Or perhaps I should say “evening 1.” After working full-time for decades, I left work at the end of the afternoon for the last time. I have felt strange for days and I anticipate feeling equally strange tomorrow morning when I wake to others preparing to go to work and I have the entire day ahead of me with nowhere I have to go.
Retirement is an odd concept. For centuries, people worked until they were unable to do so, at which point their families (nuclear or extended) took care of them until they died, which was generally not too long after they were unable to continue working.
The Atlantic offers an interesting online article called “How Retirement Was Invented.” Apparently, in 1881, “Otto von Bismarck, the conservative minister president of Prussia, presented a radical idea to the Reichstag: government-run financial support for older members of society,” i.e., retirement. By 1889, the German government created a retirement system, which provided for citizens over the age of 70—if they lived that long. The U.S. began offering pensions about the same time and the concept of retirement with a pension has evolved from then. Today, people fear that the system will break and that pensions will not be available to our next generations. But I am one of the “lucky” ones—an early baby-boomer with a pension.
I put the word “lucky” in quotes because there are a number of factors that make retirement lucky or not. A primary consideration is health: how long I’ll live and what state I’ll be in as I age. If I’m lucky, I’ll have some years of health and energy. Another consideration is the length of my life and what I choose to do with the time I have left. The length of my life is largely out of my control (eat right, exercise is mine, but genetics?). What I choose to do is the part I control.
The key to my time now is that it’s “unstructured.” That means I can easily fritter it away. How easy it will be to put off to tomorrow what I don’t feel “motivated” to do today. I don’t know if that will happen to me, but, prior to today, my last day, I prepared a schedule for myself to try to forestall that. I may not stick to it every day and it will require tweaking as I identify more things I want to do, but I did it to forestall frittering. I don’t want to get five years into retirement, look back, and see that I’ve not made a difference in some way, accomplished something.
For retirement is not a matter of retiring to my bed or my house and putzing around. Retirement is an opportunity to focus on activities and goals I want to achieve—spend time with my grandson (when I can), travel, write, quilt, sing, play the piano, improve my French—and a hundred other things. I won’t achieve them all, but I will achieve some of them and enrich this period of my life. For I am not really retiring. I’m transitioning to a new period of accomplishment. It’s just that, in most cases, I won’t be paid and I will be the driving force that makes them happen.