Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Top 10 Things Retirement Isn't

I celebrated my two-year anniversary quietly at home the other day. I retired from 33 years of federal service on December 3rd, 2003.

What my life is now like is quite different from what I imagined it would be like. I had many mistaken ideas about how I would choose to spend the rest of my life. Here are some of the mostly funny mistaken ideas I had.

1. I would watch T.V. 24-7. In truth, I rarely watch television. I don’t channel surf any more. I don’t come home from 16 hours of painful Baggage, sit in a chair, throw off my shoes and jump into T.V. to “zone” out. I have no need. I DVR what I like to watch, and watch only that when I have the time.

2. I would travel for weeks at a time to exotic locations, or just to visit friends, or on long road trips through mountain passages. Truth is, I get nervous if I’m away from home for more than four days. Part of my part-time job, an important part, is picking up the mail, and it never fails that that one important letter that has to be acted upon immediately arrives when I’m on vacation somewhere. As for exotic, well, I’ve been to some really cool places in the last two years. As soon as I retired, I took three trips within the next 30 days, including Oregon, Hawaii, and Mexico. Since then, I’ve been to Orlando (twice), Missouri, Las Vegas (let me count the ways), San Diego, Los Angeles (many times), Phoenix, Seattle, Germany, and Italy. But the truth is, since my home is really changing into what I want it to be, I really like being home.

3. I would sit in my garden and read all the novels I couldn’t get to when I was working. Trouble is, I lost any patience for lounging around during those years. I lost my attention span. It’s now equal to that of an ant. I look at the books but then turn to magazines, the internet, information at my fingertips – fast, fast, fast!! Sinking into a novel just ain’t appealing any more. There are the exceptions, however, as I’ve enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha and the Harry Potter books tremendously.

4. I planned my retirement finances meticulously, taking every advantage along the way in order to ensure a stress-free financially secure retirement. Here’s another truth: I didn’t do enough. In the last two years, I’ve done what I can to correct what I didn’t do in the last 30, which is save, save, save. You can’t really recover from the years you bought those Air Supply records and clothes you can no longer fit into (if you’d even want to). Because of what my father taught me about the advantages of civil service, I maximized my 401K (when it eventually became available in 1986) and took advantage of any IRAs possible. But I simply didn’t save enough. The best scenario would’ve been to have a house that was paid off, and a hefty bank account. Instead, I had just purchased my first single-family home a few years before; there was no chance I could pay off the mortgage. At least all my credit card bills were paid when I entered retirement.

5. I would live simply and not have many expenses. I have to laugh out loud at this one. While I don’t have any recurring credit card bills, I have credit card bills at the end of every month. My travel takes care of that. I hope to work on that one, reduce travel and living expenses in order to save more, concentrate on the projects that cost more. You know, like remodeling.

6. I’d spend all day at the baseball park. I have two parks to choose from! Plus, many more out there, all the National and American League parks out there I’ve never visited! I used to tell people it was my goal to visit them all. It is no longer my goal, but there are certain ones I’d like to see, like Wrigley Field and Fenway. Yankee Stadium. In the meantime, I figured I’d spend most of my days at Oakland or San Francisco ballparks. I’ve discovered that I’m kind of a baby about it. If it’s too hot or too cold, I’d rather watch it on television. And please, networks, broadcast more A’s games!!!

7. I’d see more stage plays. I’ve seen too many stage plays that are costly but demand very little in intellectual exercise. I.e., they’re not worth the money. I have seen very little, I must admit, in the last two years. I would still like to visit Ashland, Oregon and their Shakespeare Festival. And there are some ACT plays in SF I wouldn’t mind seeing, on a play-by-play basis, not by subscription. But it appears I will be doing those alone, and although I don’t mind sitting through something alone, I hate *going alone, and usually find myself staring at an expensive ticket and staying home. Another way to do this, though, is to see some plays with friends in Los Angeles. Pam and Trish go to plays frequently, and I might join them for a couple.

8. I would see more people from work, people whose company I have really enjoyed. Stay connected to my old job and its mission. Well, while I still occasionally make the verbal slip and say “we” when I mention CBP, I am no longer in its plans, nor is it in mine. And many of those people, I have discovered sadly, were kind to me because they had to be. So I am seeing the real ones who have stayed my friends. I’m sorry that a few others have slipped through the proverbial cracks. I also have to remember that while I have time because I’m retired, they do not because they are not. And time is precious to us all.

9. I will get myself into shape. I did, and then I didn’t. Meaning, I lost weight and exercised, and now I’m slipping into that weight-gaining abyss. But I can see the tracks, I want that goal, and I am promising myself that I am going to run to it. Just as soon as I finish these cookies on my desk.

10. I would discover the true meaning of life. This, I am discovering, is not a one-time happening, a light shining down from above, an old man in a throne yelling at me with a megaphone saying, “Linda, wake the hell up!” While I am waking up, thank you, it’s a slow process. An enlightening one. And I am enjoying it to pieces. I cannot stress this enough. I am brought to tears every morning when I wake up and say to myself: I am retired. It's only been two years. I am just beginning to realize -- with thrills charging up and down my spine! -- that I can do anything I want with my remaining years. This is my life. Get out of the way.

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