Though retirement is stereotyped as a geezer Garden of Eden furnished with recliners and a flat screen TV, it can be tough. You’d never know it, though, from the ads. You’ve seen them—beautiful Botoxed models with silver hair, riding bikes on a country lane or sitting in seaside bath tubs waiting for the moment to be right.
In reality, retirement is no chocolate truffle. It’s a mixed bag. Some people love it, some hate it and some just struggle, trying to understand who they are besides unemployed and what they should do now since they are finally in charge.
Sounds good—being in charge of your life, but if you’ve invested total energy in a job now gone and in a family now departed, facing the future is scary. What will you do with yourself? Who will you become? The silly old person of the stereotypes? A super senior who skydives and makes the news? A grandpa who babysits and loves it because he missed out on his own kids’ childhoods? (Too busy earning a living.)
Maybe a grandma who starts a new business? Or someone who never retires—who works as a consultant or at a part-time job to make money or to feel useful? (The biggest poverty of the later years may be the lack, not of money, but of meaning.)
How to get a grip
First, go easy on yourself. You don’t have to get the new you in place tomorrow. A good first thing to do: practice some personal archeology. That means digging out the interests you used to have. Did you always want to raise orchids, sing in a choir, be an artist, take photos like Ansel, help abused animals?
You may reply it’s too late for all that and I will reply it’s only too late if you don’t start now. Actually, that’s the title of a book by Barbara Sher—It’s Only Too Late If You Don’t Start Now: How To Create Your Second Life At Any Age. Sher is a genius at getting people off the dime, out of their fear freezes and into new lives that fit. Certainly her books helped me go back to school in my sixties and get an MA in Gerontology, the study of older people. So any Sher book on Amazon would be number two on my get-going list.
Third: Find a retirement buddy, someone who struggles with the same issues. This could be your mate, a former co-worker or a neighbor. It helps to know you are not alone. Exchanging ideas may result in a new perspective on retirement issues. Sometimes others can see you better than you can and might share what things they think you could do and enjoy.
Fourth: Test out some ideas with classes. Take classes in your interests at community colleges or adult ed classes in your area. Also look online. I got my degree from USC totally online. If you don’t care about credit—you just want the subject matter—-take free online university courses.
A major wakeup call for the brain
Free online courses from major schools are a treasure chest of ideas and information and a good way to get your feet wet in any subject. For a list of high-quality courses, go to http://tinyurl.com/2xr7sd.
MIT excels at this, and not just in science, but In the humanities with a wide offering of music courses. Carnegie Mellon is a leader online with many science courses. Tufts has wide offerings and excels in nutrition and medicine, both human and veterinary. UC Berkeley is not to be outdone. I had to stop writing this column just to listen to a computer class. All the links to these universities are at the website above.
Fifth: Don’t wait for the perfect thing to magically come your way. It takes effort and bravery to go down unknown paths. To his credit, Cranky Pants ventured forth to fall in a river after a fish, to suffer through golf lessons in the heat of an LA summer and to spin out on a race track going over 100 mph. He decided who he was not: a fisherman, Tiger Woods or Sterling Moss. He found civil grand jury work instead—interesting and done on cool dry land at zero mph.
So, again, we salute him and others who get out there in retirement as test pilots of their own lives. Fly on.
Mel Walsh is a columnist, blogger, gerontologist and author of HOT GRANNY, Chronicle Books. She lives in Carmel CA with Cranky Pants.