One Month In

'Which pair of pajamas says 'smart casual'?'I spent the two months after giving my retirement notice worrying about whether or not I’d be able to stay occupied or would find myself twiddling my thumbs, bored for hours and hours with nothing to do and no one to talk to. Well, so far, that’s turned out to be a joke.

Of course, the one thing I looked forward to has panned out beautifully. More than anything else, I hated getting up to an alarm (any kind of alarm, whether white noise, soothing waterfall or music) in the dark. I vowed to only go to bed when I felt like it and never get out of bed until it was starting to get light outside. I’ve stuck to that one (mostly) and it’s glorious. Although I don’t always make it until it’s technically “light outside” due to two hungry kitties who are insistent on their breakfast hour, I manage it most days. Then I can make my coffee, scroll through my emails, play a few games of Candy Crush Soda or solve a Microsoft jigsaw puzzle, and leisurely plan my day.

Fearing destitution, I took on an editor position for the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) for their quarterly journal. I thought it would be an easy way to make a few bucks to supplement Social Security and still have time to work on my writing projects. That has not developed exactly as I imagined. I have three new online programs I’m struggling to learn and master and thus putting in way more time than I’m going to get paid for since the agreement was for a specific sum with the publication of each edition. But I certainly don’t have to worry about endless hours with nothing to do.

And there are two upsides to this new venture. I can work at my own pace and, best of all, I can work in my pajamas.

Day Of / Day After

The final day of work was both happy, sad and awkward – all in one. Although I woke up with a feeling of exhilaration, it didn’t last long. Almost instantly, I felt a rising panic, and a bit of fear about the gauzy future and how it might pan out without anyone to talk to every day.

And then I got to work and the full combination of happy, sad and awkward began. I’m not good with goodbyes to people I haven’t spent much time with who not only stop by to say so long but bring gifts. That’s one of those moments when the reality of never coming in again sets in and, illogically, you wonder if you should’ve stayed because more waving-goodbyepeople appreciate you than you originally thought. Why a heightened sense of appreciation should make me want to continue to work I can’t really say. Maybe it’s just the subconscious grasping at reasons to continue the status quo.

The ones that are the hardest are either the ones you truly care about who keep stopping by and asking you if you’re sure you want to leave because what is their day going to look like now without the usual banter about The Voice or Survivor, or the ones who cry. Also, I’m not a big hugger and hugging seems to be required . . . with everyone who stops by. That’s acceptable with people I talk to every day but strange with people I see once in a blue moon and don’t have much of anything in common to discuss.

Then the hours ticked by and suddenly it was time to make an exit. There were people who sort of hung around in the vicinity of the office so they could see me off. I’d rather they hadn’t. It was just more of the awkward – lots of people saying it won’t be the same, they’d miss me and please come and visit. Yes, thanks and maybe/maybe not. I waited a few minutes until the coast seemed clear then tried to sneak around the corner and out the door without anyone else seeing me but wasn’t entirely successful. Nevertheless, I felt a sense of relief once I hit the elevator button and reached a different floor.

Then I was home, gifts in tow, and wondering what the next workday was going to feel like. It felt just like any other workday. I suppose it requires a little time for my internal clock to set a new pace and establish new schedules and rhythms but they’re not there yet. As determined as I was to not set an alarm and to refuse to get up in the dark, there I was at 4:30 in the morning feeding the cats and making coffee.

It’s only been three days and it still feels like an extended weekend, not a permanent thing. I’m looking toward establishing a good routine that will keep me off the couch for c4293e9f53f0f9de5f4d26ce25816ce5a nap every afternoon or out spending money I’ll no longer have just to get out of the house and see another human face. I have some things on my list I plan to tackle but haven’t initiated the routine changes yet. I plan on hitting the gym 3-4 days a week (I actually started developing that habit about 4 months ago so everything wouldn’t be new). I also changed up my diet at the same time, am cooking more and am down almost 20 pounds so that habit’s coming along nicely. I’ve taken an editor position for a quarterly journal that will begin the 1st of January but has already given me headaches trying to figure out the program the current editor uses to set up the document and to set some sort of schedule for rounding up announcements and articles from a bazillion different sources, and I’m trying not to couple that with a pattern of a daily Starbucks as that could get expensive when I can least afford it. However, my old pattern included weekends of writing at the Starbucks that’s about 5 minutes away. As difficult as it’s going to be, I need to establish a writing pattern at home without falling prey to distractions like doing the dishes, cleaning the windows or dusting the living room.

Although my mind hasn’t yet slowed to a more comfortable pace, having not realized that I don’t have to rush to do everything in one day, it will come. In the meantime, I have a list of goals I still want to pursue and fun things I want to try. I read a saying somewhere that I’ve paraphrased (adding my own age in the center) to suit my situation and it inspires me to move forward and do things I’ve always wanted to do and I think that if I do that, I’ll be OK. It goes like this:

Don’t live the same year 66 times and call it a life.

 

Do You Believe in Magic?

I’ve had the strangest thing happen over and over in my life and although it’s nice once it happens, I never seem to learn to trust it. My life has a way of bringing me exactly what I need to either keep going or move in a different, more positive direction at the very last second. And even though I’m aware of it when it happens, I nevertheless can’t seem to learn to trust that it will.

Many people believe in good luck charms. I’ve heard the biggest skeptics talk about lucky lucky symbolssevens in the casino or not walking under ladders or finding a four-leaf clover. And yet if asked directly whether or not they believe good luck charms work, they’ll laugh and poo-poo the idea.

Truthfully, I don’t think it’s the symbol that means anything. It’s the positive energies you send out into the universe. You’ve heard the saying that nothing ever dies, it just changes shape? I’ve worked in hospice long enough to believe that our vital energies don’t die; they just change shape and exist elsewhere in the universe. I don’t believe it’s my imagination that if I’m in a room when the patient dies, I can feel his or her energy – not in the body but in the room. It’s almost like the essence is still there, making sure it’s okay to move on and that everything’s okay, and then it begins to dissipate.

I own a laughing buddha and I’ve been known to rub his tummy for luck. But here’s the thing: every time I do that there’s a wish or positive affirmation attached. Dr. Candace budaiPert long ago established that thoughts are things and do indeed affect our bodies and minds. You get back what you send out. So if I send out positive thoughts long enough, I’ll start drawing those energies back to me. And I truly believe that those energies show up exactly when I need them. I’d sometimes like for them to make an appearance a little sooner so I can relax about my future, but I won’t mess with success.

And here’s an interesting experiment I duplicated to prove to myself that thoughts contain positive or negative energies and can affect your environment. I heard about an experiment where steamed rice was placed into two identical containers and then they were sealed. Each day, positive, loving things were verbalized to one container and negative, mean, hateful things were verbalized to the other. After about six weeks, the “positive” rice still looked good but the “negative” rice had begun to break down and decay. I tried it. It works. Imagine how that translates into our everyday lives.

These fortuitous outcomes of mine seem to happen to me when I’m the most lost or confused about what my future should hold, which way I should turn. And perhaps that’s when my subconscious thoughts are the strongest. It’s nowhere more evident than in my recent search for something to supplement my upcoming Social Security payments. The budget I did revealed that I’ll be spending $1,300 to $1,500 more per month than I’ll be getting from Social Security. That mangled my thought processes for months when I was trying to decide whether to retire or whether to work until I’m 70. I went back and forth, back and forth with a zillion “yes, buts.” Ultimately, I realized that whether or not I retire at 70 or sooner than that, I’ll still need extra money and I’ll still need to do something. Scary. What should I do? And just when I was about to start scouring want-ads in the Sunday paper, I had an opportunity to become the Editor of the aromatherapy journal for the organization I belong to – a paid position. I applied and was selected for the position.

Once again, just when I need them, things somehow fall into line. It’s an interesting phenomenon that one day perhaps I’ll learn to trust. Is it magic? I don’t care. It works.

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When Retirement Loses Its Luster

Even though I’ve had a few niggling misgivings about retirement – having enough to get by, isolation, inactivity – the column of positives has outweighed those concerns. But they’re back and this time it’s my brother’s situation that has triggered unease.

If you were lucky enough to grow up with an older sibling that you always got along with and who always looked out for you, it’s disconcerting to see the tables turn in old age and brother and sisterknow that you love them enough to look after them but they won’t allow it. Not only will they not allow it, but they’ve made so many bad decisions along the way, that this is the result and the problems have multiplied. It’s hard not to replay some of those situations and constantly think, “What if…,” “If you’d only…,” or “Why can’t you…?”

My brother and I had a sort of bond against the world growing up. Our parents had a volatile relationship when my father was drinking (he eventually quit) and my brother, six years older, was quick to make sure I wasn’t being dragged into their fights – and by fights, I mean when my mother was yelling at my father (nothing physical). There was one incident shortly after he’d gone off to college when she was yelling at him and I’d slunk into my room and closed the door, turning up the television to avoid hearing them. Nevertheless, I heard my name being called. I stepped tentatively into the hallway to see them both standing in their bedroom doorway and my mother demanded of me, “Tell him. Tell him who loves you more.” What can you say to that? The moment they saw my face, the fight ended. I, however, relayed the incident to my brother and only found out years and years later that he called them and read them the riot act for putting me in the middle. He was my protector.

So yes, my brother and I have always had a bond. And now, it seems, when the tables have turned and he needs my help, I’m unable to pull my weight.

Over the years, his life took some hard turns and he lost sight of his dreams and goals and eventually gave up and retired. Not much of a money manager, when things would get rough, he’d abandon everything and just move. It never occurred to him that he was making his financial situation worse every time he did that and his money grew tighter and tighter. It’s finally reached the point where he has cancelled his Medicare because he needs the money for food. He hasn’t been able to afford any medical, dental or vision care and his health is beginning to deteriorate.

So here we are: me on the verge of retirement, hoping to spend some time taking him to dinner to make sure he eats decent meals and maybe catching a movie or two to get him out of his apartment. He, however, has decided he can’t even afford the low-rent Problems quoteapartment he’s in and is planning to abandon everything once again and head to Nicaragua so he can afford a decent apartment and food without having to ask for my assistance.

I help him out financially as often as I can and yet still feel guilty that I don’t just cash out my 401K and give him enough for the medical care I know he needs but is avoiding. I struggle with wanting to make his life easier but also protect my own. It’s made retirement scary for me. I want what’s best for both of us and I want him to live to be 100!

You’d think that, working in hospice, I’d be able to talk about death with him but I find that I can’t. The thought of losing him because he refuses to go to a doctor, makes me physically sick. More than anything, I want to be there to take care of him and I’m afraid part of his rationale for going to El Salvador is not only to save money but to keep me from watching his decline. I don’t know which is worse: being there to watch his decline or not being there and allowing him o cope by himself.

Neither choice is ideal but it’s made my view of the benefits of retirement slightly skewed because my future portends loss.

The Obligatory Farewell Party

The funny thing about the last few weeks of employment is that people suddenly come out of the woodwork to make suggestions that are now clearly too late to implement and could’ve been made any time at all within the last thirteen years. I know they mean for them to be helpful hints for me to use while training my replacement but I find myself wondering if a lot of what I’ve accomplished in my career is viewed as very-nice-but-could’ve-been-better. Okay, yes, I’m probably overly sensitive in my last few weeks but I can’t possibly be the only one who’s left a career wondering if anything they did for their length of time in the organization made any difference.

I’m also aware that just as there are many people I’ve been cordial to but won’t particularly miss, I’m quite sure the feeling is mutual. So if they’re not going to miss me, I’d rather not have a party where they feel like they have to show up because someone (whether me or the CEO) might notice their absence.

Retirement cake blunderI found this photo of someone’s cake to be hilarious but it also aptly sums up my aversion to the obligatory retirement party and, presented with a date for my own staff farewell party, I politely declined and said I’d just as soon leave quietly (that in itself will be novel to most of my co-workers).

Every retirement party I’ve attended in the last thirteen years has had the same format and it goes something like this:

  1. An email invitation is sent to most of the company’s employees inviting them to attend the going-away party.
  2. A lot of people who’d rather finish their work, take the time to saunter over.
  3. A conference room is set up with soft drinks, cake and maybe cookies or fruit.
  4. Everyone sits around the conference table and waits for someone to say something.
  5. The retiree is eventually asked about a favorite work story. Everyone listens politely and nods approvingly but really has no connection to the memory.
  6. Another awkward silence ensues until someone asks if anyone has a good story about the retiree.
  7. Having finally run out of pithy comments and stories, the retiree is given a gift. In our case, it has often been a crystal vase with the company logo on it – nice, but I probably won’t want to spend my meager Social Security funds on bouquets of flowers.
  8. A final thank-you-for-your-service is voiced and then a few people grab refreshments and the rest head back to their work stations, having fulfilled their duty.

I think this tradition needs to go. Too many people feel like they have to show up because they know the retiree knows it was sent out to most of the departments and they think they have to attend because she will notice if they’re not there. I believe the people who actually give a damn will stop by and say goodbye. And that’s enough.

You Can Keep Your Advice to Yourself, Thank You

If I thought advice would cease once I turned in my notice at work, I was mistaken. Everybody, it seems, has expert advice on what I should do, where I should go, how I should maximize my Social Security, etc.

Here’s some of the well-meaning advice I’ve gotten.

On my 401K: Leave it alone and let it grow; pull it out and invest in an IRA; cash it out and buy a house so you won’t have a mortgage.

On all the free time: take up a hobby; travel (did they miss the part about my Social Security being about half of what I’m currently making?); get a part-time job (what was the point of retiring?); make a bucket list and then start going down the list; take a gardening class (that works really well on my apartment balcony); spend more time cooking; take up bicycling.

On extending my money: Become a vegetarian; take the bicycle to the store to save gas money; walk to the store; give up Starbucks (not a chance); move to a cheaper apartment (already on my exploration list); get all your doctor/vision/dental appointments done before you leave work so you don’t have to use Medicare; use as little air conditioning as possible (that’s a real winner in Vegas’s 116 degree heat); read only free online books; drop everything except basic cable; pay extra on all credit card payments (I actually agree with that one); cut out the monthly family dinner (not likely since it may be the only socialization I’ll have left).

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I’m kind of tired of it. Ultimately, I’ll make the decisions that fit my personality and lifestyle and, right or wrong, I’ll either be fine or I’ll learn from the mistakes.