KAMLOOPS — Retirement is hard work.
Five years ago I wrote a column on my first day of official retirement. I reflected on what it was like not going to work that day, attending to all the details of putting out a daily newspaper.
Back then, I wasn’t sure what to expect from retirement but I wasn’t worried. I had a lot of other things on the go, things that would more than fill up my day.
That’s not the way you should think about retirement, of course — finding things to fill up your day. It should be about finally being able to do what you want.
The problem is, when your work is also your passion and your hobby, it’s not so easy to focus entirely on your golf game, or the garden, or baking a perfect loaf of bread.
I do none of that, by the way, and do few of the other things I declared I would start doing, either — like practicing the guitar, getting fit, finishing the house and writing a novel.
I have a retired friend who travels a lot. Every time he gets back in town, he asks me if I’ve gone anywhere. It doesn’t count if it’s less than a couple thousand miles away.
He becomes very concerned when I tell him I haven’t had time to travel. In his mind, one must travel or there’s something really wrong with you.
That’s because he thinks he’s figured out what retirement is supposed to be about. And that’s travel.
My friend doesn’t know it, but he’s still an RCMP officer and always will be. He wears a ball cap with “Maintiens le droit” on it. And boots and a sweater with an RCMP logo. In winter, he wears a muskrat hat.
He is still, in his heart, who he was before, except on a cruise ship.
When you retire, you lose identity along with your business cards. When people ask you what you do, they don’t mean, what do you do in your spare time? They mean, what is your job? Where do you work?
That’s who you are. When you say, “I’m retired,” it means nothing.
It’s easy to lose your sense of direction when you retire. The “golden years” sound good in the brochures, but for many it’s just something dreamed up in a public-relations office.
Then, of course, there are the financial challenges, because we didn’t save enough. The day after you retire, you can’t buy everything you want anymore. You have to start keeping receipts, and budgets.
But the big reason so many people are un-retiring is that thing about needing to work. People can’t not work. We’re wired to work. We don’t set the alarm clock for 6 a.m. so we can get up and do scrapbooking. What gets us going in the morning is our need to be productive; we need to report for work. (And, by the way, I read somewhere the other day the once-popular work-from-home trend is dying out as people get tired of spending all day at a desk by themselves.)
It’s not about having too much time on your hands, or being able to fill that time. It’s about the value of how you’re putting in the time. Work is what gives us value. Without it, we get bored, even depressed. Taking the dog for a walk every morning or tinkering with our vintage car, or mowing the grass are all fine things to do — after work and on weekends.
I’ve never understood journalists who can stop writing, or politicians who can stop talking. Some can, but they’re probably the ones who soon get divorced (post-retirement divorces are soaring; they call it “gray divorce”) or inflate the suicide rate (suicide rates are highest for men 75 and older).
When I was in my 40s and 50s, I had a recurring nightmare — the newspaper shut down and I was out of work. Then I started getting used to the idea. When I hit 68, I still loved my job but figured it was time to move onto the next phase.
The experts talk about the importance of work-life balance but after a few months of balance I discovered I was happiest with less balance and more work.
I quickly found that doing what I want mostly involves what I was already doing. I’m luckier than most in that I can keep doing it.
So here I am, five years from retirement day, happily retired, and happily working.