Retirement Year One – A Madwoman’s Playbook

Dear Diary,

Firstly and most importantly when you make it to retirement you need to feel very very blessed.  Wallow in it.

By this time in our lives we have known many people who didn’t, and the fact that we are still standing is a testament to our tenacity, vigilance, strength of body and mind, and by the grace of God.

Let’s move on…’cause that’s what we survivors do.

My retirement came abruptly (due to a health scare) and 4 years earlier than planned, but other than that I see no reason why it would be any different than one who retired on exactly the day they always planned to.

Except I didn’t get a retirement party or a gold watch. I’m still a little mad about that. But I got to go on living. So I’m over it.

Like any other successful Operations Manager in America, I was manic. I didn’t choose the field in which I spent most of the 40 years I worked. I wasn’t that organized when I was 21. Instead, Logistics is where I landed when I blindly launched from my parents’ home and college, to a short and ill-fated marriage, to a desperate single parent in 2 years. Too proud to ask for help.

It’s funny how poverty tends to motivate one to succeed.

For.The.Rest.Of.Your.Life.

Did I say succeed? I meant over-achieve.

Out of the gate as a college dropout in Logistics. I shudder in retrospect.

Logistics = There is no such thing as weekends or holidays. Every delayed shipment is the one that will break or make its retailer. That’s the rules, in a nutshell. Oh wait one more – You must play “Simon Says” with the port of Los Angeles and all points of entry along America’s southern border, and you are not Simon.

As far as management goes, I’m pretty sure it’s the same in any area of expertise.

Middle/Upper Management = You do not have a life. You are available at any time day or night. You are only as good as your last P&L and to a lesser extent, your last employee satisfaction survey. Nobody else can do your job, so taking more than one week of vacation while “out of pocket” (unavailable) is not permitted.

Wait…that last part might be my micro-managing psychosis and not a real pre-requisite. The lines between them got blurry. Don’t judge.

A Blackberry, cellphone, and a laptop were my constant companions. Checking them became an addiction. Like crack. Which is why I called mine a Crackberry.

The meetings, don’t get me started on the meetings.

In addition to the aforementioned, I took on penetrating the glass ceiling. I think I still have shards embedded in my scalp. But I did it.

I ate stress for breakfast. Bring it. But nothing else, because I was dieting. For 40 years. No joke.

For me and my psychosis, over-achieving did not end at work. The time I had off was spent cleaning, laundering, gardening, grocery shopping, regular shopping, over-the-top birthdays, hosting most extended family holidays, parent-teacher conferences and blah, blah, blah. You get the picture right?

In short, I may have fed, pruned, and weeded the roses – but I never stopped to smell them.

Never.

Fast forward 40 years to retirement. Year one.

The playbook reads as follows…

You turn in the company Crackberry and the laptop.

You clean out your office. This is not as easy as it sounds. Your identity is so enmeshed with your work, you have to really concentrate to accurately divide what is yours and what belongs to the company. You hold onto those business cards though, you’re not throwing away you.

Next you pack your things in an unceremonious cardboard box (I don’t care who you are) and load it into your car for the last ride home from work.

And you start the life you have dreamed about for 40 (fill in the blank) years . The life that made you go on at all the times that you were sure you couldn’t go on. The life you saved 20% of your check for.

I am sure there are a plethora of books out there, written by qualified people, that give a blow by blow of what comes next. I did not read them. I’m a rebel like that. I must run with a rebel crew, because no new retiree I know read one. Just sayin’.

Mad Baby BoomerTo be clear, this is the diary of a mad baby boomer, not a mental health professional. Proceed at your own risk.

First order of business is to take a trip. Every new retiree I know has followed this play from the Year One Playbook without exception. A cruise, a road trip, visit out of state family, travel abroad…whatever. You break away without an approved vacation request, a rite of passage if you will. And because you can.

Then you come home and take two weeks to unpack. Why? Because you might want to take off again, or you guessed it…because you can.

A month has gone by. It’s awesome.

Then you go to all of those appointments that you struggled to fit into your schedule (and ultimately had to cancel because of work conflicts). Medical, dental, attorney (for your living trust), tax person/broker/financial planner (just to reassure yourself that you are on track with your financial retirement plan…for the third time). You’re good to go for the rest of your life. As long as the stock market doesn’t crash.

You build a semi-complicated excel spreadsheet to track itemized spending. And to keep your Microsoft Office skills sharp.

2 months go by. It’s friggin’ awesome.

You watch all those documentaries, series, movies, concerts, epic sporting events, etc. that you had TIVO’d but never had time to see. For the first TIME in your life, a bad movie was not a waste of your TIME. That’s new, and also friggin’ awesome. You feel like a TIME thief in a vault of TIME, without the TIME Po-Po around to see you stealing it. Ever. Does it get any better?

3 months have gone by. Beyond awesome.

You take on that project that was always on the back burner. That remodel, DIY, yard, car, hobby etc. That thing that you were always going to do after you retired. You may or may not finish it. That’s the beauty of retirement. You are no longer judged by your last achievement.

Except by your spouse. Ouch.

You start needing to eat meals at the exact same time every day. Where did that come from? Weird.

4 or 5 months go by. Wow. Already? Awesomeness beyond description.

Here is where I began to struggle just a hair. Just a smidge. Maybe I am unique in that my hubby is not retired. My time was entirely my own, whether I liked it or not. I lose sight of the retirement playbook. I have no idea what everyone else is doing. It’s just me doing my thing. Like being distracted by shiny objects.

I used to be responsible for managing 300 people (some indirectly I’ll admit), and a multimillion dollar budget. I multi-tasked up to, but not over, the line where it becomes ineffective. That is a professional multi-tasker peeps.

Now, I am picking off worms from my tomato plants with a tweezer. The little bastards. For hours. Because I have an organic garden and I am not a quitter.

My trusty companion is not the assistant of yore. She is my grand-dog and does not do my bidding. Only because of her lack of opposable thumbs, not because she isn’t enthusiastic. I find myself having conversations with her. I don’t even notice she doesn’t talk back. Out loud. We’re connected like that.

Doesn’t this face scream “You’re taking me with you to this party when you go, right”? Who needs words. Not us.

I didn’t take her to the party. She knew.

I check my phone, somebody texted. It’s not urgent. I’ll answer them later when I’m not so busy.

I open the Excel spreadsheet and realize I am 2 months behind itemizing expenses. Screw it. I add them all up without itemizing and find I am only slightly over budget, that’s ok, I’ll do better this month because this is all still new. I keep the excel spreadsheet because it’s pretty, but I know I’ll never open it again.

Wait, what month is it?

I get annoyed because I didn’t know it’s a holiday and the whole world is off of work and school on a weekday. Very inconvenient.

A friend texts and wants to have lunch. I write it down on the wall calendar (old school style), and set aside the whole day. In fact, I have two things planned in that week and I feel like if anything else comes up I might be a bit over-committed.

I have lunch with the friend and find out we’re doing the same things. Whew. NOT CRAZY, good to know. I’m in line with the playbook. We’re back to the collective You, not just I. I vow to have lunch with friends more often.

You walk daily and feel pretty darn accomplished in that regard. Unless it’s the weekend. Then you rest.

Thoughts come up that are so random that you are afraid you might have Alzheimer’s. A childhood memory that is so vivid you can actually relive it in every detail. A poem that you suspect was always there but only now becomes clear. A familiar imagined vista that now longs to be put on canvas. A word that needs to be written. You ask yourself, who am I?

Then you realize that it is nothing more than an unfettered mind that is finally let loose to run, to play, to create, to remember. The long dormant right-brain coming to life. An unchained prisoner, free for the first time since it was a child.

You talk to God. Because you can finally hear him talk back. Because you’re finally listening.

You walk by your roses and smell them. That legit smell doesn’t come from a hothouse florist or a bottle. The real backyard fully bloomed rose. Almost heaven. Was it there all along?

You go to dinner with your family, and you notice them on their smart phones, crackberry, ipads. Where did you leave yours? Did you even bring it? When was the last time you checked it?

It’s the first thing they do when they get up in the morning and the last thing they do when they go to bed. While in bed.

You feel sad that this is what you were just a short time ago, and that you can’t save them. Or get their attention. Payback is a bear.

That’s ok, you’ll wait for them. You have time.

Wait…what year is it?

NOW you are truly retired my friend.

Until next time dearest diary.

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