On Retirement

I recently closed my 40+ years practice of psychological counseling. As I approached that landmark, I found that I had to apply to myself advice I’d offered to many others over the years: “Don’t just think about what you are moving away from. Think about what you are moving towards.” Easier said than done.

Like many people in my age group, work was a major part of my identity. I grew up in a culture in which work was a part of life. Thus, I had my first job when I was 14. I worked for several summers as a mailman. I worked summers in factories. In my family there was never pressure to work. It was just part of the progression of life.

That work mentality gave rise to a tendency to judge myself if I felt I wasn’t being productive. The Buddhists say that, when one meditates, one eventually confronts one’s compulsion. Thus, when I would attempt traditional meditation, I would invariably be faced by thoughts such as “You should be doing something more productive. Get back to work!”

I did not have to retire. I am blessed with good health and have most of my mental marbles. That in many ways was a factor in my decision. I wanted to walk away from my work on my terms. I recalled an episode from MASH in which Colonel Potter fears that he has lost his ability as a surgeon and should retire. Sidney the psychiatrist advises him to not base such a decision on fear. I didn’t want to wait until I felt I could no longer do the work.

Retirement also opened the door on a number of activities that had been limited by work. These included my writing as well as my regular participation in a 12-Step support group. However, the compulsion to be productive has not simply vanished.

Spiritually, too, there has been a challenge. My work has a therapist may at times have been stressful but it also offered a steady stream of activity that had great meaning for me. That need to find meaning in my life is still strong.

Similarly, my work facilitated whatever social contact I needed. Retirement presented me with a challenge to meet social needs in other ways. Given that my reputation in the El Paso professional community was, in part, that I am reclusive, the easy path, not a healthy one, would be total withdrawal.

The other major spiritual challenge presented by retirement is fear. I certainly struggle with a fear of losing financial security. I fear the possibility of deteriorating health or failing mental abilities. I fear becoming dependent on loved ones. I fear becoming depressed as my father did after his retirement. The best that I can do in facing those fears is to focus on that over which I have control.

I have also come to see that my retirement has been an adjustment for my wife and children. Thankfully I am blessed with a solid marital relationship but, for over 40 years, my wife would go about her business each day with she and I reconnecting when I cam home usually after 7 PM. My children, too, have understood the importance of work in my life and so, from a distance, are watching as we adjust.

I have had to take a hard look at myself. I knew I would need some structure to my days, in large part because that was what I was used to. As a recovering addict, I had to remind myself how dangerous boredom can be. I have had to face the likelihood that I did not manage the stress of my work as well as I thought I had been. That has been humbling.

I have known too many people who found themselves bored and lonely in retirement. As one retired executive told me, “I feel like I’m just sitting around waiting to die.”

The challenge for me and for all who retire willingly or unwillingly is summed up by Gandalf:

Reflection: If you are retired, what learnings can you share from that journey.

About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
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6 Responses to On Retirement

  1. Kathy McGrane says:

    Thank you for all you have done for so many! I look forward to hearing how things evolve for you!

  2. oddhome1 says:

    What a beautiful reflection. Thank you for sharing this. Indeed getting off of the hamster wheel, as we’ve discussed, is an interesting journey.

  3. Chas Thomas says:

    I retired from the Electrical Wholesale business on December 31, 2013. I had many associates tell me I would miss working and would want to come back. I just smiled…I find myself busier now than when I was “working.” I’ve been a musician all my life and now I have the time really immerse myself in my music. In addition, there’s always something to do around the house and my wife and have been able to travel some as she’s retired al well.
    Thank you, Richard for your many insightful and sometimes challenging articles. I do hope you will continue them!

  4. Michele says:

    Oh you are at a wonderful, albeit scary, precipice Rich. Like you, my work was my identity. My father taught me my work ethic that work was more important than anything including family events. His mantra was “When I quit working I start dying.”. I told him that was a lousy retirement plan. LOL In light of these “teachings”, I was terrified to retire. In God’s providence, He didn’t make it hard for me to make the decision to retire last December as my company gave me an ultimatum I couldn’t refuse. So I stepped off the precipice in to the great unknown. And I’m having fun! I don’t want to allow myself time to get bored (for some of the same reasons you mention) so I have been getting more involved in church and taking classes to keep learning new things. In the now 6 months since I’ve retired: started teaching a ladies Bible Study at church, lead a GriefShare ministry with my husband, raising 4 chickens I hatched after taking a Chicks101 class and have taken other Homesteading classes to include: Beekeeping, Tinctures, Moringa trees, Welding and will take a Permaculture class this Saturday. I think continuing to learn new things is key to keeping our mind and spirit healthy. God bless you my friend and keep you as you embark on your new adventures. <3

  5. Sherry Susan Lowell Lewis says:

    Hi, Rich! First of all, congratulations on your retirement! It is a leap, mentally and physically. I find my Circadian rhythm has changed; at first–not so much nowadays–I would wake up at 3 AM, be awake, watch TV (Check it out some time–the news is so different!) and then go back to sleep, still waking at my usual early-bird 5:30. I semi-retired in 2018 from UTEP. Bless my then-department chair! She begged me not to quit entirely, but to stay on, teaching. I find that decision has helped me make the transition, and added some cash to the wallet. I got very lucky and locked my teaching schedule in to Tuesdays and Thursdays, done by 2. This means I enjoy a 4 day weekend, every weekend! Wednesdays allow me to rest, if that’s what I need.
    Now the dark side is I do get low. Every time my blood pressure rises (not common) or my blood sugar rises (more common), I begin to worry. Every birthday I wonder if I’ll see the next. It hasn’t gotten a strong hold on me, but it still shows up. At this point, I’ve outlived both of my parent’s ages. Then I have to take stock and that helps. Both of them smoked. I quit almost 45 years ago. Mom had heart disease and I’m still fine. Dad got lung cancer and I’m not probably in the running for that. Cancer and heart disease seem to be the reoccurring illness themes, and so far, I’ve dodged them. So I think I still have time. I have four grandchildren whom I adore and see often. i lost my husband 21 years ago, next month. That makes it harder. You are lucky to have your wife, who I’ve known for so long–since sometime in the 70’s!! I’ve directed you in a play (Harvey–what a hoot!). I mention those relationships because I know you can and will thrive in retirement! It’s no longer a situation where you go sit in a rocking chair and wait for it to stop rocking. Bless you and your amazing family and enjoy a “Second Life!”

  6. Sherry Susan Lowell Lewis says:

    Whatever else you decide to change or create about your life, please, keep blogging!

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