Tales of Retirement
By Janis Tomkinson
Ontario Public Service
Retired March 2016
“Time flies when you’re having fun.”
I’ve never quite figured out whether that adage was meant to be truthful, or just sarcasm in the moment. It was often blurted out by someone on the team, while engrossed in a workday of brainstorming, strategizing, or designing, and it was quickly followed by “Yeah, sure, same time tomorrow.” I was one of those who actually didn’t like teamwork all that much. I admit it. I’m an introvert – I’d rather work at my desk on my own.
That adage has come to mind often over the past year and a half, as I now settle into my life of retirement. Am I having fun? Is time flying simply because retirement is SO MUCH FUN?
I’m quite comfortable in my retirement, yet…
I still can’t say I’m loving retirement, but I am quite relaxed and happy. And I often wonder if that’s just because I’m one of the very fortunate ones: I had a successful 35-year career with lots of variety. Something different every day. I have a pension – so every month a chunk of money mysteriously shows up in my bank account and I don’t have to leave the house if I don’t want to! I have benefits – so I don’t have to worry about health needs, like not being able to go the dentist, delaying the purchase of eye glasses, prescriptions, physiotherapy, and other luxuries. I have so much more than many others. I’m quite comfortable.
Yet, sometimes I think fondly about the daily structure of an alarm awakening me, about heading out to work, and, surprisingly, about the chatter, debate and discussion that comes with working in an office environment. It was an environment that was stressful in many ways, always crazy and busy, with deadlines galore, but it was also stimulating, motivating, and fun.
Another interesting element of retiring – one I don’t think many of us consider – is the discovery that not all our friends and co-workers are retiring at the same time. I had loads of interaction with people at work and friends outside work. Now, that’s changed. No more work. My working friends can’t skip a day from work to go check out antique shops or craft shows.
After taking the summer to regroup and enjoy the heat and sunshine, I ventured out on a six-week journey – a course called Redesign My Life for Retirement. A friend suggested it, saying it was a must-take course. Another implied it would be a mistake to take it. I was laughed at: “What do you need this for? You already took a preretirement course at work. It’s a bit late, isn’t it?”
It was not a mistake – it was not too late – it was well worth the time.
I was genuinely surprised at how informative each session was, the discussion it generated, and the dynamics of the group. Very quickly, I realized I was not alone in my thoughts (good or bad) of retirement. This course was different from other courses. I was now thinking beyond financial security and whether I’d have enough money to travel. I was thinking beyond getting myself out there the day after my retirement send-off, to take that cooking class, or volunteer, or find a part-time job. I didn’t think about having to fill empty calendar spaces with ‘things’ and ‘stuff;’ I quickly learned it’s okay to take the time to discover the new ‘things’ and ‘stuff’ that truly interest ME.
The course also gave me time to stop, to reflect on my 35 years of working, and to see how I had been defined mainly by my work. I think work defines most of us, without us really knowing or admitting.
I was now examining how I would transition into a life of retirement and how my activities in retirement would help to define, in some ways, a new and different me.
And I took away a few buzzwords and phrases from the course: ‘leisure,’ ‘core values,’ and that nasty ‘saboteur.’
Leisure: putting my mother first
Right now, for me, leisure is a bit overrated. Yes, I have more time to do the things I want to do. But, in my retirement reality, supporting my mother fills my time. She’s 93. Numerous appointments and the tasks of daily living take time. As the main caregiver, it’s not that easy for me to take off for extended periods of time. Sometimes it’s difficult to get even a long weekend away. Yes, I’m all too familiar with the supports out there and, yes, I do use them. However, as a parent ages, it gets more difficult to leave them, and it gets more difficult to have others – family members or professionals – step in and care for them. And when I do take off, it’s very difficult to shut off my mind. I’m always thinking and wondering how she’s getting along.
Core values: revisiting and realigning
When was the last time I thought about core values and how they shaped me? The things that interest me and the qualities in other people and events that attract me? Years, maybe decades ago. However long ago, I didn’t see them as core values. They were more about what I like to do and what I like about my friends.
I’m now taking core values a step further and discovering how mine align (or no longer align) with current friends, the new people I meet, and family. I had a discussion with a childhood friend, about how retirement may be just the time to ‘edit’ our friends. She finds she’s doing that now – and she’s not retired. There’s no room for friends you no longer share values with. Life is too important and too short. And, no, we’re not editing each other!
My saboteur: struggling against; pushing myself
Editing brings me to that nasty saboteur. Who’s my saboteur? Well, in many cases, actually, it’s me. I can always find an excuse to ‘not do it,’ ‘let it go,’ or ‘do it another time.’
Sometimes the saboteur can be family members. Those you cancel plans for, because they need you at that very moment. Or those family members who say, “You should take time for yourself,” but, coincidentally, aren’t available or don’t make any effort to help when needed.
I was surprised when the saboteur showed up in a new guise. One of my goals from the retirement course was a plan to expand my writing. I would start by taking a creative writing workshop. My saboteur said, “What do you need a writing workshop for? You’ve been writing your whole career.”
After working in a media and public relations environment, writing speeches for others, and writing in a very specific way – being given the so-called ‘key messages’ – I wanted to write in my voice, for me.
So, I pushed myself. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I’ve now taken two creative writing workshops. I’m still struggling with style… trying not to write in essay format (like this). But I’m planning to keep my pen (or keyboard) moving, using my own voice.
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost two years. Filling my time with leisure and external activities hasn’t really developed as quickly as I thought it would. But who cares?
I’m devoted to helping my mother. I’m swimming three times a week and I’m committed to getting even more exercise. Maybe I’ll up it to daily; maybe I won’t. I’m taking yoga. Making new friends. I’m meeting people for coffee and lunch, and, most importantly, it’s not crammed into a one-hour time slot. I’m taking time for myself. It may be an hour, a half day, or sometimes a full day. But it’s me time.
These past two years have let me take part in activities I felt I didn’t have the time or the energy for when I was working. It has led to opportunities to explore new activities for next year and the year(s) after. There’s much more I can do for me. Maybe I’ll go back to piano lessons or take up guitar. I haven’t yet embarked on the travel adventures I’m dreaming of. The time goes by so fast that I sometimes think, “Hey, maybe I AM having fun!”