Mental Clock

I’m not sure why it took 66 years and 3 months of retirement to figure out that something I’ve read about for years but never applied to myself is not only true but suddenly blatantly obvious. I’ve discovered that not only is it smart to take breaks now and again from tasks but in order to be productive, I need to schedule those breaks into my day in solid, non-negotiable blocks of time.  If I don’t, I procrastinate about projects that are going to require chunks of time and lots of concentration. I either end up refusing to work on them, wasting time with useless errands or distractions that lead to frustration at my own laziness, or forcing myself to sit in the chair and work on them until I’m so exhausted that I’m making mistakes (that I then use as my justification for procrastinating the next time around).

I’m not sure why I never noticed exactly how vital breaks are to my ability to complete my tasks. Maybe while I was still working, I moved from project to project to keep things fresh without being consciously aware that I was working “brain breaks” into my day or maybe I took breaks to chat with co-workers and that was enough to let a part of the working brain recoup. Who knows?

In any case, it finally occurred to me that I don’t have to plop my butt down in the chair and stay glued to it until I’m finished. I don’t even have to complete things the same day. What a concept. I found that if I allow myself an hour and a half (two if I want to push it) to work on a gnarly task, then not only change what I’m working on but also the environment I’m in, I’m capable of returning refreshed and approach the task with a whole new attitude. I complete things twice as fast and with less errors. I’m slowly developing a method that works really well for me: spend an hour and a half working on a major project, leave the house and go to the gym, head to Starbucks and work on a different project – editing an article for the aromatherapy journal, reading a magazine, creating webinars for my online series, return home and tackle that initial project for a bit more, take another break to watch some television and do some knitting, or do prep work for a new recipe, then circle around one last time to that first task. I’ve amazed myself at not only how well that works but also how much fresher I feel at the end of the day.

As I said, I don’t know why it took me so long to learn this but I’m pleased as punch (Southern expression) that I have.

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Retirement Mental Shift

person-1262046_1280Retirement is a tricky thing mentally. It’s been three months now but I still find that my first reaction to not finishing everything on my day’s to-do list is a sense of panic. Running out of time. Hurry, hurry! But then it kicks in that no, I don’t have to rush and I don’t even have to get everything done the same day. Oddly, I always have to tell myself this little piece of news several times before my mind moves from frantic to relaxed. One day, I’ll laugh it all off and instead take a snooze in the park.

Really the only thing I adjusted to immediately was not setting an alarm, and sleeping until the sky starts to lighten up is pure bliss. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I have two cats who make it very clear that it’s breakfast time but I feel a sense of satisfaction every single morning when I wake up without an alarm clock and it’s not dark outside. I hated getting up in the dark.

The thing I worried about the most has apparently been banished from my subconscious because I never think about it any more – being bored. I’m easily as busy as when I was working. The difference is that I don’t have to look like I’m busy every minute of the day and for 8 hours straight. I can sit back and relax whenever the mood strikes. When I’ve had enough of computer work, I go up to my local   coffee and a bookStarbucks, grab a coffee and either read a book or magazine, or turn my mind to the development of a different project. It’s a great break and helps me come home refreshed and ready for round two. So far, I’m loving retirement and wishing I could’ve afforded to do it years ago.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Desperate for Conversation

The closer I get to retirement, the more nervous I find myself and that surprises me because I’m usually pretty good with change. This one though — well this one is a huge change that will impact my life, for good or bad, until I die. That’s worth getting nervous about, right?

Up until a week or so ago, I was getting excited about the prospect of doing whatever I want, whenever I want – sleeping late with no alarm; eating better because when I have the time to prepare and cook, I like it because it doesn’t feel so much like working after work; giving my house a thorough cleaning at a leisurely pace; spending as much or as little time as I deem fit on my novel; upgrading my company, Scentsibility and putting in some quality marketing time; sitting out on my balcony at odd hours and watching the wildlife and the clouds; napping in the afternoons; etc.

But now? There’s a man who comes into the Starbucks I frequent who’s retired and he’s the garrulous type who’s looking for anyone that glances in his direction. Aaaaand he’s off. I find myself trying not to catch his eye as he sits eating his oatmeal, eyeing likely suspects in his vicinity. Is that going to be me one of these days? Can’t you just see my seventy or eighty-something shriveled face sidling up to a young, twenty-something in line and saying, “My aren’t those adorable jeans. Did you buy them around here?” How far do you think that’ll get me?

Elderly woman sadly looking out the window, a black-and-white phSo, that’s what got me got me to worrying about my retirement instead of looking forward to it. I took stock of how many people I’d be likely to talk to on a daily basis once my usual work buddies are gone. Um, maybe two. That scares me a little. I already talk to my cats but I don’t think that qualifies. I don’t fancy being the sad old lady who sits in the house and stares out the window all day.

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Then there was the little old man in Albertson’s who stood off to the side staring at me as I checked out the special on guacamole. I eventually decided not to buy it and meandered off. Very shortly, I heard, “Excuse me.” I turned to see the little old man following me over to the produce section. He wanted to know why I hadn’t gotten the guacamole. My instant impression was that he didn’t give a hoot why I hadn’t bought the guacamole; he just wanted to talk to someone. So I stopped. I told him it didn’t seem to have enough stuff in. He said, “What stuff? Guacamole is just guacamole.” I assured him they were all different and I actually liked to make my own with avocado, jalapeno, tomato, onion, cilantro and lime juice. He thought that over, nodded and sauntered back toward the display.

See, that could be me in a year or two – randomly stopping people in the grocery store just to hear a human voice. That scares me. I can hear you saying, “So get out and do something.” I’ve thought about that, too. I’m not accustomed to sitting around much. I’m very active (always have been) and typically have a to-do list a mile long of things I want to do and places I want to go. But then there’s the retirement budget. It’s going to be a game changer with a whole new set of rules (none of which I’ll know in advance). I doubt that I’ll have enough money for travel or to spend on trivial keep-myself-busy projects. Where does that leave me?

I’m still aiming for optimism but I find myself vacillating between ultra excited and secretly terrified.

 

The Dreaded Budget

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This picture shows exactly how I feel about the budget I just drew up – about to be buried under it. You’d think I’d have tackled this subject a long time ago. You’d be wrong. It’s sort of like going to the doctor when you suspect you might have a problem but you feel pretty good. You put it off, telling yourself you couldn’t possibly have something wrong when you feel good. But deep down inside, you know the truth. It’s a not so simple matter of buckling down and facing it.

So I found an Excel spreadsheet that lets me input all my income once I retire, any savings and then list every expense. I was relentless, coming back to it several days in a row with all the little things I tend to forget – and, of course, they’re the ones that add a bazillion dollars to the total. I put in things like the trash bags I order because they fit the particular brand and shape of the garbage can in my kitchen; my weekend Starbucks coffees and treats; my annual car registration (easy to forget when you’re inputting monthly expenses); my company’s annual fee; the donation to Women For Women International; Sirius XM in my car so I can listen to CNN or Broadway showtunes as the mood strikes me; birthday gifts for family and friends; and family dinners.

I anticipated that my current expenses would probably exceed my Social Security income by about $500-$750. Much to my horror, my expenses exceed my income by $1,340. Although I had banked on (pun intended) expanding the scope of my outside company to bring in some extra income, I imagine it would take me years to be able to cover that differential. To tell the truth, it’s sort of horrifying.

Today, I sat and made a first-round attempt at figuring out what expenses I could live without and which ones could easily be cut back. Needless to say, “easily” was the operative word. I managed to see an extra savings of $200 a month. The whole thing would be laughable if not for the fact that it’s a looming reality.

Yes, I realize I can get a part-time job but that sort of defeats the purpose of retirement, doesn’t it? And there’s always that little matter of businesses being loathe to employ anyone over the age of about 40 (that might be a generous figure).

My only possible avenue is through my company, I think. I recently listened in on a webinar about the use of CBD in products. Since I’m a Registered Aromatherapist, the idea of creating CBD tinctures and lotions for my personal company is tantalizing. I discarded the idea about a year ago because of the fact that the DEA had declared CBD a Class I drug. However, word has it that the Farming Act of 2018, which excludes CBD from the list, just passed last month. If that’s true, I see a double benefit. I can use them for my own chronic health issues and perhaps the bridge some of the gap in my budget.

CBD seniors

Sabotage the Butterfly

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“Dying at your desk is not a retirement plan.” Thomas Heath- Washington Post

Maybe not, but I know many people my age who, as much as they say they want the easy life of no alarm clock and not answering to anyone any more, still manage to remain in the job year after year after year. “Retirement” is a wonderful concept until you sit down and really think about all that it involves, both the known and, more important, the scary unknown. Which side occupies your every waking hour? How long can you hold out and avoid the metamorphosis to retiree and major life change?

I have a friend who worked at a small firm for almost twenty years. When the owner decided to cut costs, he first fired her and then offered to hire her back for less money, less hours and less benefits. I was mystified as to why she’d even contemplate the offer but she took it. As it turns out, the thought of change was (and is) scarier to her than the horrific circumstances she was already in. She opted for the known over the unknown.

I have been through many career incarnations and always figure that even if the new job turns out to be terrible, it’s not likely to be worse than the one I’m leaving. And if it is, I’ll have some time to find something else. Yes, you sacrifice seniority and vacation time when you do that but you salvage your peace of mind. That always won out for me. My friend told me once that every time I moved on to a new job, the thought of it made her a little sick.

But then we get to retirement – THE REALLY BIG CHANGE.  I can sit back and steadfastly refuse to change or I can hope I become the butterfly. I’m at the stage where I sort of look forward to it on the one hand, and sort of worry about it on the other. Today, looking forward is winning. I hope it stays that way as the reality looms closer.

Another concern – probably the main concern – is money. In my years as a dancer, we didn’t have things like retirement plans and I spent every dime I made. By the time I focused on the fact that I was aging and needed to start thinking about saving, it was pretty late in my working life. So I’ve managed to pull it together somewhat, but not comfortably. Even so, it’s hard to alter routines and lifelong habits in order to squirrel away enough money to live comfortably. I read a quote by a retiree named Fritz Gilbert who said, “Not making a decision is still making a decision. Spend the money to buy that ‘thing’ and you’ve made a decision to work longer.” I guess that all depends on what that “thing” is. If you’re looking at a boat or new living room furniture then yes, you’ll probably sabotage an early retirement.  But my “things” are smaller – mostly Starbucks coffee on the weekends and a couple of magazine subscriptions. I think I can probably swing it. Nevertheless, retirement is looming and I’m keeping my eye on the butterfly and hoping to make it a colorful one.