on Friday, to avoid any kind of farewell.
By really no coincidence, the friends I interviewed for this post, were all educators, Dolores, Nancy, Susan, Suzanne and Suzie. My first question to them was: What were your feelings about retirement when that big day came?
Dolores and Susan were excited to retire. Susan shared, “When I started my last year, I just knew it was time. I didn’t have the enthusiasm for it any more. It was more all the requirements put on teachers than dealing with the students.” Dolores said, “I looked forward to retirement because my husband had already retired and we wanted to spend time together.”
Dolores went on to say, “I had so much to do at home. Things I had neglected over 34 years of teaching. On my last day on duty I wrote a thank you note to my administrator and assistant principal thanking them for a good year. I went to turn in my checkout sheet to my principal. She very coldly said, “The secretary will show you out.” She was never one for much emotion and we had been through a lot together. I went over to the secretary and she said she didn’t know what else I needed to do. I opened the gate into the lobby, the kind that swings both ways. I had tears in my eyes and all of a sudden I felt like Audrey Hepburn in “A Nun’s Story.” She struggled to be a good nun but in the end she had to walk away from it. The head nun takes her into a little room where she changes out of her habit, puts on her people clothes and pushes a button on the wall. When she does the door opens and she faces the street where she walks out ready to begin her life again. I felt the same way. I was a person again, not a teacher. Ready to go out into the world and begin again.”
Nancy felt more like I did as she retired for health reasons. Nancy explained, “When I went into Central Office to sign my retirement papers I was really at a loss for words because I retired for my health. After everything was said and done I walked out of the building in which I had begun my public school teaching career and broke down and cried.”
Suzanne also retired for health reasons but the decision to do so was taken out of her hands. “I retired due to an unfortunate medical reason that left me in a coma for 20 days. I woke, realizing that I could talk but nothing else. No movement of my extremities. It was emotionally difficult, however the fighter in me took on the challenge to get through this. I had to retire to get back to good health and focus on my family.”
Suzie explained. “It was a bittersweet moment. I felt excited for knowing I would have some time to myself but knew all too well that I had been following a routine with structure for quite a long time. There would be some adjusting to having to create my own schedule and motivation to accomplish some things around the house that I had been avoiding for a while with the excuse that I was working. I have been trying to take it one day at a time by enjoying the time off in hopes of gearing up for the big clean-up and organizing project I planned for myself.”
My first months were busy preparing for and then recovering from surgery. Not one to lay around in bed, I bought a kitty stroller and used it as support in order to go for walks with my Purrsimmony and Purrsnickitty. I think that was probably my first step toward thriving in retirement. Not allowing myself to ‘take to my bed’ – sounds so Jane Austen!
As I grew stronger, decided to rediscover myself.
Reconnected with my artistic side
- . Had always incorporated art in my library lessons. Now it was my time to be creative. My PC (Prince Charming=Paul Clingan) had given me painting supplies – easel, paints, palette, brushes, canvas – as a retirement gift. I signed up for painting lessons and learned how to make glass mosaics.
- Found an interest in dressing for this chapter in my life. Stumbled across Alison Lumbatis at Get Your Pretty On and signed up for one of her style challenges. Learned how to breathe new life into my elementary librarian wardrobe.
- Began blogging about my retirement feelings and adventures which satisfied my love of writing.
When I retired, most of my friends were still working. My daughters lived hundreds of miles away on the other side of the state. My sister, brother and mom were all far away, too. There were days, especially early on that I felt pretty lonely. But staying busy helped.
My second question was: With what kinds of activities do you fill your life?
Dolores replied, “I’m able to be here for my mother who is 87. We go to lunch together. I can take her to her appointments. She feels more secure knowing I can be here for her. My husband and I can plan vacations together. I love taking my dogs for 2 walks every day!”
Nancy said, “I guess I can say sleeping in, scheduling appointments and not catching everything (bugs and viruses) under the sun. I am very involved in Eastern Star, Daughters if the Nile, Ladies of the Shrine and of course my church. I can go exercise if I choose or meet another retired friend for lunch.”
Susan’s answer was something like mine, “Besides taking care of grandkids, I have continued to do crafts of all kinds. I scrapbook, make cards and recently started creating wreaths. I have also kept in touch with some of the women I worked with during my career and we get together off and on during the year whether for lunch or to craft. We have even done a few out of town activities.”
As you can imagine, Suzanne had a real struggle at first. She writes, “Retirement was very difficult. I started exercising and doing water aerobics, this helped with my physical rehab but also I always wanted to do this but never had time. I decided to volunteer at my grandson’s elementary school. I joined The Red Hats to socialize with women my age. I joined a church group to give to those in need. My husband and I spend time together reading, doing crosswords, cooking and traveling.”
Most recently retired of all, Suzie is just beginning her retirement adventure. She shared, “The best part about being retired is being able to concentrate on me a little more and getting to know myself better. I often felt neglected due to too much work and not enough down time to work with my own physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I want to get back to my roots and allow myself to find the person that dissipated through time while I centered on work and doing for others.”
I think it is safe to say each of us has rediscovered ourselves in some way. Or rekindled interest in activities for which work left little time. And enjoy having new found time for family and friends.
Where I am Today
Because I missed being with students so much, I began working as a substitute librarian. Have worked several long-term jobs, at one school for close to 6 months, and two other 3-month assignments. It was wonderful doing the work I loved so much and being with children again. However, as a sub, I am doing the same job for about half the pay. I appreciate having extra money but had begun missing the freedom retirement had given me.
In this new year, I don’t have any work lined up (yet?). And maybe that’s ok. Here’s what I have added to my retirement activities.
- Following a new morning routine, The Miracle Morning, with which I enjoy beginning most of my days. It incorporates quiet time, affirmations, visions for my life (goals not hallucinations!), exercise, reading and writing. When the hubs goes to work, I begin my routine.
- Scrapbooking, painting, cross stitching, working on my mosaic, and having fun with little arts and crafts projects. Decorating around the house for holidays like I used to do when my daughters were little.
- Reading! I was the unreadingest librarian in the world. Read only children’s books, never anything adult for myself. Usually have a couple of books going at once now!
- Finally, once my body recovered completely from the surgeries, I began exercising more regularly. These days I am running (probably more of a jog), bicycling, swimming, lifting light weight, hiking. Have completed 4 5Ks.
My hardest adjustment has been my conflicted emotions about whether I should be/want to be working. My PC is still working. Dolores and Suzanne’s husbands are retired, Nancy’s , Susan’s and Suzie’s are not. I feel some measure of guilt that I’m not working but PC is. Still sorting through those feelings. But it is getting easier!
Retirement isn’t always a bed of roses. It is a major adjustment for the body and the mind. And the emotions. Taking baby steps to (re)discover what you want to do now or next. Sampling from the smorgasbord until you find the right fit. My last question had two parts: Has retirement been what you expected? Please explain. What has been the hardest adjustment?
Dolores’s answers reflect the happy-sad conflict that many retirees feel. She explains, “Retirement has been all I expected and more. I have the time to devote to my family. Time to do nothing. Time to help others. Time to clean the house. Sundays are mine again. I used to spend Sundays doing lesson plans. The hardest adjustment is not knowing how “my school kids” are doing. I miss my school family. I miss setting up my room. I miss the smell of crayons and glue. I miss hugs and smiles from kids.” (I miss the hugs, too. Oh, those hugs!)
Nancy is the second most recently retired of the group. She replied, “No, retirement isn’t what I thought it would be. I had dreams of going back to school and getting my culinary education, maybe in time opening a coffee shop with delicate and delicious pastries. I even wanted to revisit my writing again which I had began before Danielle was born in Wisconsin.
My days are long and I have difficulty focusing on those dreams now. My hardest adjustment is not having students to see and teach each day (no, I don’t want to sub yet). I loved preparing cooking projects and fun lessons to peak their interest in some of the mundane subjects kids find boring or hard. Teaching is almost non-existent now.” In my email reply to Nancy, I suggested taking a cooking class through our fabulous community college or writing up some of her favorite lessons for Teachers Pay Teachers.
Susan explained, “If I thought it would be just relaxing and doing what I wanted when I wanted than I would be terribly disappointed. The timing of my retirement happened just when my son and his family moved back to El Paso and I was needed to take care of my 2 grandsons. This kept me busy for the next 8 years. For the past year and a half I’ve taken care of my granddaughter while my daughter works and her husband is going to school out of town. I remember it took almost a year to adjust to retirement because I always felt I should be going somewhere or doing something. I’m pretty sure grandma duties kept me busy enough so I didn’t have time to think about it too much.”
Suzanne has made a remarkable recovery from the health issues that led to her retirement. However, she has now been diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease. But the woman is a medical amazement who lives every day to its fullest. She shared, “I missed being involved in the education of children. I missed being around educators and the friendships that developed.” Suzanne advises, “If you are thinking of retiring, first of all make sure you are financially able. It helps not to have to worry about finances. Retirement is time to enjoy life to the fullest. Make a list of what you want to do, where you would like to go and how you would stay active.”
I experienced some of what Suzie is feeling as she begins her retirement journey. “The hardest adjustment has been feeling cast aside and blocked from being inside the loop of ever evolving trends in education. I enjoy working together with others and the communication piece. I am a progressive person and like keeping up with the new and latest trends. I liked collaborating with other educators in putting together ideas to benefit student learning.”
Even though I am now four years into my retirement, I still enjoy keeping up with trends in the library profession and education, in general. My sister is a librarian and we attend the Texas Library Association annual conference together every year.
Final Thoughts on Thriving in Retirement
As is the case with about anything in this life, retirement is what you make of it. There were days, especially at first, when I just wanted to hide under the covers because I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing, thinking, feeling. Every now and then, I still have a day like that. But I am grateful to have had the option to retire when I needed to.
In 2017, through my blogging, I discovered Sue and several other retired bloggers who have inspired me with their retirement adventures and activities. It seems to me that retirement no longer signifies the end of life. To the contrary, retirement should be an exciting new chapter of what might be the best years of life!
Want to thank Sue, and my friends for being a part of my retirement journey. Would love to have you stop by to visit me at my blog home. Cheers!
In what felt like the blink of an eye, I have gone from full-time wife to my sweet husband, hands-on mom to my two beautiful daughters and elementary school librarian to a retired, empty nester with lots of time on my hands. Join me on my journey to rediscover who I am. Glad to share this time with you.
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How have you adjusted to Retirement? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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Let’s Keep Sizzling & Thriving!