Jim was the lead machinist in a large shop of accomplished machinists. He was also a nice guy, grandfatherly, easy to talk to. He was the ‘go-to’ guy when a solution was needed. After 40 years in the business he knew what he was doing, without fancy computers or machines, but with his blue denim apron and his double-stack wooden toolbox with the felt-lined drawers. He drove an old Willys Overland Jeep wagon, which he was constantly restoring, and looking forward to retiring so he could focus on that passion.
Finally, Jim retired, got his gold watch, enjoyed some cake and congratulations. The he went home and promptly died.
There is an urban legend that if you retire you will die. A good friend told me that is why, at 65 years old, he keeps working so hard, doing physical labor, like his grandfather taught him on the farm. Working keeps you alive, goes the old saw, and sitting still brings an early demise. There is even some Biblical credence to the idea:
“Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall [f]bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:17-19
When I was recovering in the hospital last year, unable to walk or accomplish ADLs (activities of daily living), I decided on the spot I was not working any longer. I was going to devote my efforts to getting well, I was going to enjoy the years that had been given to me. The psychologists advise against such rash decisions, but I knew in my heart it was the right path for me.
I moved over, to the slow lane, to let those living life in the fast lane pass me by.
But let me share some insight into life in the slow lane. It’s not all naps and gardening and going to Walmart to pick up your prescriptions. While those things may be part of it, exiting the fast lane and retiring from your vocation doesn’t mean that you stop work – it instead means that your work changes.
Once I got myself back to some semblance of normalcy, after the first of the year, I realized a few things:
1) I had a whole day to fill up. Every. Single. Day.
2) I was no longer under pressure to perform.
3) My phone stopped ‘dinging’ – calls, texts, emails dropped dramatically.
4) It was up to me to fill my day with… something.
5) I could slow down.
So, here is what I did to fill up my time, enjoy life, stay sharp, not die.
I love music. I mean, really. I collect physical media and listen every day, sometimes several times, sometimes for several hours (I estimate about 240 hours so far this year of purposeful listening). But my newfound retirement did not come with a paycheck (yet) so to fund that hobby I started selling records online, on Discogs, the internet’s largest music database. As I am sitting here typing, I just got order #192. It is a small but very detailed little business that satisfies my need for work processes, and also uses everything I learned in real estate: market research, pricing, communications, customer service. Only now my work is fun, and sometimes I don’t work at all, at most I work just a few minutes each day. It is, after all, a hobby.
As I regained some competency and confidence I decided to see if I could safely work in my little woodshop. I conceived, designed, and built a turntable. It was a lot of fun and very satisfying, so I attempted another project, building a plinth for my phono preamp. All that prompted me to do a shop makeover, to make it easier and safer to work. I still cannot use all the tools I want, and I cannot work for very long, and my back spasm tells me I’ve overdone it (retirement and age has its downsides) but I am able to add some creative busy-ness to my week, and it is very satisfying.
My friend, the one who refuses to stop work, tells me that it will kill me to not have anything to do, that I need constant motivation and activity to stay alive. If there is any truth to that, it is that you must fill your days, you must motivate yourself. Not let work motivate you.
Filling your days is easy, especially if you don’t turn on the TV and instead look forward to something that brings you joy, stimulates your brain, or keeps you busy. So far this year I have read 24 books and have 3 more working. I love a good spy/action novel, but I also read self-improvement books, history, technical books, the Bible. And reading is challenging for me because of my lingering vision issues, but books are where the knowledge lives. Studies show that about 25% of Americans have not read a book in the last year, and the average is only 4 books a year. I realize that work intrudes, and it took some time for me to allow myself to read during the “workday”, but there are wonderful worlds found between the covers of books. There are about 130 million books in the world, and at my current rate I will only read 1,000 more before I die – so many books, so little time!
And speaking of words, I have had the time and inclination to write these blogposts. I set aside Sunday morning to write, and sometimes people even read them! So far since this journey began, I have published 50 some posts, all about 1200-1500 words. That is a lot of writing and it takes a couple hours, start to finish, to weave the words into a pleasant and accessible pattern. Good for the head, too, to express what is in your heart so others can read it and, hopefully, be blessed by my ramblings.
I like food, about any food, and I like to cook. So far this year I have made dinner for Diana and me about 175 times. We always eat together – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Jealous? You should be. That is some high-quality time there. Plus, we add in Happy Hour, in the pool (in season) every night. If time together is a measure of a good relationship, we have nailed it. And we never have nothing to talk about. Unlike pre-retirement, the talk is about us, the kids, the world, the whatevers. Not about work. A favorite conversation starter is “tell me your hopes and dreams” because that is a fluid subject and fun to ramble on about.
Since we are no longer bound by the calendar, there is no Friday or weekend. It is fun to get together with friends on a Tuesday, because all days are the same. We are never working for the weekend. Our grandson Arthur can hang out, we can get in the pool at noon if we want, and again at dinnertime and yet again at night if the moon is full and the sky is clear. More quality time, more time with people. Relationships are all that will leave this world with you.
“Ointment and perfume delight the heart, And the sweetness of a man’s friend gives delight by hearty counsel.” Proverbs 27:9
I beg you, don’t take me wrong. I am not gloating about not having to work. But don’t be bound by the idea that your work is your life. Your life is your life.
There is plenty more to this whole retirement thing, but one thing I have found is that death does not come the day you stop working. It is not the end, but the beginning of a new life. The ball is in your court, you are driving the bus, the reigns are in your hands. And other euphemisms, too. Just keep a simple plan in mind:
- Stay Busy
- Keep Your Mind Sharp
- Do Physical Activity
- Learn New Things
- Grow Spiritually and Mentally
- Enjoy Your Life
There is more to say, but I have used up enough of your time, and used up my words for the day. Do not be afraid of retirement – your days are indeed numbered, but they are not controlled by an old wives’ tale. You can find a new way forward, a richness of existence, a way to stay very much alive. You were meant to enjoy all of your days, and retirement is your just reward for a life of good work.
You will not die in the slow lane, but you will enjoy the ride!