Category Archives: Filling retirement time

On Being 67

Last week I wrote a review of my life after one year of full-time retirement.  I left the paid workforce right after my 66th birthday. My retirement and birthday will forever be linked, but they are still separate events. When I blogged about my retirement, I structured the post to focus on functional things, like my hobby life.  Today, I would like to focus more on what aging has brought me.

My 67th birthday was a shock to me.  I was the “surprise” in my family and was born 7 years after my next closest sibling. When you are in such a position, it seems that you’re always younger than those around you. However, time marches on, and it will eventually catch up to you.

The average life expectancy for a man in the US is 78.69 years or roughly a decade from my current age. This is a sobering number that I hope to exceed, but it does give me pause.  When I was in my 20s, it seemed that I had an infinite amount of time to determine my destiny. When I entered my forties, I realized that half of my life was over. During my 50s, I convinced myself that being 50 was the new 40.  I am now 67 and much closer to 70 than 50. It is difficult to find a slogan to soften that fact.

I am not a person who spends a lot of time looking at myself in the mirror. I will glance at myself when I’m washing my face or brushing my teeth, but I don’t pay a lot of attention.  However, sometimes I’ll accidentally see my reflection when I’m out and about. During those situations, I shock myself. “Who is that old dude?… Gads, it’s me!” I’m grey, bald, and something strange has happened to my skin, it wrinkly! When did that happen?” 

My 67th birthday cake.

I am very grateful that I’m healthy, and I try to be active.  However, as you age you are not as strong or supple as you were when you were younger.  When I’m sitting for a long time, I become stiff. I get random aches and pains that seem to have no other purpose other than to aggravate me. I find myself hunching over and have to consciously force myself to walk more erectly. I can no longer sleep without a pillow, as my neck refuses to lie flat.  

I find that I multitask less, and I’m more inclined to “take a little break” after I do an activity like grocery shopping. I’m more cautious when facing novel situations. I worry more about ice when I walk. It takes me a bit longer to learn something new. Also, I’m aware that I’m at an age where “stuff happens.” Men in my decade develop serious illnesses, have heart attacks, and get cancer. This is sobering.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. I have more unstructured time, which is something that I have not had since my teens.  I love to ponder random things and expand my knowledge. I enjoy exploring. The other day I spent several hours trying to find something that I had not used for years.  In the past, I would have given myself 15 minutes to search, and then moved on. However, I took my time, and in the process of hunting, I discovered a few other fun items.  This wasn’t 15 minutes of “I don’t have time for this” torture, it was two hours of fun and discovery.

I am doing more win/win activities.  My recent cake decorating class got me thinking;  I’m pretty sure that I can duplicate fancy bakery cupcakes (think “Molly’s”) at a fraction of the cost of buying them at a cupcake boutique. Tomorrow, I’ll make some lemon/poppyseed cupcakes with a lemon curd filling, and a zesty citrus frosting.  If they turn out, I’ll give them to Julie, and she can take them to her Bible study group. I avoid concentrated forms of sugar, but I can still have fun learning this new skill.  

Filling cupcake liners
Coloring American buttercream frosting.
Filling the cupcakes with lemon curd.
The final product was given to Julie for her group.

I’m available to help my friend, Tom, with any task that he may come up with. It has been great fun to spontaneously do things with him. 

Julie and I put together a care package for my daughter, who is currently living in Africa. I was able to spend the time to find my old “Seal-A-Meal” and vacuum pack the items for safer transport. I avoided a “here’s one more thing to do,” mentality. Instead, I imagined the smile on my daughter’s face when she received items that weren’t broken or stale.  

I think that the life experience that comes with age has allowed me to better enjoy doing these things.  I have come to believe that small things can be just as rewarding as significant events. An expensive trip is incredible, but so is helping someone you care about. 

With age, I have become happier with what I have.  When I was younger, I was more likely to associate happiness with material possessions. The car that I drove was important, as were other physical trappings. These desires lessened years ago, and now things appear to have little value beyond their actual utility.  I am grateful for what I have.

I feel that I’m good enough. I think some may assume that I’m a competitive person (being a doctor, and all of that).  However, this has never been the case. I have structured my life so that my trajectory falls squarely on my abilities alone.  My successes are not fueled by someone else’s failures. I believe that it is irrelevant if my life is better than another person, it is more important that I’m improving who I am.  However, I do want to be on an even playing field with those around me. I live in a town that has frequently been cited as one of the best places to live in the US. I have a beautiful house, but many have much larger homes.  People talk about their exotic trips and expensive purchases. Fancy cars, like Teslas, are commonplace. I had intellectually distanced myself from envy a long time ago. However, with age, this denunciation has been embraced by my emotional self. 

I indulge myself in random interests. I now have more time and less responsibility. Soon I’ll take a day trip to rural Illinois to photograph small-town landscapes. I want to take a few days to travel in Violet the campervan to Southern Illinois to visit a National Forests. I’m considering a solo trip to see my kids. I’m thinking about taking an adult education class. And much more.

Massive grain storage on the prairies.
The county courthouse in Oregon, Illinois.
A doorway at an abandoned college campus in Mt. Carroll, Illinois.
Storefront in Savana, Illinois.

I have become more frugal. It should be noted that my retirement celebration cake from Genesis was in the form of an Amazon package. A nod to the many packages that I would receive at my workplace. Therefore, the above statement may seem shocking to my former co-workers. I am attempting to make do with less. I’m trying to prepare foods that I purchased, and eat the foods that I prepared. I’m asking myself the question, “Do I really need that?” when I’m at the store or looking on-line. It feels good to use less.

A retirement cake in the shape of an Amazon package.

I cry easier.  I was recently watching a documentary on TV that had a happy ending, and I found myself tearing up with happiness. I genuinely feel sad when I read about people who are suffering. I’m more likely to be overwhelmed with love for those close to me.  An emotional barrier has broken inside of me, and I’m not complaining.  

I feel a greater need to spend time with people who I care about, and less time with obligatory connections. I want to be with people who I love, and I don’t want to waste even a moment.

Things that excited me as a child are exciting to me again.  A snowstorm no longer means a lousy commute, it is a wintery adventure. A walk in the woods isn’t just exercise, it is a discovery opportunity.  From decorating cakes to home construction, I celebrate activities and experiences.

Snow on my morning walk.
Snowy covered bridge on my walk.
A snowy path along my walk.

It has become easier to say no.  I have always been good at setting limits, but I would still succumb to doing things that I didn’t want to, as I didn’t want to disappoint people.  I still want to extend myself, but it is easier to pass on things that I really don’t want to do.

I savor every day. Each day can be as fantastic or miserable as I choose to make it. I find myself making a conscious effort to enjoy every single day. I don’t have time to place my life on hold.

Every phase of life has negative and positive realities.  Being freed from the burden of a 60 hour/week work schedule has opened up new opportunities, and has allowed me to revisit old interests. Each day is a new beginning, and I want to take advantage of every moment.

Retired One Year, A Review.

At the end of February 2019, I fully retired from the paid workforce. After working my entire life, I was ready for this move, but I was uncertain of what my future would hold.  In preparation, I developed goals and objectives similar to what I would have done in my working life, but I was unclear if these tasks would be enough to keep me busy and happy. As an exercise to myself, I thought I would write about this first year of being a full-time retiree.  Perhaps it will guide me as I enter into year two.

Some of my initially planned activities worked, some failed, some were revisited, and new ones emerged. Surprisingly, things that I didn’t place on my list turned out to be more critical than some of my planned activities.  So, let’s get started!

Organizing my life

I am a person who likes to discover and compare things; I have acquired a lot of stuff.  Also, my home housed my wife and our four children. When we faced the dilemma of what to do with things that we “might use someday,” the items typically found their way into our basement. For me, the thought of cleaning out this mess has always been entirely overwhelming, and to combat this, I have been tackling the cleaning project one garbage bag at a time.  After one year, I have cleaned out a utility room and a considerable crawlspace, but I have much more to do. Yet, I’m satisfied with my progress. I don’t have a timeline for this task, and every item that goes to Goodwill or the junkpile is a personal victory.

The crawl space finally cleaned out…one bite at a time.

Health

Five years ago, I started a radical change in my behavior in anticipation of my retirement.  I began to exercise regularly and changed my diet, most notably avoiding concentrated forms of sugar.  In the process, I lost quite a bit of weight.

I continue to exercise and avoid sugar.  However, my eating has increased. I do try to eat healthy choices. However, my weight has crept up, which is discouraging, but not unexpected. 

I have never been able to maintain a stable weight. In other words, my weight has always climbed.  I understand this, and I am much kinder to myself around this reality. However, it does have negative consequences.  For instance, I’m reluctant to go to the doctor as I absolutely don’t want the “your gaining weight” lecture. (“Really?  I didn’t know that. Thanks, so much Dr. Obvious.”) I rarely let my feelings impact my sound judgment, so I know that if needed, I’ll force myself to seek medical attention.  Luckily, I’m pretty healthy at the moment. And yes, I’m working on my pride issues. 

Creativity, Learning, and Teaching.

We all have things that turn us on.  For me, the trinity listed above is at the core of my feeling happy and productive.

I am pleased to say that I have pursued many of my planned interests as well as some unplanned ones.  There are so many different things that I’m doing that they could be the topic of their own post. However, some of my highlights include:

Writing

I love to write, which is why I started this blog.  Initially, I had grandiose plans, but I now understand that my purpose for writing isn’t to change the world.  My blog has turned out to be a written history of who I am and what I believe. It is my hope that this will serve as a record for my children and beyond.  I don’t want to be a forgotten footnote to those people who are most important to me.

It is common for me to think, “I have nothing to write about this week.” However, I always seem to come up with something.  I find that most of my writings have a message or lesson. This is not planned, I think it is just the way I think.  

Visual Arts

I love photography, and I have recently turned some of my photos into my own personal “works of art.” My photography has changed a bit over the last year as I seem to be doing more work for others.  Since I enjoy helping people, this has been a win/win.

My biggest “client” is my best friend, Tom.  I have taken countless photos of in-progress and completed construction projects, and this has forced me to learn an entirely different type of photography.  Also, I have been shooting everything from portraits, corporate shots, school dances, and events. I love the combination of creativity and technology that photography allows. I want to continue to expand and enhance my photographic skills in the next year. At the moment, I believe that my future expansion will be in landscape photography.

Photos make your story alive.
Doing architectural photography has been a new learning experience.
My homemade “Loo Art.”

My Podcast

In 2006 I started a reasonably successful podcast called “Psychiatric Secrets Revealed.” Earlier this year, I abandoned it, as I thought it had gone stale.  A viewer on my YouTube channel suggested that I use YouTube to read my blog posts, and this served as the perfect opportunity for me to reactivate the podcast as a forum for a reading of my weekly blog.  Where this will go, I have no idea.

YouTube

My little YouTube channel (“Saving Savvy With Dr. Mike”) has always been a project designed to help others by disseminating honest, if opinionated, information on a variety of topics. 

In the past, I would do a lot of camera reviews, but I’m retired now and can’t buy the “camera of the week.” However, I still manage to crank out videos.  However, they have shifted focus, and they now challenge YouTube influencers who seem more interested in selling products than helping people (my personal opinion). I have found an audience of like-minded folks who have become their own little community. 

Other creative pursuits

I’m cooking more and doing a variety of cooking-related things. I will often post my meals on Facebook, and this seems to inspire others to cook (how cool is that ?).  My kids gave me a one day cake decorating class at the Wilton school, and now I’m trying to hone that skill. Making dinner for my wife, baking with my kids, or making a fancy cake; it all has been great fun for me. 

Food served buffet style.
Trying to improve my cake decorating skills.

Adventure!

I am a homebody, and I never thought that I would be traveling as much as I have been.  With the help of my friend, Tom, I converted a Promaster cargo van into a camper and have done quite a bit of traveling in it.  It has been super-awesome (horrible phrasing, but wholly accurate)! I absolutely love the freedom of having a house on wheels… Violet the campervan has become a physical metaphor for my new found freedom .

My empty cargo van.
Empty van converted to Violet the campervan.

My wife, Julie, has also wanted to travel more, and she has been finding bargain flights.  We will fly into a city and then get a rental car to go to other places. What fun!

Congaree National Park. Beautiful, but we got soaked!

Some of my travels have been with Julie, some with relatives, some with Tom, and some solo.  That solo category deserves more comments, which I will do later in this post.

Hiking in Glacier National Park.
Rain and umbrellas. Camping with the cousins.
Tom building the fire.
Getting ready to watch a movie “in 4-D” at the Coke museum.

New Responsibilities

Julie is 10 years my junior, and she is still in the paid workforce. I have been trying to be a good citizen by taking over many of the household responsibilities. However, I know that balance is necessary.  I don’t mind doing a lot of the work, but I would be resentful if I had to do all of the work, or if her actions created unnecessary work for me. What I’m doing about this? I’m trying to be clear and direct with my needs and expectations.

Honesty

I have always thought of myself as an honest person, a reality further forced by the fact that I’m a terrible liar. However, I also am a person who likes to avoid conflict.  This latter fact has hampered me in personal relationships as I would often give in to the needs of those close to me under the guise that I was being a good person.

Such a position has unfortunate consequences.  First, it meant that I wasn’t getting my needs met. Second, it caused me to lose value to those close to me.  If you always get what you want it doesn’t have much value. Of interest, I have never had a problem being assertive in my professional life… so, go figure.

Several years ago, I changed course and started to express my needs, and also my feelings of disappointment when I perceived that those around me were being inconsiderate or not valuing me. This was not an easy change in behavior.  However, over time it has become more normalized.

When it comes to others, what is a reasonable expectation? What is excessive expectation? This is an area of personal growth that requires constant tending, and one that I continue to work on daily. I must be true to myself, so I can achieve authentic connections with those people who I love.

I am also trying to tell people that I love them. It is so easy to tell someone that you are mad at them, it should be just as easy to say to them you deeply value them.  

Spiritual Life

This is an area that I’m continuing to explore, and it goes beyond religion. I’m trying to meditate more and to open my mind in different, less structured ways.  I am also thinking more about spiritual writings. I recently did a 21-day modified fast to see what insights that practice would yield. This is a work in progress that I will continue to clumsily pursue.  

A bread only meal-fasting.

Unstructured Time

This one was a massive surprise for me.  I have always been a continually productive person.  In fact, it is how I defined my purpose in life. Much of my mission statement steamed from feeling unworthy as a child.  When teachers and other adults recognized my worth, it was because of my creative and academic abilities. These areas translated into how I saw my own worth.  I have spent my entire life learning, creating, producing, and teaching.

I now have unstructured time.  I can sit in a chair for an hour and look out the window.  I can meditate. I can read something that doesn’t have learning value.  There is a beautiful freedom in the above activities. I realize that these non-productive activities have just as much importance as focused learning times. Growth isn’t always about facts and figures.

Time to not be productive.

The builder

My father was reasonably handy around the house; we had many construction gadgets.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t interested in teaching me about tools and techniques. In some ways, this was a good thing as it “forced” me to move in my own direction… science. 

My friend Tom is a general contractor and can do amazing things when it comes to building. Through him, I have been able to learn more about construction. My inner 12-year-old emerges every time I discover a new power tool. 

I love building, even if my understanding of it is limited. Through construction projects, I have been able to revisit an interest in my life that I had psychologically buried. I believe that I ignored this interest in the past as I was told that I was never good enough, and any project that I attempted on my own was ridiculed due to its naive implementation. As an adult, I have been given a chance to revisit construction, and with guidance, I have discovered that I absolutely can understand the process of building.  The more I learn about this profession, the more I want to learn. I enjoy a creative process with a clear outcome.

Tom and I remodeled my powder room.

Relationships

This one may be obvious to the rest of the world, but it was surprising to me.  I am an introvert who can be a functional extrovert when needed. For instance, I have no problem giving a lecture to 100 people. I’m not shy; however, to re-energize, I need quiet time.

I have no problem being alone, and I’m never bored with myself.  However, during this last year, I have come to realize how meaningful relationships are to me. If you have read my other posts you know who most of my prominent connections are.  In essence, I’m trying to be a better partner, father, sibling, relative, and friend. In return, I’m finding both a sense of connection and significance. That significance goes beyond what I can produce, it is a significance anchored on who I am.

Beyond core individuals, I’m trying to expand my social horizons. This is difficult as I’m an intense person who prefers to devote all of my energy to a few individuals rather than having casual contact with many.  As in most things, I’m trying to find balance.

I believe that my awareness of the importance of relationships in my life has not only been my most surprising self-discovery; it has also been the most important one.  

We were full of excitement and anticipation at this breakfast restaurant in North Dakota.
Joining hands to give thanks.
A small Droby Fest

So, where does that leave me?

Has my retirement been as good as I had expected?  No… It has been much better. I want to continue to grow and explore.  I want to expand my creative skills and continue to be healthy.  

I desire to increase two areas in my retirement adventure that I didn’t realize would be important.  Those two areas? My spiritual life and my relationship life. How I will do this isn’t exactly clear, but I know that the answers will come to me. 

Yesterday I celebrated my birthday.  Friends and family reached out to me to acknowledge this special day. Once again, it brought home to me how meaningful connections are in my life.

I have always wanted to have a positive impact on the world, no matter how small. I have come to believe that this has been and will be on an interpersonal level. If I can make someone’s life a tiny bit better, then I have had a successful day. However, I also understand that I have value in just being me.  

Peace

Mike

A retirement reception at Rosecrance.

Here is the audio reading of this post:

http://psychiatricsecrets.libsyn.com/one-year-retired-a-review

Time For Dr. Mike To Make A Life Change.

It is early in my retirement, and I’m taking a walk with my friend, Ralph. He comments that he knows that I’ll be busy in my retirement as I have so many varied interests. I nod in agreement.

****

When I was in the planning stages of my retirement, I made a deliberate effort to develop activities to fill my retirement time. Although these interests were diverse, they all had a unifying theme, they were all productive.

My work life was hectic, and when combined with my family life, there was very little time to do anything else. Additional tasks had to be carefully sandwiched into my daily schedule, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to live my life in 15-minute blocks of time. My schedulable time was so tight that I would frequently feel guilty when I was working on one project, as I thought that I should be doing something else. For instance, I might be paying the household bills while feeling guilty that I wasn’t weeding the garden. In retrospect, it was all pretty crazy.

With the onset of retirement, the amount of unscheduled time at my disposal became exponentially higher and offered me the ability to accomplish significant tasks. However, despite having massive amounts of available time, I have not written a blockbuster novel or discovered the cure for cancer.

I am accomplishing some of the items on my list, this blog is one of them. However, other planned tasks never made it to the initiation stage. Although I did ponder this inequity, it didn’t seem to bother me too much. Other activities were filling my time, which included doing a lot of social media work for my friend Tom’s business, and building my campervan. The latter being a fantasy project, turned into reality.

I also became aware of another internal phenomenon. That phenomenon consisted of a feeling that started subtly and continues to slowly build to this very day. It is hard for me to define this feeling, the closest tag that I can come up with is “peace.”

****

It is early morning, and I am camping in Colorado. I’m finishing my breakfast of scrambled eggs, pork-n-beans, and coffee. I’m parked at a campsite in the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Anxious feelings are starting to build in me. I’m once again having the feeling that I should be doing something else. In this case, I should be dashing out the door to go on a hike. I looked around Violet, my campervan, and note her disarray. I start to rush as I wash my dishes and quickly and carelessly place them back into their bin. I forcibly stop myself and take a deep breath. Why am I in such a hurry? Where am I going that requires me to rush? Why am I feeling stressed? I mentally tell myself, “Mike, you are exactly where you should be at this moment. Plant your feet on the ground and stay in the present.”

Being an orderly person what I really want to do is to clean and reorganize Violet. I make a conscious effort to repack the cupboard in a more organized fashion. I then take out my area rugs and give them a good shake. I follow this by wiping down surfaces and using my whisk broom to sweep Violet’s tiny floor. Along each step, I remind myself to stay in the moment and to not drift into the danger zone of thinking that I should hurry as I need to be doing something else.

The entire cleaning process doesn’t take very long, but it still consumes about three times more time than the rush job that I was initially going to do. The slower pace allows me to leave for my hike feeling peaceful rather than frantic. Also, it is lovely knowing that I will return to a clean and tidy van after my hiking adventure.

****

I am seeing this slow-down phenomenon occurring in other areas of my life. If I go grocery shopping, I don’t feel a need to finish and immediately move on to the next project frantically. When I am working on any project, I make a concerted effort to celebrate what I have done as opposed to what I have yet to do.

At this time, I’m cleaning out a storage area in my basement, an absolutely overwhelming job that I have avoided for years. However, I am approaching this project differently. My simple goal is to fill one black garbage bag a day with items which I’ll either toss or donate. After I fill a bag, I am done with that project for the day. When I load a bag, I make an effort to pat myself on my back and celebrate that I have accomplished my goal. “That is one less bag of junk in my basement,” I remind myself.

My current daily routine includes some “productive” activities and a lot of growth activities. I am a person who loves to learn for the sake of learning, and who loves to understand the world through the perspective of others. I recently got to talk to some police officers and saw the world through their eyes.

I tend to be more of a “peace and justice” kind of guy, but I have deliberately been talking to folks who are more of the “less government, more self-responsibility” viewpoint. My learning technique is simple; be respectful of others’ opinions, and they will happily share their perspective with you. I don’t feel a need to push my views on anyone, and I look at conversations as an opportunity to learn, and to connect with someone else. We live in a bipolar world where many people assume that if someone has a different opinion on anything, they are the enemy. What a silly and constricting viewpoint that is. There are good people everywhere, and they are easy to find once you get past your own biases.

I am aware that my retirement is not what I had planned, it is evolving. I’m unclear where it is heading, and I’m OK with that as I don’t have any particular place where I need to go.

My newfound unstructured time has made me more peaceful and less frantic. It has made me more open and less rigid. However, most of all, it has made me happy. In the past, when I was very physically sick, my goal was to use every ounce of energy in productive pursuits that involved either my career life or my family life. By the grace of God, I have been given the one-two punch of newfound health and unstructured time, and I have used these gifts to stretch my behavior in ways that I did not think possible. I am traveling and discovering, I’m learning new disciplines, I’m talking to people who have a different view of the world, and I’m making an effort to celebrate and to be grateful. I’m very excited about my upcoming trip to Glacier National Park, but I also enjoy going grocery shopping with my kids.. I refuse to waste even a single day by ignoring the present in favor of some future goal.

Dear reader, a few years before my retirement, I was both excited and frightened as I had a feeling that something inside of me was changing. I felt like I was floating down a river to parts unknown, and with no ability to control my journey or destination. I still feel like I’m traveling somewhere, but I now think that it is OK to not have total control of everything around me. As I slow down, I become more aware of myself and the world around me. It is fantastic to be retired and to be discovering things about myself and the world around me.

The lessons that I’m learning are simple:

Stay in the present

Be grateful

Connect with others

Accept others for who they are

Be yourself

These lessons can be summarized simply by the statement, “Go with the flow.”

Will I continue along this path a year from now? A month from now? Or even a day from now? I have no idea, The flow will take me where I need to go.

****

Dear reader-I’m about to embark on another trip, this time to Glacier National Park. I may try to do some writing while I’m there but I know that I won’t have Internet connectivity. I’ll continue my posts on my return. Peace and Love to you.