It’s been a little over a year since I walked away from a perfectly good job and retired. It seems like a good time to look back and see how things are going and what I’ve learned. I understand a lot more now about life in retirement than I did a year ago. The truth is, nobody understands what it’s like to be retired until you are actually retired. During my long career I’ve taken time off from work, I’ve been self-employed for a few years, I’ve been laid off and without a job for six months, but none of those experiences are even remotely like being retired. Being retired is different in ways that are hard to explain. And I’m really just getting started.
The First Year of Retirement is Probably the Hardest
I can admit that I’ve struggled a bit this first year. And I’ve probably been a little hard on myself about it. The more that I read the more I see a pattern – everyone has a hard time the first year. You jump into retirement with all these idealistic expectations and ideas about how you will spend your time and what your life will be like. Most of those ideas are crap. Turns out that you hate 80% of the things you thought you’d enjoy. So now what? It’s easy to get stressed about having to change and adapt and find new things to do. I’ve had to learn to go easy on myself. The good news is everyone says it gets easier after that first rough year. So I have that to look forward to.
I get asked these questions a lot:
- “How did you know it was time to retire?”
- “Do you regret retiring? Don’t you miss working?”
- “When are you going to go back to work?”
These all have pretty much the same answer – I knew for sure that it was time for me to go. That was never in doubt. In fact, I stayed about a year longer than I intended. But my big project was delayed and I really wanted to see it to the end. So in the Spring of last year, it just made sense. I had passed all of my financial goals, my project was launching, a big department re-org was coming, and most importantly, I was spent. My big project has been going for several years and the stress and long hours had taken its toll on my health and well being. I was done. I felt like crap. One way or another, I needed to get out. So I picked a date, started the 90-day countdown, and… just left.
So no, I don’t regret retiring for a single minute. And as much as I love to talk to my working friends about the latest struggle and craziness, I’m not ready to think about going back to work. Maybe I will someday after I’ve shed the years of stress and taken some time to just goof around. I’m working on that now – let’s check back on this in a few months. But… there have been some surprises.
What Has Surprised Me the Most About Being Retired?
The one thing that I never saw coming was how emotional the whole experience would be. I had no idea how amazing it would feel to have all those years of stress lift and how grateful I would be. I remember clearly the very first Monday morning after my last day at work. I slept in a bit, but it was a beautiful Spring morning so I got up and went for a walk around the neighborhood. I’m listening to music and smiling at how warm the sun felt and out of nowhere, I started to cry. I was laughing and sobbing on the sidewalk in front of my house like a crazy person. I was just overcome with relief, happiness, good feelings, and gratitude to just be alive and free. I couldn’t believe it was actually happening – I made it. I didn’t screw it up. It’s really an impossible feeling to describe. When it finally hits that this is real, that you don’t have a boss anymore, that there are no more 7:00 AM conference calls with India, no more executive presentations – your time is really your own – it hits hard.
This happened to me more than once – on a Sunday night when I remembered that I didn’t have to get up for work on Monday morning – random mornings when I’d wake up in a panic and 9:00 AM, sure that I was late for an important meeting. Every time it took me by surprise – a wonderful surprise.
The Stress is Real
The other thing that surprised me is how long it has taken to really let go of years of accumulated work stress. Don’t kid yourself that a week or ten days off will get you back to baseline. Not even close. It has taken me the best part of a year to really begin to feel that I’m not carrying stress from work. Just now I’m getting to the point where I can really breath all the way to the bottom of my lungs. I can finally catch my breath. I can it still and just be for a minute. It took a really long time. Even now I don’t think I’m completely back to baseline stress-wise. But I’m getting better. I’m sleeping better and I’m learning how to relax. It’s harder than it sounds, and it does not come right away. Give yourself some time. Probably a lot of time.
So What’s Next?
The hell if I know! Seriously, I have some ideas, there are things I want to try and places I want to go. But it’s a pretty hazy vision at this point. We will see. Turns out the people are really bad at predicting what will make them happy. There have been studies. We are just not good at it. But we are very good at coming up with a long list of things that we might like. Things to try. So that’s what I’ll be doing. Stay tuned!! 🙂