Here’s my first official report on retirement: it’s great. I talked about retirement every day for years with planning clients who needed help in figuring out how to become financially prepared themselves. I knew I was ready to follow my own advice when the desire to shift into a slower gear, to find time to nurture whatever creative impulses I might have, became insistent. I was pretty confident about our finances because, of course, we had a detailed plan. For example, I recently filed and suspended my Social Security retirement benefit so that my wife Sandy could begin to receive her spousal benefit when she turned 66.
I stopped going to the office in late February and, after a short celebratory trip to San Diego that Sandy put together, I started waking up in the morning with no job to do for the first time since I delivered The Cleveland Plain Dealer as a boy. I knew there could be some surprises – not having a real job after 50 years is a big change — but I didn’t expect the transition to be difficult. And it hasn’t been. My luck continued: I had great jobs and never bemoaned one day of going to work; and, so far, I have not regretted a single day of retirement, either.
I decided to enter this new stage slowly, to let the time that I used to spend at work gradually fill up rather than scheduling myself to the hilt right away just so that I could stay busy. I returned to my natural circadian body clock of staying up late and getting up late. Despite being a “morning person” since college graduation, this change took about a day to feel right! I’ve spent some time helping a group in our church improve the lot of homeless families by developing a plan to create a year-round emergency shelter and a day center on the Eastside. Sandy and I travelled, savoring the freedom of road trips – no airport security lines, no middle seats, no rigid schedule, lots of gorgeous scenery and picnics in mountains and next to rivers — to places in the west that we’d always wanted to visit but never had the time: the Palouse, the Lake Quinault and Sol Duc regions of Olympic National Park, and most of the national and state parks in Utah. We also spent a glorious week meandering along the Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys. I’ve had much more time to spend with my family and friends. I especially appreciate all the time now available to just hang out, talking with Sandy and with my daughter, son-in-law and four grandchildren who live nearby. Time zips by when I’m taking, organizing and editing photographs; when I make entries in a journal or write essays about some of my experiences; when I’m in the dirt enhancing our garden. Eliminating wheat and most processed foods while walking 2 ½ to 3 miles a day helped me lose about 30 pounds and provided some relief for my beleaguered knees.
You’re probably asking, “Are there any negatives, John? This sounds too perfect.” Fair question. Days with nothing scheduled still make me jumpy. Some old, life-long questions creep up. What do I have to show for the time that passed? Was I being productive? How will I know if I made a difference? Will anyone care what I did? I realize that these are not the really important issues now but they still pop into my head at times anyway. Apparently for me, at least, it’s still too soon for these former yardsticks to fade completely into irrelevance. I’m still working on it. I’ll let you know how I’m progressing.