Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Off the Grid

In the next few years, many people will likely choose retirement.

Deciding to retire can be somewhat intimidating, like taking a long walk off a short pier. It's unclear what awaits. The future is often uncertain. What about taking a loss of income? And, most frightening of all, what am I going to do with all that time?

I recently had brief reunions with two sets of long-time friends neither of which I had seen in many years. One is a couple who can't quite make the break from working though they are over 65. The other friend, a widow, appears to have a much better grasp of the big picture. Just seeing these two sets of friends in such a short period helped remind me that retirement is a big decision no matter what the circumstances and no two people have the same path.

Once people reach the age of, say 40, I would encourage them to occasionally think about retirement just to get familiar with the idea. Instead of even admitting that retirement might be an option -- even years down the road -- most folks dodge the topic entirely. What they should do is to daydream about something they would like to do when they have the time, not to pretend it will never occur.

The worst thing about spending decades in a career is that, no matter how you might try to avoid it, the job inevitably drains a large portion of your life force. That essence -- call it enthusiasm, energy or creativity -- would otherwise have been spent enhancing your own life. As a result some part of your life is being deprived. It might be your spouse/partner or children, seeing friends, spending time alone, enjoying hobbies, exploring other interests. Working full time means that something suffers.

My career demanded long hours and enormous responsibility. The return was job stability, pride in my work and significant paychecks. The choice was mine and I paid my dues. But during my working years I was aware that many things were neglected and I was missing out. It was a trade off.

Once I retired, the inevitable reality hit me. What was I going to do with my time? What was it that really interested me? These are thoughts that should have been on my mind prior to getting my final paycheck. But such topics were shoved back in my brain, like clothing in the back of my dresser drawers. I know that certain items are stuffed in the drawers but there's no rush in deciding what to do about them.

I have friends and acquaintances who don't know how to start retiring, so they continue to work. One former co-worker is now 75 and still works full-time. That might sound great to some, but she is working only because she doesn't know what else to do with her time. Another former co-worker retired at 92 and told me it was one of the worst decisions he ever made.

START TO THINK ABOUT IT. You may not want to retire, but chances are you will eventually slow down, even if you work part-time. Use your newly-found free time. Focus on a hobby that you have always hoped to enjoy. Learn to cook something new. Read a book. There are many things that require little equipment or materials.

Set small goals. Use a day planner, calendar or notepad and write down tasks that you hope to accomplish for the following week. I have found this approach to be very helpful in helping me utilize my time well. If a page is blank, then find something you want to do and put it on the empty page. You have then made a plan. It's called baby steps, but it is progress.

Retirement is a bit scary. It's a little like a prisoner being let out of jail after many decades. He hardly knows where to start. But it's better to be out there trying to find something that is worthwhile to do than to continue to sit at a desk/in a cubicle. Life is too short. Take a chance and find your rhythm.

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