For those of you on the low side of 60, it’s difficult to get your head around the idea of retirement. It sounds great, of course, imagining all that time to play golf, or climb mountains, or build model trains, or paint your masterpiece, but the truth is that you really have no idea what you’re in for.
I’m not trying to be an alarmist; I’m just acknowledging how difficult it is to imagine yourself as an actual member of Club Blue Hair. Remember when you were a teenager? You couldn’t imagine life at 30. And now that you’re finally hitting your mid-life stride, picturing yourself as a slow moving 70-year-old is impossible.
But since I’ve lived through the preceding paragraph and come out the other side, I understand. My reason for writing this is to pull back the curtain a bit and let you see what retirement is actually like. You should be interested in this. One day it will happen to you.
For nearly five years, I’ve been officially retired. I’m not rich, but I’m not broke. My wife and I pay the bills without living on Top Ramen. We’ve been able to travel and even remodel the kitchen.
Nevertheless, retirement is not what I expected, nor is it likely to be what you expect.
It’s great, those first few weeks. Sleeping in, enjoying your hobbies — it’s wonderful. But then the disorientation sets in. It doesn’t matter how much you enjoy doing whatever you enjoy, doing it all day long every day ends up being a drag.
Meanwhile, I know you’ve waited decades to finally spend more time with your spouse. What a surprise it is to discover that being mutually underfoot every single day will inevitably end up occasionally rubbing you both the wrong way.
It’s odd but true: During the first six months of retirement you discover that time — the one thing you’ve never had enough of — is now burying you in a slow-motion avalanche of ennui.
I also discovered that if you’re not a guy who adores home fix-it projects, you’re in for a shock. It turns out that all those years your good wife has been keeping a list — who knew? — and now your excuses are gone. Be ready for that.
So, yeah, those first six months required some adjustments for us both. But we worked it out.
How? There’s only one way I know. It took time (for me, anyway) to realize that letting go of the old life doesn’t mean endless rest and relaxation, which, it turns out, is surprisingly boring.
In time, we discovered that the solution to retirement is simply to never retire. One busy life ends. Another meaningfully busy life begins.
My first column appeared on these pages in January of 2017. The idea of writing a column came to me on a day when my wife invited me to leave the house for the afternoon and not return until dinner. Since then, the weekly discipline of column-writing has been wonderful. In the beginning, I thought I might be able to pull off fifty. For the record, this column is my 233rd.
I’ve done other things as well. I picked up some short-term side gigs, making extra money doing work that interested me. I ran focus groups on how to motivate teens to avoid tobacco. I’ve been a substitute teacher at local high schools. I was a census enumerator. I wrote a book.
Best of all, my wife and I now have the time to not just be available as Grandma and Grandpa, but also to volunteer for causes we care deeply about. This has been a delight for us both.
The point is, a retirement of relaxation looks great from a distance, but it gets old in a hurry. Kind of like eating cake every night for dinner. Sounds great, tastes lousy.
Instead, retirement is the time when you can finally immerse yourself in the specific things you’ve always wanted to do that are truly helpful to others. And that, we’ve found, is how you’ll find real joy in your sunset years.
Wait a minute — did I just say “sunset years”? Sunrise years is way more like it.
Chris Huston is an author and award-winning columnist living in southern Idaho. Connect with Chris on both Facebook and Instagram at Chris Huston-Finding My Way and at chrishustonauthor.com.