Why Don’t I Feel Retired? by Bob Lowry

Why Don’t I Feel Retired? by Bob Lowry

I am surprised how often I receive some form of the question, “How come I don’t feel retired?” And, it doesn’t seem to matter whether the person has been gone from full time work for a few months, a few years, or almost two decades.

A good example is my wife, Betty. She and I retired together in 2001, which means we have been on this journey for 17 years. That is a substantial amount of time. Even so, she will remark, on a regular basis, she is still looking forward to retirement. What she means is more control over her time, doing only what she wants to do when she wants to do it.

So, that raises two questions: why hasn’t she been doing that all along, and what will it take for her to feel fully retired? I will explain what I think her answers are (a risky move!). Importantly, I want to broaden the focus a bit.  I am guessing her feeling is not unique to her. If the “How come I don’t feel retired” question is being asked something else is at work here.

One issue could be the image of retirement creates certain expectations. I have written before about the mistaken idea that retirement is one long walk in the park. Unfortunately, retirement is a stage of life, not a step into another realm. The responsibilities that come with being an adult don’t stop when the paycheck does. Bill paying, repairs, replacements, emergencies, health surprises, financial pitfalls – can easily sap the joy from retirement if you let it. If you have a feeling that retirement should mean all of the baggage that is part of living ends, then you are likely to pose this question.

Another possibility is one of personality. In Betty’s case, she is a giver. If someone needs something she is first in line to help. She is also a self-admitted over-giver. If that person wants to know what time it is, she will build them a watch. If the church needs help on a big project, she will volunteer to do almost all of it. She is extremely creative, dedicated, with a major dose of perfectionism, so it is just easier to do it all.

Of course, that can lead to burnout and self-imposed pressure. Even though she absolutely loves helping others, her physical and mental health can suffer. She leaves herself little time to work on things just for her, things without deadlines. So, she has yet to find the balance she is seeking even after 17 years.

Yet another reason might have to do with a spouse or partner who hasn’t accepted the sharing part of retirement. If your partner is no longer working but expects you to continue doing the lion’s share of household chores, there are going to be problems. Excuses like she (or he) has always done the cooking and cleaning and laundry fail the fair test. “I don’t know how to cook or run the oven” are just as lame. It is hard to feel retired if almost nothing has changed in what your “responsibilities” are in maintaining a household.

So, what to do? Here are a few ideas that may help:

1) Accept that retirement isn’t just a float in a boat. Align your expectations with the reality of living. Honestly compare your lifestyle before and after work: what is better and what is worse? When you look at the big picture you may be surprised how much your life has changed for the better. For those things still bothering you, can you do anything about them?

2) If you find yourself overcommitted to others and under committed to yourself, realize that is something you can change. You have the power to protect yourself and your needs. That doesn’t mean withdraw from helping others achieve their goals, it means realizing you must help yourself achieve what is important to you, too.

3) Decide that you need to start a new season of your retired life, one that is a better match to what you want now. Your needs evolve over time, be sure how you treat them does, too.

4) Work on developing what you consider a fair sharing of work and chores at home. That doesn’t necessarily mean a 50-50 split. If you truly enjoy the cooking then hold on to that part of your domestic life. It is part of the “I feel fully retired now that I can cook to my heart’s desire.” But, giving your partner a pass on chores and work load, you are hurting your own experience.

Have you ever admitted to yourself that you don’t feel fully retired? Do you know why? What would it take to make retirement “official?”

Did you go through a transformation at some point that marked your move to real retirement mode? Do you remember what it was?

As someone who does feel completely retired, I am quite interested in the feedback from those who don’t. I know Betty and anxious for your feedback, too.

By Bob Lowry

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