My Satisfying Retirement : The Year That Was: Lessons Learned (and Relearned)

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The year 2021 is in the books, done and gone. It wasn’t nearly as awful as its big brother a year earlier. That was the king of crappy times. But, it will not go into the books as a great 365 days.

Even so, there were some lessons to be learned, or relearned. It is not possible to spend day after day for 12 months, and not have gained something, even if it is a double dose of “thank God that’s over.”

I don’t generate resolutions for two simple reasons: I never keep new ones for more than a few weeks, and I am doing what is important to me already; I don’t wait for January 1st to change behavior or interests.

In place of easily broken promises, I do like to see what I can take away from being alive for another year. What did the just-completed one guide me toward, remind me of, or caution me to avoid? No matter how the year unfolded, what lessons did it teach me? In no particular order:

1) Be Adaptable

Two tickets for a play that was canceled. They can be used this year. The painting class: teacher gets Covid. I find a world of information on YouTube. Trip to England? Too risky. Go to Kauai instead.

Shopping in stores becomes an exercise in futility as supply problems leave too many shelves bare and the wrong sizes in stock. Online shopping fills the void while delaying or doing without is not life-altering. In fact, it is good to decide that a new whatever is really not needed.

The past few years have emphasized the importance of being able to change, and turn lemons into lemonade. With the rules for behavior and social interaction changing day to day, flexibility is required.

2) Remember the long game.

Covid. Inflation. Supply chain issues. Strange and dangerous weather (think forest fires in Colorado in December), At times, these (and other) problems feel as if they will last forever. There are 21 letters left in the Greek alphabet to use for pandemic variants. Climate change is going to get worse, even if some of us aren’t convinced why it is happening. Distressing as it seems, election season is underway again, with the rhetoric and vitriol at the boiling point already.

Even so, history is a long slog, not a short story. We tend to think this is the “worst of times” because we are living it. Yet, if even a little time is spent looking at what is behind us, the world, even America, has been at much worse places many times, again and again. That truth doesn’t make today’s frustrations go away, but it tends to put them in perspective.

3) I can entertain myself quite nicely

As noted above, our tickets to a play (actually two different ones) became unusable. Vacation plans were shelved. Going to a baseball game was not deemed worth the risk. The fun of sitting in a dark movie theater, loaded down with popcorn and a drink, didn’t happen. Dinner at a sit-down restaurant was skipped for most of last year.

Name a friend or family member who hasn’t discovered the wonders of streaming movies and shows into their living room. The library opened earlier than many places, for pickup of book holds in a cordoned-off area of the lobby.

Michaels, Best Buy, Target…almost every company, offered touch-free pickup in their parking lot or delivery to your front porch. Food, either groceries or prepared meals replaced dining away from home. Combined with a streaming movie, that became a date night.

If I could get painting supplies my wandering path down my artistic trail could continue. Photographs taken over the past few years could be reviewed, with a dozen or so being enlarged and mounted in a frame in the hallway, brightening up the house and bringing back a flood of memories.

Break a guitar string? Getting a replacement took a day or two. Books? When the library wasn’t open and my budget couldn’t stomach another $25, audio and e-books filled the gap. Our library has a service called Pressreader that allows me to choose from hundreds of magazines and newspapers all over the world, delivered right to the smartphone or laptop. 

Entertainment and learning have become less of a spectator sport. We have an infinite amount of places to turn and things to explore to keep our minds active and our time productive.

4) Relationships are vital to a satisfying life

The first glimmers of renewed human contact started in early 2021. After a few false beginnings, enough time after vaccines and boosters, and with some common-sense adjustments, we were able to talk to someone other than ourselves, or an electronic version on Zoom. 

What became quite apparent was how much we missed human interaction. If you are married, no matter how perfect your union is, the same person, with the same annoying habits, having the same discussions (arguments?), and doing the same thing for months on end, becomes old. If you have school-aged children who were caught in the hell of virtual classroom learning, triple that irritation.

Being single means you are stuck with yourself, day after day, hour after hour. Admittedly, I am a bit of a loner. I prefer my own company most of the time. But, even a hermit needs to go to town for supplies occasionally. Lockdowns, or having friends who don’t feel safe in others’ company, leave the singles among us, anxiously seeking the sight, touch, and sound of another.

If nothing else, 2021 reinforced my appreciation for a solid, (almost) 46-year relationship. Are there times we’d rather be on a solo, slow boat to China? Yep. But, that is a fleeting thought. Did I miss seeing folks I know and like at church, or a library meeting? Absolutely. Relationships are an essential part of being human. 

Last year’s lessons are learned, the new year holds tremendous potential. Let’s promise each other that when I write a post like this in early 2023 there will be much less to worry about.  We will look back fondly on this year as a high water mark!

Fingers crossed (and boosters taken)