This phrase used to be the one that appeared just under the Satisfying Retirement title until a few years ago. Though I haven’t used it for quite a while, Passionate About The Possibilities and Honest About the Realities is a phrase I like. This is the stage of life when we are faced with all sorts of new opportunities, challenges, and adjustments. No matter how well prepared we are, there will be hurdles we must overcome. To be less than honest about that part of the journey isn’t helpful.
If my working life was at all typical, there was little opportunity for introspection. There were few opportunities to assess where I had been or where I was headed. Family time was squeezed into little slots of open schedule between work-related necessities. The pressures of keeping my little enterprise going and growing did not have an on-off switch.
As long-time readers know my business came to a screeching halt in June 2001. Rather than pumping more resources into keeping things afloat, my wife and I decided to retire. I was 52 and she was 47….to call us early retirees would be accurate. To call us nervous, unsure retirees would fit, also.
As we began to get our footing in a world not defined by work, schedules, and regular income, we both began to grasp the amazing opportunities we had been given. Our days were wide open, open to inspiration, and possibilities.
Within the confines of a tight budget during those early years, we learned a few important facts about ourselves: our marriage must be strengthened and remain at the center of our universe, our creativity should be allowed to express itself in ways we had never considered before, and the only limitations on what happened were ones we imposed on ourselves.
In the intervening years, some of those conclusions about life have shifted, some have been tested and found wanting, some abandoned by the side of the road of life, and others discovered and embraced.
Perhaps the most important discovery was being honest about the realities of our marriage. Since we celebrated our 45th anniversary four months ago, rest assured, we have figured things out.
But, I had not understood how much my working schedule and attitude toward what happened at home while I traveled had put things at risk. Being together full time forced us (mainly me) to see beyond the public picture of contentment and domestic bliss.
Our communication was strained. Our expectations of what each of us should be doing, both separately and together, were not realistic. There were miscommunications and conflicts that tended to be swept under the rug. An artificially calm and well-ordered household was what I saw after returning from a business trip. Even so, I would criticize something, usually quite minor, that hadn’t been done.
You can imagine the stress and unhappiness this caused, not only to my wife but also to the kids. Unbeknownst to me, both girls would hold their breath when Daddy came home, hoping he would not be in a bad mood.
After retirement, as my personal bubble began to burst and I was not running on all cylinders, it took several years for me to understand, accept, and change my behavior. It took a fresh appreciation of the concept of a team building a marriage together, not just two separate people who agreed to share the same space. An honest look at the realities of a long-term marriage revealed cracks and stress fractures that had to be addressed.
Over the years I have been pleasantly surprised at the personal growth retirement has allowed me to experience. After the period of euphoria and feeling large weights gone from one’s shoulders, there comes a letdown.
In the past, I referred to this as Stage Two of retirement. This is when you have no idea what you are going to do with all your free time. You no longer have much structure in your daily life; one needs to be found to prevent feeling aimless or living without much purpose.
Coming out of that period of questions and searching are discoveries of what really motivates and stimulates me, what risks I am willing to take, and what elements of daily life are really most satisfying.
Getting my ham radio license opened me up to a whole world of experiences, friendships, and a chance to use some of my leadership skills.
Prison ministry yanked me completely out of my comfort zone but proved to be life-changing. Helping others in an environment that had been alien to me opened my eyes to parts of society that I had been sheltered from as a child and young adult.
Going through the training to become a lay minister, charged with counseling others, once again put me in direct contact with the personal problems and dysfunctions of others that had not been part of my world.
Volunteer work with Junior Achievement allowed me to satisfy the teacher hiding inside me. Accepting a position on the board of directors of our library’s friends’ organization gave me a special thrill. Besides being a lifetime lover of books, this work let me feel directly connected to my grandfather and favorite uncle, both of whom were librarians of some fame and importance. Recently, I rejoined a steering committee for the retiree’s arm of the Phoenix area United Way.
As my creative side continued to demand more attention, I found myself learning to paint. The progress has been slow; my standards are high. Importantly, though, sitting in front of a blank canvas fills me with possibilities and a positive sense of anticipation. As long as those feelings exist, I will tolerate an end product that will go no further than the walls in my office.
Importantly, as each of these commitments and hobbies was added to my week, I found I had more energy, not less. I realized that I feel tired and sluggish when I am not doing enough, not when I am trying to fit something else in.
Now, with me blogging again, the same feeling applies. Yes, sometimes it is hard to sit down in front of a blank screen and write 700 words that will express how I feel about something while remaining broad-based enough to allow others to see themselves in the words. Yet, there is a positive feeling after finishing the task and feeling good about what has been written.
A few weeks ago a sentence in one of his writings grabbed me with its simplicity. And, it seems to fit with this post. He said, “ the future is moving into the past. I am dreaming away my future with dreams.”
That is precisely what I have discovered about this time of life. If I think about doing something for too long, that idea is now part of my past. The magic moment has gone. I am spinning all sorts of wonderful ideas of “what if I did this,” or “I would love to try this,” even, “it is time to stop doing that.”
Yet, if these thoughts remain nothing more than dreams, unacted upon, they are missed opportunities that may not come my way again. Being passionate about the possibilities I have while not blind to the realities is what makes a life worth living (even if you are feeling a little silly!)