Retirement is always a journey, not a destination

When I chose to retire several years ago, I ended a 25-year career in the same institution, but I was not given the traditional gold watch.
What I was given, instead, was all the time in the world and very little money.
In the beginning, I never meant to retire. Forced retirement was no longer legal, and I meant to challenge the system and work into my 70s. But in my very early 60s, a restructuring of the institution impacted my job and I instinctively knew the time to leave was now.
I was immediately dubbed “retired.” And also unemployable.
Luckily, I had planned ahead and knew this was a wonderful opportunity to follow my lifetime dream. Instead of being a harried public relations writer, I could now write in the daylight or the moonlight, with the sunrise or the sunset, with snow on the ground or apple blossoms in the background.
And I could have a cup of coffee by the waterfall whenever I wanted to.
Having a passion is one of the requirements of a successful retirement, says gerontologist Joel Savishinsky in his book, “Breaking the Watch: The Meanings of Retirement in America.”
This book follows the retirement of 26 people and gleans wisdom from their stories.
Savishinsky says retirement is a time of contrasts. “It evokes ideas of freedom and frailty, loss and opportunity. . . . For some, retirement is the promise to fulfill dreams deferred, for others the face of dread.”
At 60, we can anticipate spending from one-quarter to one-third of our lives as retirees. For all of us, the fear of frailty and the sense of loss are real experiences. And it all begins with that fabled “gold watch.”
One of Savishinsky’s interviewees voiced the fear, “It’s what doesn’t change and won’t go away. It’s death and taxes.” In other words, mortality and money are the obsession of most retirees.
Asked what advice they would give to younger people, virtually all of Savishinsky’s interviewees said to save and invest for retirement.
One said, “Begin with your first job. Live below your means.” And another suggested, “If you want to have the time of your life in what’s left of your life, you’d better be able to pay for it.”
The second piece of advice was to take care of your health. Walk, swim, eat a healthy diet, garden, golf, and hike. No one denies the inevitable changes in the aging body, but you can lessen the effects of arthritis, diabetes, heart problems, creaky joints, depression, and hypertension by your behaviours.
And whatever you do, don’t let retirement define you. You need to take control of the last third of life just as you took charge of the previous two-thirds. Retirement is an unfolding process, lived one day at a time.
The key is to delve passionately into your retirement experience. What did you always want to do? Now is the opportunity to follow your dream, to pursue new interests, or to volunteer and make a difference in the world.
One of Savishinsky’s subjects said, “I went off camping for three weeks after I retired. I took a pile of novels, worked through my insecurities, the nostalgia, the blues, doubts, mourning for people. I saw that happiness was a route, not a destination.”
And like life itself, retirement is always a journey, not a destination.
So remember Savishinsky’s advice: save and invest, take care of your health, and find a passion. Then enjoy the journey.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist.

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