I just retired but maybe I should work part-time or volunteer with all my free time? It doesn’t have to be an either or choice. You can do both. You can also choose to do neither. I am officially in year two of retirement and now I can say I have done a little of both.
I’ve been reading about the phases of retirement. When I first became a widow, it helped to know that someone had identified stages in grief. I could label my crazy emotions and know that I was not alone on that journey of life after loss. You can read more about those here: Saying Goodbye: The Five Stages of Grief.
When you google the phases of retirement, you can get results for 3-6 or more phases of retirement. Things like pre-, early, middle and late don’t tell you very much. I did find the Ted Talk given by Dr. Riley Moynes on May 26, 2022 interesting and I could best relate to his thoughts. The question he posed is “How do you squeeze all the juice out of retirement?”
Phase 1 – The Vacation Phase
This is the initial phase where you wake up each day doing whatever you want, whenever you want. There is no longer a set routine. You smile and whisper the word ‘Freedom’ over and over. Life is great. You feel like you have financially made the right choice and travel plans are on the horizon.
I definitely felt this way especially when I spent that first long January renting a cottage near the beach in Florida instead of scraping snow from my car before driving to work 5 days a week. Something about being away in a sunny climate while everyone back home was trudging to work through the snow certainly enhanced the feeling of freedom and vacation life that we all think retirement should be. This goes on for about a year.
Phase 2 – Disillusionment
Dr. Moynes says this is the time when we feel loss and lost. He identifies that we lose the Big 5: routine, identity, relationships, sense of purpose and loss of power. It is also the time when we encounter the 3 Ds: divorce, depression and decline (both mental and physical).
Oh no! This phase even brings a feeling of fear and anxiety.
I am not sure I have had this phase and nor do I plan to. I am pretty sure I jumped right into phase 3 but I do know that this is a valid stage. For my dad, after he retired from teaching, he engaged in stamp collecting and taught part-time at the community college but missed having a sense of purpose with work. He applied to teach Chemistry in a private high school and found this rewarding. The extra income on top of his pension was a bonus as well.
Some people feel a sense of loss or loneliness especially if their job was a place that brought happiness and sense of purpose. Rather than letting those negative feelings take over, this is the time to enter phase 3.
Phase 3 – Trial and Error
“How do we make life meaningful again?” is the question at this phase.
Through trial and error we find what we love to do and do well. This is the time to try out different activities. Do you want to be on a board to help make decisions? Try a job in a field you were always curious about? Maybe write your memoir!
This is the time to experiment with different activities so that you do not slip back into phase 2, depression.
Trying new things has been my motto since I became a widow and I have continued with that attitude into retirement. In the early months, I definitely wondered about working again. Feeling too young to give it all up, I considered working part time as a teacher or subbing.
Living still in New York, I put my name on the substitute teacher list and asked only to sub in my old school. Sure enough I got the phone call.
They needed me.
I would probably have continued to sub in the school where I taught for 20 years, except that I moved.
That is one way to stay connected to others and avoid losing all of the Big 5 – the relationships and identity is still there. You can validate a sense of purpose and a routine but it’s probably not the same. So you either stick with it or try something else.
I rode horses in high school so it had been a while but when I saw a job as a guide to swim with horses at the beach in Florida, I jumped right in. In the water that is! I got myself a wetsuit for the winter months and beach shoes. I loved that job assisting people on their guided tour in the Palma del Sol bay swimming and riding horses. I loved working with the little kids on a big horse for first time having the thrill of their life. So much joy and fun in the sun.
Feeling the need to learn something new, I signed up to take a 200 hour teacher yoga training class with a group of fellow yogis over the age of 50. We met once a week and learned the poses of yoga along with anatomy and philosophy in a wooded, tropical retreat only 10 minutes from my house. Upon graduation, I started to give private yoga lessons to young people on request. I am gaining so much from learning, doing and teaching yoga so I am sure that will continue into the future.
Some people suggest writing a memoir and wouldn’t you know I did that too. I found a good website that helped make the commitment to write your story part of your daily routine. Finding someone to read and edit my book was challenging. I personally had a story I felt I needed to tell and have been thrilled that so many people have read my book and given such positive feedback.
I am continuing to experiment with different activities so I feel like this is my phase. I love to travel and have another big trip on the horizon. I enjoy exploring my new state and spending time with family and friends visiting different places. Last year I met a group of women who meet together for beach walks, dancing, cards, book clubs, lunches and movies. I have met some nice people and continue to meet weekly with groups as part of my new routine.
This year, I am focusing more on involving myself in my community and neighborhood. Pete and I enjoy using our golf cart on our neighborhood course and play 9 holes. We took lessons last year and have fun being outside together and while our game may not be improving, I do now have several cute golf outfits to choose from when we get a tee time.
Joining the Pickleholics, a beginner group who play pickleball in our community, has been fun and a way to spread out to connect with other groups. Someone asked if I’d like to join a weekly Bocce ball group so I said yes. Then a new friend from Bocce ball invited me to play mahjongg one day. At mahjongg they asked me about my book and all bought a copy and then invited me their book club meeting. I joined a book club here and several of our members read my book and offered me such supportive feedback. You just have to keep getting out there.
I met a several energetic ladies at the BUNCO group and got invited to do line dancing lessons on Friday afternoons which has turned into so much fun. I even donned my cowboy boots when my good friend from up north was visiting and we went to the local bar that offers line dancing lessons. Wow, can those people dance!
Of course I dabbled in volunteering as well. We have an animal rescue shelter just a few miles away. Pete and I went through the training and have gone out to walk the dogs a few times. It’s a little sketchy walking them around the grassy lake (no sidewalks) which occasionally gets alligator visitors but they do like to have people come out and play with them.
The local chapter of Rotary club has an amazing program where volunteers read a book once a month to a classroom and /or read to one kindergarten student once a week. I chose to commit to once a month reading to a third grade classroom in an underprivileged school. It is something that I have really enjoyed doing and the kids seem to look forward to my visits. The Rotary club even provides brand new books for each child in every class that we visit.
Last week the Rotary club invited volunteers who visit the 10 schools and the 162 classrooms in the Manatee County school district for a luncheon at the country club. We had lunch with the principals and superintendent and were entertained by a select school choir. I was one of about 200 participants and it was exciting to hear of the plans to expand the volunteer program which focuses on reading with young children in schools. Always a favorite activity for me.
To read more about volunteering with the Books for Kids program, click here: BOOKS FOR KIDS
Phase 4 – Reinvent and Rewire
Just in case you are exhausted reading about my trial and error period, don’t worry: there is one more. Reinvention.
So you have tried all types of different activities and now, if you are lucky, you get to the part where not everyone will get to – Happiness.
This is where you figure out what your purpose is – or maybe your mission. You find something to do that brings you joy. Hopefully you had fun trying to find your passion.
You may find yourself settled into your new routine and lifestyle. You are doing things you love and that make you feel fulfilled. Each day you wake up excited to be enjoying your life with your new sense of purpose and identity.
Of course, this last phases is best embraced assuming you have kept financially, physically and mentally stable. Just fair warning that as we age, we are more susceptible to mishaps with our health, so spending time each day exercising, eating healthy foods and taking care of yourself should be a priority. If you do, then just chill out and enjoy this well deserved time of retirement. I know I am!