Journaling on my retirement


I am newly retired and am one of the first Baby Boomers to retire at the full age of 66. Other Boomers seem interested in “how I am doing” in retirement so I thought I’d start a continuing journal here of my thoughts on retirement. If I do not journal them they will quickly evaporate or seem normal or obvious. So, as the Boomer’s Joshua and Caleb entering the land of retirement here is my first


1. You are too young to retire.

The first reaction I got came after I announced my retirement—people believed themselves fully qualified to judge when I was old enough to retire. Some would even scold me as if I was abandoning ship or giving up hope. Of course this revealed their own idea of retirement more than saying anything about me. Their idea was as long as you have energy left you should keep on working. They imagined “retired life” as what one does when you can’t do anything else. But there was something else at work here too. If you retire at 66, it raises the question of retirement for most folk nearing that age, and everyone over it.  Get ready for this pronouncement and don’t take it personally—they are really reflecting on their own age more than yours.


2. But what are you going to do?

This question is deeper. People asked me what in heaven’s name was I going to do? This question is actually revealing of a cultural value. Americans value doing, and by doing we mostly mean doing paid work. This is why people ask you at parties, “What do you do? I answered this question flippantly a few times with, “I’m just going to be.” That was smart aleck response that mostly I said only in my head.  Actually I think the question revealed more about the asker’s own nervousness about retirement. It was mostly asked by people in their 50s, often those especially buried in their work—people with al most no life beyond their work. They were probably wondering, “What in heaven’s name would I do if I retired—I have nothing but my work. Some folk can’t retire because they have nothing to do but work. They don’t even take vacations, or if they do, they text and email the whole time back to the office. When these 50somethings ask you this question they really want an answer so they can imagine their own retired life. Retirement to workaholics looks like sitting in a waiting room. If you detail the sort of things you plan to do in retirement it helps these folk. I said, “I’m going to write, volunteer at church more, do some projects serving headquarters and the seminary, hike and cycle more, do some fine gardening, organize an online electronic archives for Wesleyan History, and visit many of the students I’ve mentored the last 16 years.”  People seemed relieved to hear this. I think they were trying to imagine their own retired life. It helps them see how important starting these things in their 50’s and early 60s. Answering this question frankly reminds them they need to “get a life” beyond their work so they have things to do in retirement. Most happy retired people don’t start a completely new life so much as simply continue their non-work life of passions, avocations, interests and hobbies into a full time life at retirement. Answering this question honestly helps 50somethings maintain this “life outside of work” so it is there at retirement.


3. A deal I couldn’t refuse.

What would you do if your denomination gave you this offer?  “We’ve been laying aside some money each of the last 40 or so years of your ministry and now we will continue paying you your present salary for the rest of your life—you can write your own job description now and do whatever ministry you want for the rest of your life so write your own job description.”      This is how I see retirement. It is true. In my denomination (Wesleyan) the denomination has set aside 12% of my salary all through my life, for my retirement years.  Beyond that, they also reimbursed half or all of my Social Security—the equivalent to another 15% of my salary. This means that for 44 years The Wesleyan Church has set aside 27% of my salary each year so they could fund my retirement years where I wrote my own job description.   Frankly, 12% alone set aside for 44 years is enough to live on, nicely on, let alone the other 15% for Social Security.  Though I’m retired I still consider myself “on the payroll” of the church since I have nothing in retirement that did not come from the church—even anything I “saved myself” was not “my” money but came from the church.  So I don’t see retirement as quitting church work so much as to receiving the incredible opportunity to “write my own job description” with continuing pay at the same level for the rest of my life. What an incredible offer from my denomination! I took it.


4. So, how do you like retirement?

Within a few days of my official retirement I was immediately struck by how many people asked, “So, how do you like retirement?” I was supposed to be able to know within a week if I liked it or not.  Maybe they didn’t know what to say when they saw me and simply saw “retired” marked in ink on my forehead?  So they asked. I guess it is like coming home from vacation in Hawaii. People ask, “So, how was Hawaii?”  It is just something you ask newly retired people.  When you retire get ready for this question and have an answer—everyone will ask it. It is like being newly married. They ask, “So, how do you like married life?”  Or it is like saying, “So, how are you today?” they don’t really want to know. I just say, “Great!”


5.  I can’t be fired now.

This thought surprised me. About two weeks after retirement the thought occurred to me while driving to Lowes “Nobody can fire me now.”  It was a strange thought.  I realized couldn’t lose an election, get fired from my job, or get laid off.  I said under my breath, “What a silly thought, I never worried about losing my job, or even too much about not being reelected.”  But that the thought occurred to me, so it must have meant something.  I chuckled. The only way to get fired from retirement is to die, but heaven is a promotion so even that isn’t really bad.  Thinking about not getting fired seems trivial but I thought it so somewhere in the back of my mind there must have been an election fear or a firing fear—because it is gone now and that felt good.  Retirement has great job security.  


6. Changes in how I view time.

Within a month of my retirement I noticed this change—and it is massive for me. I began to act like I had an abundance of time available in the future. This feeling became influential in almost everything I did. It was subtle but pervasive.  Let me give an example: In may I was planning to take a 250 mile cycling trip through Indiana and Ohio. On the day I was planning to start I simply changed my mind and decided instead to fix up the little rental cottage across the street from us. That’s what I preferred doing that week. I said to myself,  I’ll take that cycling trip later I have lots of time now.”  Or even this one: While replacing a window on that property I noticed a section of bad grass. Immediately I got out the tiller, tore up the soil and reseeded the grass--right in the middle of the window repair. I thought, “I can finish the window tomorrow if I want, I have plenty of time.”  Retirement gave me the luxury to not be focused. Before I retired when I was doing a job I had to stay on task because my time would run out—vacations and days off ended soon so I had to stay focused.  Now I act as if I have copious amounts of time available so I can take any sidetrack I want.  This sense of time has made me do things better. I’m less rushed.  For much of my life I rushed about hurrying to get things done before the time ran out. I often did things “good enough.”  This new sense of time has given me the chance to take the time to do things well—the way I should have been doing them all along. So I now choose more delightful sidetracks I want to do and I do them better—this adds up to greater satisfaction when I’m finished. This must be why many retired people have so many undone tasks around—they are planning to do them later.      Of course when I really think about it, this whole sense of time is inverted. As far as life goes, I have less time than I ever did. My time is running out more than ever. But it doesn’t feel that way. It is upside down. When I was working I felt like my time was always running out and I had to rush. Now I feel like I have lots of time. So I have a sense of being younger than I was when I was younger. It is strange feeling. But I like it.