When writer Nancy Giguere decided it was time to retire, she faced the question that we will all ask at some point in our lives: What am I going to do all day? Here's her answer.
I was in high school when my father retired. He was then in his mid-60s. He was an electrician who had worked hard since his late teens, so -- understandably -- he wanted to take it easy. We had just moved into an older home, and he kept busy for the next few years painting and repairing. Eventually, though, he fixed everything that needed fixing. So he retired again, this time to a brown naugahyde rocking chair, where he remained for most of the next 25 years.
A man with no hobbies and little talent for friendship, he spent his days reading the paper and watching television. After he died at age 94, I spent the next two decades watching my mother, 20 years his junior, negotiate her own old age.
Like my father, she was a loner with few interests beyond homemaking. She socialized a bit with the neighbors, but spent most of her time caring for the house and doing crossword puzzles. In time, she, too, gravitated to a rocking chair in front of the television.
I've begun to worry that some members of my generation may also end up in a rocking chair -- for example, my friend "Cheryl." She doesn't especially like her job, but refuses to retire. Money is a factor, but not the most important one. The real reason Cheryl doesn't want to retire is that she fears she'll be bored. "What would I do if I didn't go to work?" she asks. "I can't just sit around the house all day."
More to retirement than money
A search for "retirement planning" on Google turns up over 10 million results. Most are concerned with financial planning: converting your regular IRA to a Roth, maximizing your 401(k), applying for Social Security. No one would deny that having enough money is essential for an enjoyable retirement. Yet, as my friend is beginning to realize, there's more to retirement than money.
The thought of waking up in the morning with nothing specific to do -- no job to go to, no project to work on -- is both exhilarating and frightening. We imagine sleeping late, enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee, finishing the crossword puzzle and catching up with all those household projects we've been putting off. But eventually, we need a meaningful focus; something we can embrace with passion and purpose.
My mother died in 2009, a few months before my 63rd birthday, and I started thinking seriously about my own retirement. After a long and rewarding career as a freelance writer, I looked forward to fewer deadlines and more leisure. But how to use that leisure purposefully?
I began taking stock of the things I enjoyed in my non-work life. One of these was yoga, which I began studying in my late 50s. Though not especially athletic, I loved the physicality of yoga. After hours sitting at the computer, it was a relief to get onto the mat and outside my head.
Retirement, I reasoned, would give me more time to take classes and work on my personal practice. Then by chance I took a class with a wonderful teacher who worked well with older people. When I discovered that he also trained teachers, I surprised myself by signing up.
I now teach four classes a week, and am easing into what could become a kind of "retirement career." I currently teach a modified yoga class for residents of an assisted-living facility, as well as a more traditional class I call "Yoga for the Not So Flexible." I plan to take more training after I officially retire in June. I love the physical and mental benefits of yoga, and want to introduce them to others.
Retirement also means more time for another passion: gardening. I came to gardening relatively late in life, and discovered, again to my surprise, that I had a green thumb. Over the past dozen years, with help from my husband, I've worked on landscaping our small city lot. To me, there is nothing quite as thrilling as watching plants set buds and burst into bloom. Nor is there anything quite as delicious as homegrown tomatoes.
In addition to having more time for yoga and gardening, I look forward to catching up on my reading, writing stories, seeing movies, visiting with friends, taking trips.
The possibilities, though not endless at my age, form a long list.
One thing not on it: A rocking chair.