In our FreeWheeler Community , as we sit around at outings talking, I find that we have women at many life stages surrounding retirement. Some are years away or long time “veterans”of retiring. Others have only recently taken the plunge either voluntarily or because life situations have made it “necessary” and still others have finally set a “date certain”and parties have been planned! We women are often younger and healthier at time of retirement than ever before so we need to plan on how to use all those potentially active years ahead and understand how to handle this NEXT phase of life that AARP now likes to call “extended middle age” otherwise known as retirement. This series of posts is going to be about how one FreeWheeler, ME, approached retirement, walked through that door and how, about 9 months later, how it’s going and what I have discovered. They say in blogs that you write about what you know so this is just my experience but it probably will hit some common chords in the lives of my dear FreeWheeler sisters. Hopefully this multi-part blog will generate some feedback that will help and even entertain us all.
Part I – How Did I Get Here?
So, my retirement came last October 2015 when I was the ripe age of 65 and 4 months. It was one of those “unplanned” transitions. I had worked for my company for 35 years and had planned to work happily in a job I loved until “whenever” , probably waiting until closer to 70 so I could get full Social Security and rack up more dollars in my 401K. I was healthy and reasonably fit, had a wonderful family, friends, a great team and excellent leaders and very satisfying work. That was a nice plan until about May 2013 when in an instant ( literally) my job changed dramatically and painfully and I began the slow descent from “I’m happy to get up in morning and enjoy my work!” into ” How am I ever going to survive this?” As my partner will attest to, I am stubborn and slow to change the big things in my life. Additionally I come from a background of finishing what you started so after investing 33 years in my company, I figured I could/should keep going and figure out how to turn the new job ( aka: “lemons”) into something good ( aka: “lemonade”) as I had always been able to in the past.
Well, perhaps it was my age causing a lack of flexibility or perhaps the job really did suck but I could not adapt nor rid myself of the infantile anger at what “they did to me“.
I became more and more depressed and defeated trying to do an impossible job for impossible people in spite of what I NOW see as good advice from friends and family to quit or change jobs (see “stubborn and slow to change..” above) !
I was also caught in the web of ” I can’t afford to retire…we’ll be living under a bridge in no time or at least can’t buy “stuff” anymore!” I was becoming a “not- very-nice” person, losing all energy and motivation and was now so miserable that I was not functioning well and finally sought out some good therapy! This is the somewhat terrifying bottom point where I was last October when I finally made the decision to stop being miserable and take the leap. My partner and I were camping at Santa Cruz at Costanoa KOA in the Itsy Bitsy Casita( Good things always seem to happen in our RV’s!!!)
During that beautiful weekend, we talked a LOT and she did the bookkeeping “math” to show me how we could manage it and talked about options to fill in any financial gaps ( take a part-time job, promote your DJ business, sell all that stuff on eBay you’ve been threatening to sell, etc.) . We got home that Saturday and went through it all again on a spreadsheet ( once again, see “…stubborn and slow to change… ” above) and I literally started to cry as I realized that there was a “path forward”! Sunday, I signed up for Social Security and Monday , I gave my 2 week notice after 35 years at my company and it felt like a huge weight had been lifted. Two weeks later I walked away from my company and into the next stage of my life and I was SMILING!
What did I learn?
- Don’t wait until you are nearly immobile with unhappiness to make a change.
If you hate what you are doing, do something else, anything else to get moving again. Once you get to the truly “stuck-in-quicksand” spot, you’re likely to make dubious decisions out of panic or pain. Make choices while you are objective and powerful! I chose to retire as opposed to change jobs for a number of reasons. I was lucky that I could make a fast course correction and had both financial and emotional resources to allow me to make that “sudden” change.
- It’s good to listen to your people.
Your friends and family are like gold. They have ideas that may help you and even if the ideas don’t all work for you, you find out who gives a darn about you which brings your power back! Even better, they will listen to you ramble on until you cannot babble any longer which is very important. You cannot and should not try to do this alone…big and brave does not always get you what you need. Let your “peeps” take the journey with you!
- You can live on a lot less than you think you can
I was overly fixated on having enough money to live on and that OMG I could not retire because we’d starve. We aren’t wealthy so this change would mean some things would need to change to be able to afford this move. What I soon realized ( see above… “It’s good to listen to your people”) is that a lot of what we think we need to survive is nothing but stuff you can easily do without. We consulted some dear friends in our FW family who learned how to minimize almost everything and they are not suffering for it. They shared their tips and tricks that I’m still using today.
So, this is some of what I learned as I fell into retirement. It was neither a graceful nor an elegant beginning …more like a Hippo diving into a tea cup but I think I’m going to be OK and I have no regrets.
How did you do it and what did you learn? Were you one of those who planned every “NANO-DETAIL” before you said goodbye or like me did you wait until it got so bad, you felt you had no choice? Did you crash into retirement like a wrecking ball or sail calmly into that next big stage? Those of you who are thinking about retirement, how do you think it’s going to happen…what ‘s the plan, Stan? Do you have a plan? Do you even need/want a plan? ( excluding finances of course…lol) Do you even want to retire because these days many folks don’t for many good reasons and some not so good ones. Maybe you just need to get paid for doing something ELSE that will feel like retirement and remind you of who that astounding woman IS in there….! . Let’s share some thoughts, some wisdom and even perhaps some chuckles.
Next Time: Part 2 – I’m Freeeeeeeee…. OMG, Now What?”