Let’s say, for the moment, that you’re finally retired, that you suddenly have a ton of time on your hands, time that has been, for your whole life, filled with your career, your busynsss, your family. Now your family is grown and gone, your career has ended, and you are home, home with none of that other left to do, home with nearly your entire life behind you… home with, perhaps, an emptiness that might require some psychotherapy if you don’t figure out something new to do. And hence the headline… What To Do?
I was that guy, 18 years ago. Driving a 23’ rental truck with all my worldly goods inside, pulling a trailer with my little red Celica perched on it, I knew only that I was headed back to Montana, headed back to my first home, where I could lick my wounds, regroup and try to sort it all… or as we say in Montana, figure this shit out.
What To Do… What To Do?
I write about this because I have some younger friends who are dealing with this very issue, albeit on several different levels. They are all struggling with it, this approaching retirement, this lack of preparation for it, this sudden change of life and the dramatic slowing-down of their daily routine… it can be intimidating, unnerving, even frightening.
I get it. As new, strange and challenging as it can be, It was easy for me. Well, relatively, anyway. Having already lived a life of somewhat predictable spontaneity, I did what every newly-retired person should do… took it one step at a time. Easier for some than others, I know. But the “one step at a time” course of action practically guarantees one won’t knee-jerk into new, perhaps more complicated situations that make the new retiree even more uncomfortable.
I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that a newly-retired person could best serve themselves by 1. Dealing directly with their own mortality, and 2. Coming to the realization that their life has changed, and that it’s, at the very least, a new chapter, and quite possibly a whole new book, and 3. That it’s time to let go of the more physical and enjoyable aspects of their life as gracefully as possible… (before they hurt themselves) I feel these three understandings lead to a more comfortable, eyes-open perspective about what to do with the rest of their life. I did this, and I can tell you that the benefits, though often subtle, are immense.
It also seems to me that office workers usually have a harder time with retirement than those who have worked with their hands. A gross generalization? Perhaps. But it appears that “handy” folk always have something to do, whether practical or recreational.
My biggest problem with retiring and getting old was realizing, and experiencing the sad fact that I could no longer do most of the things I had loved doing all my life… notably snowmobiling and motorcycle riding. Snowmobiling simply got too hard for me, and the last time I tried to get on a bike my leg cramped up while I was trying to throw it over the seat. Good god! And fishing – I was wading out into the Madison river, years ago now, and by the time I got knee-deep into it the current began pushing me in a way i couldn’t stop, and I almost fell into the river. Those moments can be hard, and that one depressed me for several days.
So what do I do at 80, to feel free out on the open road, the wind in what used to be my hair? Why, my Mustang, of course! Just roll the window down on a sunny day, and step on it. Instant Young Again!
Here’s a deeper dive on aging and retirement, deeper than I’m willing, or able to go. I got a better, clearer perspective from this writing… it might be helpful.
Leonard Cohen said his teacher once told him that the older you get the lonelier you become, and the deeper the love you need. This is because, as we go through life, we tend to over-identify with being the hero of our stories.
This hero isn’t exactly having fun: he’s getting kicked around, humiliated, and disgraced. But if we can let go of identifying with him, we can find our rightful place in the universe, and a love more satisfying than any we’ve ever known.
People constantly throw around the term ‘Hero’s Journey’ without having any idea what it really means. Everyone from CEOs to wellness-influencers thinks the Hero’s Journey means facing your fears, slaying a dragon, and gaining 25k followers on Instagram. But that’s not the real hero’s journey.
In the real hero’s journey, the dragon slays YOU. Much to your surprise, you couldn’t make that marriage work. Much to your surprise, you turned forty with no kids, no house, and no prospects. Much to your surprise, the world didn’t want the gifts you proudly offered it.
If you are foolish, this is where you will abort the journey and start another, and another, abusing your heart over and over for the brief illusion of winning.
But if you are wise, you will let yourself be shattered, and return to the village, humbled, but with a newfound sense that you don’t have to identify with the part of you that needs to win, needs to be recognized, needs to know. This is where your transcendent life begins.
So embrace humility in everything. Life isn’t out to get you, nor are your struggles your fault.
Every defeat is just an angel, tugging at your sleeve, telling you that you don’t have to keep banging your head against the wall.
Leave that striver there, trapped in his lonely ambitions. Just walk away, and life in its vastness will embrace you.
– Paul Weinfield
i agree with you, Paul Weinfield. Months into my retirement, I suddenly (and thankfully) realized that I was no longer a piano player… or composer or arranger or musician of any kind. I was just a guy… just a guy! The more I realized it, the more liberating and comfortable it became. i grew to love not being anything in particular, just Steve Hulse, walking around the earth as a guy, with nothing being expected of him, just simply taken for who he was at the moment. And at that moment, and every moment since, I’ve been “just a guy,” and I continue to be delighted about it!
One of the best ways to retire is to continue doing something you love, but without the deadline or the financial pressure that a professional career has on our daily endeavors. Continuing a lifelong passion is a great way to move into the retired stage, yet in some cases we’ve “worn out” the passion. I speak from experience, as I finally ran out of passion for composing, even playing. What to do? Why, replace it with a new and different passion, which for me is writing.
Writing has replaced my love of making music absolutely beautifully. Guess writing uses some of the same old brainwave highways between my heart and my fingers. And it’s satisfying… a little different, sure, but definitely satisfying.
And there are other opportunities for anyone even remotely creative to fill their days with. I also enjoy photography and manipulating some of the pictures with the incredible computer tools that are available today. Here are two of my water color attempts, from photos – Patrick, you should recognize this river scene. It’s from a picture taken the day you took me fly fishing, floating the Big Hole River. Thank you again for that, it was a great day on the river! But then, there are no bad days on the river, are there?
No, I’m not a painter, I can’t even draw. Does that mean I should leave the painting and drawing to the pros? Hell no! I really enjoyed the process these attempts demanded, and am happy with the result.
For me, all this is about fun, about feeling satisfied with small but meaningful accomplishments, and I would hope it would be the same for you. We should be able to enjoy at least the bulk of our time in retirement. Life hasn’t been easy… for any of us. So when is the reward? hopefully, now.
A lot of folk spend their time gardening, building, fixing, repairing, even just tinkering.
Yeah, I love to tinker! And why not? Who is to tell me that I’m doing it wrong, that I might not be a good or respectable “tinkerer?” If it feels good, it’s right, plain and simple. Sorta like sex, right? Betty and I built a model train layout about 5 years ago. Took us seven months to complete it, and we had a blast with the process. Here is the video we made once the layout was complete.
Besides building model train sets, or model anythings, it’s usually easy and fun to build little dioramas of scenes you like or imagine. Here’s a tiny diorama I built two weeks ago in 3 days, using the locomotive I saved from the train layout.
Here’s Joe’s Doll House, which he and his wife have been working on for awhile now. He hopes to have it finished by Christmas. I think I hear god chuckling…
This bell tower will have a light inside.
The cedar shake roofing. Joe’s wife put each and every shingle on!
Check out the porch swing in this video… wonderful work!
For us guys, having an old car or truck to tinker with is immensely satisfying. A good, well-stocked garage is almost a must, which is yet another pleasure to be enjoyed in retirement. Some of my best days in Montana were spent out in the garage with the classic rock blaring and a cold beer at hand. To tinker was to enjoy, and I loved that garage. In a way, it was “me.”
Traveling, for Betty and me, has been probably the best form of entertainment and continued growth in our retirement… so much so that my next post will be a continuation of this one, in that the focus will be on travel. An expanded view of the world and its diverse cultures not only helps us see ourselves with clearer eyes, but always makes ‘coming home’ a most happy occasion!
All that to say I can’t believe that a retiree has nothing to do, that they are bored and unfulfilled. Oh, I can see that at the beginning, but soon I would guess the least one might do is consider community service of some kind, or at least seek out a poker or bridge club. It seems so simple to me, yet I know it isn’t for so many. Can’t help but think, though, that there must be something that they wanted to do, to accomplish, to experience during those working and family years when they usually had neither the time nor the money to explore other avenues. Well, retirement is the time, if one has the good health and energy to pursue old dreams. B and I continue to be blessed with both, and will continue to explore life in general and new places in particular. We’re still alive… isn’t it the least we can do?