February 18, 2016

6 things I Learned in My First Month of Retirement (That I Should have Learned a Long Time Ago).



I never thought this day would come!

After working for 43 years, it was hard to imagine what not working would look like. And having had three jobs for the last 20 of those years meant I was expecting to find a huge void in my life. But the one thing I was sure of is that I wasn’t “going fishing” as all of my colleagues thought.

So I jumped in, cold turkey—what choice did I have?  I learned so much in my first month, that I wanted to share.

1. Time Slips Away Easily

One of the first things that started happening to me was I kept forgetting to wear my watch. I remember a few days pre-retirement when I would forget to wear it and how stressful and distracting it was not to have it. This time, I just shrugged it off—I mean, who needs a watch when you’re retired?

Not wearing one does give me a sense of freedom, I must admit, but it also contained an important lesson for me. I don’t need the watch, but I do need to watch my time. If I’m not aware generally of the time I am spending on a task or an errand, I lose the entire day. It can slip away so quickly. So while I’m not wearing the watch most of the time now, I still have to manage my time. Who knew time could be so fleeting when I thought I would have so much of it?

2. Multi-tasking Really Doesn’t Work

It turns out, I’m as much of a multi-tasker in retirement as I was in my career life. Week one had me writing lists—of places to visit, articles to write, things to do—it was a daunting list and it scattered my focus. I never was a person that wasn’t busy, and so far, this has continued to be the case—there’s always more on my list I want to do than I can possibly get done. So I learned to pursue with purpose one solid goal each day. That was a difficult transition for me, but if I don’t, then nothing of any substance gets done!

3. It’s Essential to “Just Say No”

Since retiring, I’ve had to learn to say no. I always thought there was unlimited time when you were retired. I soon found out that that’s what everyone else thinks, too. Pretty soon, friends and family are asking you to “just do this” or “just do that” for them and your time is no longer your own. I suspect this may be true of stay-at-home parents and I hope I never did this to anyone I know—it’s incredibly annoying and also calls for a spine of stainless steel at first. I’m getting better at it, but managing others’ expectations that you can’t just drop the “nothing” that you’re doing in retirement and run an errand for them is still a challenge!

4. Repurpose That Calendar!

Organization is still important in retired life, but I am no longer tethered to my paper and electronic calendars (yes, I kept both). I didn’t go anywhere without them. Now, instead of writing down meetings and conference calls, I find myself writing down accomplishments. It’s really a much better use of this tool than I thought—instead of looking back on obligations I’ve met, I feel so much more positive when I look back on what I’ve finished. How I wished I had thought of this sooner! I spent a career documenting what happened, instead of what I accomplished—what made me feel successful.

5. Making Time for “Me”

I was stressed in the working world. Not from a demanding boss (she was awesome), but from managing people, especially those who didn’t want to be there. So I thought retirement would be stress free. It certainly is an improvement over working, don’t get me wrong, but I now feel much more calm and can actually take time for meditation and mindfulness without feeling guilty that I should be doing something else.

I have learned to quiet my mind (it’s an ongoing process, but I’m getting better at it!) and now make “taking care of me” time a bigger part of my life. It’s incredibly freeing to finally be able to connect in a way I never could before—definitely should have made more “me” time before this!

6. Weekends Are the New Weekdays

Weekends used to be the time to get everything else in life done. Not anymore! I’ve learned that the world (and everyone around me) expects me to be available on their weekends to do “us” projects—basically what I used to do before. The difference now is that what I’ve worked on all week has to be put aside for “us” time. It’s not that I don’t appreciate or want to do things on weekends, it is now the reverse of what it was before. I got it all done over the weekend, and now I’m putting it all aside over the weekend. It definitely takes some adjusting!

This first month has certainly provided quite a few learning experiences for me. I am still adjusting and probably will be for quite a while. I am also still happily celebrating my freedom from the working world.

The most important lesson for me, though, has been the major mental shift that has occurred through learning these six lessons. I feel an incredible freedom. Freedom from the day-to-day misery of working, commuting, to-do lists, meetings, calendars, and even wearing a wristwatch.

What I have gained is an open canvas, time to explore interests, nature, and relationships. Granted, I’m still working quite hard, but instead of writing briefs or sitting in meetings, I’m writing about what really matters to me, meeting with people who share my passions, and connecting with me—the me I never had time for before!


Author: Dr. Carol Pollio

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: jenny downing/Flickr

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