I am finally becoming adjusted to one of the most difficult periods of my life. While the experts provide advice for dealing with life changing events like deaths, marriages, children, job loss and divorce, comparatively little attention is paid to retirement.
The first problem for me was the difficulty of the transition from being useful and playing an essential role in an enterprise, to being essentially useless – going from having and exercising authority to having none, going from giving advice and guidance when it is sought, to realizing that they are no longer even solicited. There is certainly emotional and psychological satisfaction in feeling useful and this is obviously lost in retirement.
Another aspect of retirement with which I am still having difficulty, is that the education and training that took a professional lifetime of money, energy and time to accumulate and that had significant professional value either in the office or on the resume, have overnight lost all of their value. What good now are my hard-won doctorate, my countless professional trainings and the extensive professional reading? Where that education and training were extremely valuable in the work that I did, in retirement they have lost almost all of their value and for the most part lie dormant and dying in the depths of my mind.
Some of the evidence of this accumulation of education and skills were the hundreds of files of specially chosen professional journal articles pertinent to my professional interests and the massive professional library I had collected over the years. Finally throwing away all these precious files and giving away all of the books were traumatic actions that, while making life simpler, made me feel bereft of the comfort and support these documents and books had given me during my professional life. These documents were the armor and weapons for my professional roles and I initially felt weak, exposed and vulnerable when I suddenly did not have them.
Also the realization that all of the valuable experience accumulated over the years in different schools, school districts and international locations and that always served me well when tackling new challenges in a new location, was suddenly without value or utility, was difficult to accept. I had learned a great deal from having to adjust to new forms and varieties of professional challenges and suddenly, this wealth of experience was also worthless.
I am one person that has always enjoyed routines: the regular schedule for sleep, for meals, for showering, dressing, driving to work, the first cup of coffee in the office, the regularly scheduled meetings and the weekend schedule for home maintenance or shopping chores. That scheduled routine life has now been lost amid the utterly random “spontaneity” of retirement activities and duties. Maybe I will mow the grass today; perhaps I will start painting that room; I think I will take the car down for an oil change this morning; maybe I will start that book that I have always wanted to read. And the life maintenance duties which used to be completed quickly and efficiently as part of a day’s or weekend’s schedule now stretch out interminably and seem to take forever. However, I have managed to retain two valuable features of my daily routine: my two cups of delicious coffee in early morning while I read the Times and do some writing, and my relaxing Scotch on the rocks late every afternoon while I catch up on the day’s events on my laptop.
Retirement has been a negative experience in yet another way. Work did not allow the luxury of focusing on the problems of aging, because of the more immediate problems presented by the work itself. It is only after retirement that I have become acutely aware of my slowly deteriorating body because now I unfortunately have the time to think and fret about it.
Finally, while I will eventually accept and deal with most of the concerns outlined above, the most surprising and pernicious aspect of retirement, and one that I can never accommodate, is the rapid passage of time. In the past I noticed that in times of idleness and relaxation, time really slowed down. And in my youth, time couldn’t pass fast enough, so eager was I to enter the next stage of personal or career development. But now when I want time to slow down, it instead speeds up. I read recently that this phenomenon is felt by most people in later stages of life and the reason for it seems to be that our brains are not learning much of anything new – surprisingly it’s the learning that seems to slow time, explaining why time seemed to drag when as young people, learning and new experiences defined life itself. But I have found that now, even when reading new books, going to new places, writing about new subjects, all of which seem to be learning experiences, time has not slowed at all, but has continued its acceleration. What? It’s Wednesday already? It’s Friday? I can’t believe it! Where does the time go?
In recent months I have become better adjusted to retirement and have come to better appreciate the opportunity to pursue interesting activities (like writing this) for which I never found time while working. And maybe finally doing what I want when I want does have value. But I still view the initial stages of retirement as extremely difficult – serious emotional trauma about lost value and utility and a sudden awareness of a losing struggle with time and age. And despite retirement’s many advantages I can’t see these feelings completely diminishing anytime soon.