5 Things that surprised me about retirement

Barbara Greenleaf

I retired from a full-time university staff position a year ago to publish my blog, Parentsofgrownoffspring.com. Before this I thought I was good at self-organization. I also thought that writing the blog would give me just the focal point I needed to be as happy and productive as when I went to an office every day. Not quite, at least not right away. While I love this stage of my life, it’s been a learning experience. Here’s why:

1. It takes a long time to find a rhythm. I get up at the crack of dawn. In my office days this was perfect for exercising, showering, getting gussied up, and getting out of the house. Now, I’m neither getting gussied up nor getting out of the house. What to do in the early morning hours? Should I write first thing, when I do my best work, or should I exercise first thing so the day doesn’t get away from me? Should I make lunch dates, which are important for socialization but bad for concentration? Maybe I’ll just take a little nap and that will solve everything. . .
2. I am terrible at most hobbies. Over the years I had so much crafting desire and so little time, that when I retired from the university I signed up for every DIY class known to woman. These included but were not limited to basket weaving, paper folding, quilting, sewing, finger knitting, crocheting, bookbinding, weaving, welding, keyboard, ukulele, calligraphy, and scrapbooking. With the exception of quilting, I stunk! It was really humbling.
3. Doing good is not so good. I was sure that as soon as I retired, I would be magnetically drawn to one charity or another, where I would make a real contribution and get great personal satisfaction from helping those less fortunate than I. It turns out I hated serving on nonprofit boards. They have no choice but to relentlessly raise funds, which I found soul sapping. I mentored kids at a local high school, but then they graduated and the next crop wasn’t as simpatico. It was a disappointment.
4. It takes a lot of energy to have a social life. Once you’re out of the workplace, it’s eerie how the world can get along without you very well. Unless you have regular book club meetings, see the same folks at the gym each day, or get subscription tickets with friends, you have to keep making the effort to stay in touch. I’m gradually learning how to navigate this, but I wasn’t prepared for having to be this proactive.
5. Retirement is expensive and time-consuming. As soon as you step out the door, the tab starts to run. And now you don’t even have to step out the door as e-commerce makes it so simple to buy things right from your couch. I thought that without business attire and the dry cleaning that goes along with it, eating lunches with colleagues or commuting to work, I’d be far ahead of the game. Ha! Moreover, all those chores I somehow fit in nicely after hours or on Saturdays now seem to take up every waking minute. As Miss Piggy would say, “Quelle surprise!”

These are all small quibbles compared to the joy of doing what I love without raising my hand and having to ask, “May I?” Nevertheless, as I look over the list, that nap is looking better and better . . .

What has surprised you about retirement? How does the reality of it match up with your former expectations?

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10 Responses to 5 Things that surprised me about retirement

  1. Donna says:

    Well stated Barbara. I’m standing right beside you and at the moment have no clue!
    Donna

  2. Kathy says:

    I totally relate and agree on all! Especially the shock at the fact that the world continues to spin without even noticing you’re no longer working at making it spin! And the effort to have a social life! And how did I get so much done on just the weekends – and still have time to play and go out! And I’m only 68! I’ve sort of re-grouped and am trying to really organize my days more effectively (trying!) and also making an effort to have more of a social life. Loss of friends through moving and – sadly – death, has really changed the friendship and social landscape. It’s a different, more isolated way of living, but I feel I have to make the effort to try and meet people and probably get out there and volunteer or something. Trying also to remember to count my blessings….

  3. Kathy says:

    Barbara , three years ago I stopped working for what I thought would be a short period of time. I really didn’t consider my self “retired”. Despite traveling and volunteering, I missed working. So at the age of 72 I am back at work. So f a r so good. I feel like my “real self” now. You will find your niche.

  4. Diana says:

    Barbara, what a thought-provoking post.

    No, retirement hasn’t been at all what I expected. I used to wonder how I would pass my time.

    I retired at sixty and am now seventy-two. Age and free time let me understand and be who I truly am.

    I finally had time for the Yoga class that I’d always wanted to do. And I’m still going strong after twelve years.

    I audited all the art history courses that our local university offered, then did additional classes online. About twice a year my husband and I travel to major museums and spend weeks ahead preparing for what we’ll see.

    I’ve also developed a more serious interest in jazz and classical music and have been fortunate to make annual visits to the Met. We have an active music scene locally, so we have lots of options here.

    Then about five years ago an osteopenia diagnosis sent me to gym, and now I spend about an hour and half a day exercising. And surprisingly, I enjoy it.

    I still read several hours a day, and garden, and spend time with family.

    But my activities are far less socially oriented and far more ‘me’ oriented than before I retired. It would not surprise me to find that others find me less interesting than I used to be. I have less in common with others – no shared work gossip or child rearing issues – so I smile and nod and listen to their stories, but seriously doubt that anyone wants to hear mine.

    I’m content in ways that I wasn’t when I was younger, but I miss the closeness that came from shared experiences.

  5. Laurie says:

    Barbara,
    A lovely, thoughtful post. My comments:
    The morning is long and you do not have to do the same thing every day. Exercise if it’s a great day; write first and exercise next if you feel like it. If you love quilting, find a fun group and that can lead to trips to find fabric, friends, social life.
    Expensive is a problem, but sometimes you could brown bag a lunch with a friend in the park or at home. Museums have late hour discounts; many stores have a Senior day discount.
    Basically not as easy without the workday routine, but the potential is astounding.
    What about writing your life story for your family or writing some sort of book from your blogs?
    You have maybe twenty plus years to expand your horizons. Connect with other newly retired people from your work?
    Good luck and let us all know how it goes.

  6. Cherry says:

    Like you I am surprised how much more I got done when I was working… for me it is because I can’t seem to get going in the mornings. I fill my days with grandsons and my nights with movies and friends. Wouldn’t return to working as am enjoying my life and not missing the stress of showing up on Monday morning at a workplace that was becoming more and more toxic.
    Cherry

  7. Margaret says:

    Thanks for sharing!
    Margaret

  8. Fran says:

    Barbara – I love your post — and ya gotta be kidding. YOU? Don’t believe it for a minute. LOLOLOLOL I’m not going to write a book, at least not at this moment and maybe never since I am packing up to move (within the same city), and the movers come Tuesday. 🙂

    Just going to say this for now: I think retirement is different for people who have more than enough money vs. those who don’t; those who are happily married vs. those of us who are single/widowed/divorced; those of us who are introverts vs. extroverts; for those who are long-time married and not happy at all in the relationship anymore. Also, this is what I’ve been saying: we prepare — or try to prepare — financially for retirement, but we don’t prepare mentally, emotionally, spiritually and even academically. So we dream about retirement and that day comes — and 6-12 months later we’re going “What the H happened? It wasn’t supposed to be this way!” EXCEPT — we really didn’t know how it would really be. Because there is nothing ‘out there’ to help us realistically plan for the reality. ////

    I retired at 57, 12 years ago. I went back to work. Got very sick in my early 60s (about 5 years into retirement) and was not only forced to not work but I could hardly leave my house (on my own). I was that way for almost 3 years. BEST thing that ever happened to me (re retirement). Another story for another time. But thank you for making me smile and chuckle — I’m sure you’re telling the truth about yourself — but I truly thought you were running around yelling “Yay, ME” and very happy about it all. (I am SO bad.)

  9. Fran says:

    No, they are not “small quibbles”. You chose to write about them and not the things you do that bring you joy. That says something about the validity — or at least how you feel — about being retired.

    (And thank you for not deleting my previous post — I wouldn’t have blamed you if you had.)

    More later — maybe. I’m ‘trying to be good’ — plus, as I said, I’m moving. The only thing I can say is that when I got sick and some days I couldn’t get out of bed and on my best days I could go grocery shopping (and nothing more) — those years taught me to really notice the little things and take a lot of joy in them. Do a lot of research, which is serving me well now and for the past couple of years. I suppose I could have become angry, bitter, frustrated — well, there certainly were days when I was angry and frustrated. But for the most part — after the first two months — I really enjoyed my forced solitude. However, I’m very introverted by nature, and I think that made it much easier for me.

    As for work — my coworkers — my ‘second home’ where I had worked for almost 30 years — I missed it for years. It got better and better all the time, but it took a good 5-7 years before I pretty much quit missing my coworkers and my workplace. However, even 12 years later, once in a while a memory pops up, and I find myself wishing that I could ‘go home again’.

    The one thing that I’ve learned in retirement is that we don’t have to be productive and useful. It helps to have a purpose and/or a goal — but that isn’t necessary either. Many societies (like Italy and Greece) allow their old people to just ‘be’ (and their old people live longer than us — some cities and towns, much longer). Unfortunately, The US isn’t one of them.

    Enjoy your day!

    • Hi, Everyone,

      I’m thrilled that my post about retirement elicited so many comments because it tells me I’ve struck a nerve. It’s also comforting and instructive to hear how you felt about the major shift from worker to retiree and how you’ve navigated it. Since this is the first time through for all of us, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that we are surprised by life!

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