Category Archives: personal growth after retirement

Retired Four Year-My Honest Review

As I write this, it has been over four years since I retired from my private practice at Genesis Clinical Services and three years since I left my job as an attending psychiatrist and addictionologist at Rosecrance. It is time for me to do my annual review. I am writing this post for my personal summary. I will share it with those of you who wish to travel with me on my journey.

The process of retirement is more evolutionary than revolutionary. Revolutionary discoveries occur, but that process is slower and more meandering than what happened during my work life. I tend to liken it to watching an analog clock. If you stare at a clock, the hands don’t move; look away for a bit and they are suddenly in a different place.

I’m aware that this process is influenced by forces, such as age and health, independent of any purposeful action. There are things that I can do and things that happen to me that I have to accept.

The beginning of the year brought a cancer scare and a multitude of diagnostics tests and specialists. The bottom line is that I don’t have cancer; rather, I have a chronic condition that doesn’t have a cure but does have treatments. I’m continuing with a variety of those as I write this. Many of these treatments are relatively non-specific. As a medical professional, I can read scientific literature critically. It is clear that most of my medical recommendations are based on weak studies and anecdotal findings. For instance, I’m supposed only to drink low acid coffee. I’m trying to be as compliant as I can be while I recognize that much of what I’m being advised to do is shotgun medicine. In other words, I’m getting dozens of recommendations, none of which are based on a solid statistical footing. With that said, I’m very grateful that I’m generally healthy as I will turn 69 in less than two weeks.

Those core things that have always excited me continue to do so. I love learning and teaching. Creativity is my jam, and the use of technology to aid in creating things has always turned me on. However, how that I achieve these objectives continues to evolve. In the past, I would reward myself by buying things that I could compare. “How is this camera manufacturer’s solution different from that manufacturer’s?” “What are the differences between an inexpensive guitar and a more expensive one?” “Why does one computer application solve a problem one way when another piece of software does it differently?” Buying things gave me the pleasure of discovering how other people solved problems. That helped me expand the way that I critically think about things.  

I love creative expression. One of my favorite places is the Naperville Riverwalk as seen by me on a recent winter walk.

Although I could still buy and compare things, my purchasing has slowed down dramatically as I now can pursue other ways of learning; Retirement has given me the time to explore. With that said, I did do deep dive on automatic blood pressure cuffs earlier this year and bought quite a few of them so I could determine their pros and cons. I gave most of them away after I finished my study, so I guess it turned out to be a win/win situation. In addition, I wrote a post about my findings to teach others. What good is knowledge if you don’t share it?

Much of my explorations of late have involved acquiring knowledge for the sake of learning. My goal has shifted from being an expert on a topic to being knowledgeable about a subject. It is less critical for me to acquire expertise and more vital for me to learn. I appreciate the vastness of information available. Disciplines that superficially seem different from each other connect on more fundamental levels. It is exciting when I discover these connections. Yes, everything connects with everything else. You just have to look. 

If you have read my post, you realize that for the last 7 (or is it 8?) years, I have had the opportunity to learn about construction from my expert friend, Tom. This is just one area that I have been visiting. I have been studying topics that range from learning about other medical specialties to exploring the accuracy of the Bible. There is a joy of discovery when I learn something new or understand something on a different level. There is also a sense of freedom as I can spend as much or as little time as I choose to on any particular topic. No one is going to test me with an exam, and I don’t have to prove to anyone that I have the most comprehensive knowledge.

My role at home is slowly changing. I have taken on more responsibilities than last year. I do many tasks, from cleaning the house to grocery shopping. Naturally, I have continued my long-established outside duties and household fix-it jobs. My job title would most accurately be described as a househusband. Many complain that such tasks are beneath them or even demeaning. I don’t feel that way at all. Household tasks are fundamental for both the individual and the family. They are of the utmost importance. That is not to say that I don’t find some jobs boring; of course, I do. However, there is a satisfaction of knowing that I’m accomplishing these tasks and that they benefit all parties. With that said, I have been trying to strike a balance. The number of adults that live here fluctuates from three to five. All are very capable. The reality is that I could completely take over all household jobs, but that would be a disservice to me, the other members of the household, and our family system as a whole. Everyone has to have some skin in the game, and finding that balance has been an ongoing process.

I have always been a little boy at heart, but I have rarely had the opportunity to express that side of me. I find the greatest joy in the simplest of things. Retirement has allowed me to acknowledge and nurture that aspect of my personality. This part of me is difficult to express in writing, but it involves finding beauty, wonderment, and excitement in just about everything. It is cool. 

Long ago, I understood that I was an introvert, and my social needs were different than many. I have no problem spending long periods by myself, and there are times when I need to be alone to recharge my psyche. However, retirement, COVID, and other situations have illustrated the importance of strong connections with others. I continue to invest in those who I love. I have put ongoing effort into my marriage, children, and other important relationships. I continue to be amused with the knowledge that most things are neither bad nor good; they just are. The COVID pandemic certainly had many terrible aspects, but it also got me to call my sisters on a daily basis. I am close to all of my children but was most distant with my daughter, Kathryn. Kathryn returned from the Peace Corps due to COVID, and this forced the two of us to spend extended amounts of time together. What a blessing this has been as we have developed a new closeness and respect for each other. My other kids are now adults, yet they still seek me out for companionship and advice. I am so grateful.

I made one grand trip to Montana this last year, but I took many shorter trips in Violet. Some of them were for fun, and some were for practical reasons. This is the first year that Julie and my son, William, accompanied me on many adventures. I’m very grateful. You may wonder why I don’t camp with my daughters. It is simply for practical reasons. Violet has one platform bed that can accommodate Julie or William, plus me. Part of Violet’s charm is her ease of use as there is little to no set-up; I have no difficulty choosing to stealth camp. To camp with my girls would involve using formal campsites and setting up tents. I’m not excluding this option, but currently, I’m choosing other ways to spend time with them.

I crave to be on the road more, and I long to go on trips that would last a week or two. It would be great to do this with someone, but my current travel companion’s busy lives don’t allow for that extravagance. I’m now comfortable traveling alone, and I have developed enough social confidence to engage with strangers on the road. However, I still have a lot of guilt leaving Julie for more than a few days. If I asked her if it was OK for me to travel, I guess she would say, “yes.” However, I do worry that she would be resentful of my meanderings. It is unclear how much of my concerns are real vs. my own internal conflict. I plan to engage Julie in more meaningful and honest conversations on this topic. In reality, I’m talking about a week here and possibly two weeks there. I long to be out west. I think my soul lives on the other side of the Mississippi. 

All of my years of financial preparation have paid off. However, I live on investments, and that can be concerning. At the beginning of COVID, I instantly lost 25% of those investments, which threw me into a bit of a tailspin. But, as we all know, the market has rebounded. Thank goodness for that. However, I’m trying to be conservative with my spending, and I’m thinking about those things that I spend money on. I’m the guy who tries to finish the leftovers in the fridge and the one who thinks twice about buying something. When you are retired, there is less need to spend.

My spiritual life seems to be moving in many directions. I was raised Roman Catholic, and although I respect many aspects of that religion, I separated from it when its sex scandal broke. My biggest issue was the secrecy and conspiracy that was enacted on all levels despite the damage that it caused to parishioners. Sadly, what appeared isolated now seems to be a reality among other institutions, as we know from recent events with the Boy Scouts of America.

Eventually, I drifted to an Evangelical Christian church, which I have attended for many years. The church appeared to have an “all are welcome” philosophy and presented Scripture in a contemporary way that I found beneficial to my daily life. Over the years, the founders have aged and become more conservative. Their sermons have become more traditional and less engaging. However, they never demanded their parishioners to think in a certain way, and they have promoted social justice causes. The latter is very important to me as I believe inclusion is one of the cornerstones of Christianity.  

Recently, and surprisingly our lead pastor took a stance against a subgroup of society, citing Biblical teachings. This not only shocked me, but it also disgusted me. Entire religions are created based on the human interpretation of a few Scripture passages. However, those very religions often cherry-pick Biblical writings. They embrace passage A while ignoring passage B. As of late, I’m putting some effort into gaining a better historical understanding of the Bible. I’m not a Bible scholar, but I do understand the Bible’s bullet points, including “Love thy neighbor.” A church should bring people together and not draw arbitrary lines based on individual differences. I can no longer support the church that I have been attending for well over a decade based on their discrimination against others.

I think that a spiritual journey is personal and that externals (such as a church) should be used to assist the individual along that journey. My belief in God is not based on fear of damnation or even the promise of everlasting Salvation. I’m not a Christian because I’m looking for the golden ticket to heaven. I’m a Christian because I have a strong belief in God, and I believe that the message of the NT is one of peace, love, acceptance, and forgiveness. When a religious organization violates those basic rules, it is time for me to reassess its importance. This new chapter is in process. Hopefully, I’ll be further along my path when I do my 5th-year retirement summary. 

I feel incredibly fortunate to have been granted the ability to retire from my work life and be in my current situation. I live in a beautiful town, and I don’t have the daily financial struggles that many others have to deal with. It has been fantastic to explore topics of interest that don’t have practical value. It has been wonderful to expand my creative abilities. I’m most grateful that I have been able to deepen my connections with others. I think that this latter fact has been the most significant benefit of leaving my 9 to 5 (in my case 7 AM to 10 PM) professional life. 

I continue to grow, explore, and be open to new possibilities as they present themselves.

I share these most intimate thoughts with you. I hope they will help you do the same with those you care about. Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness; it is a reality. Vulnerability allows us to grow and to become better humans.

Peace

Mike

Just me from a recent ZOOM call.

More Self Disclosure-More Retirement Growth

This post contains self-disclosure.  If you are sensitive to such things, please be advised.

I don’t have a lot of difficulties talking about my inner feelings; I guess that comes from my years working as a psychiatrist. I know that everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  Growth is a journey and not an experience that ends at some arbitrary age, like 18, 21, or 65.  It is essential to acknowledge this fact, and it is imperative to recognize that learning about oneself happens on many levels.  In other words, it is possible to understand the same truth about yourself but to appreciate that fact in many different ways.

A common theme that has impacted me throughout my life has been the differing opinions of my childhood worth.  I have mentioned this conundrum in the past, and I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Oh God, here he goes again.”  I would have to agree with that assessment, but the topic seems pertinent to so many of my quirks that I have to revisit it.

The basic gist of this issue is that on one front, I was told that I was stupid, fat (ugly), lazy, incompetent, a POS, etcetera. At the same time, others said to me that I was intelligent, kind, reliable, and gifted.  As far as the ugly identifier is concerned, it seemed as if girls liked how I looked, but I have no other point of reference in this regard.  

Initially, I embraced the latter opinions, which allowed me to move forward.  Later, I intellectually accepted them based on available evidence.  However, emotions run deep, and the emotional aspects of early trauma can be challenging to reconcile.  I am an introvert, but beyond this, I am a person who moves very cautiously when forming connections with others.  A part of me wonders if I’m imposing on the other person, as this was a strong childhood message. Since teachers and others praised me for things I could do, I assumed that was my value. However, I have not let early experiences completely rule my life, and I have used the understanding of my past as well as current observations to challenge those skewed beliefs. 

As I have said above, I received the most praise for what I could do rather than who I was. Some of this centered on how I could think; some were based on aspects of my personality.  For instance, I’m reliable, a hard worker, and a good provider. I felt that these attributes gave me value to others. But in many ways, these things seemed like parlor tricks that I knew how to perform; they only represented a small part of who I was.

I would like to share a secret with you.  I have always had a fear that people close to me would abandon me if I no longer could perform for them. The image that comes to mind is an elderly Inuit being placed on an ice drift once they are no longer beneficial to their community.  I would like to emphasize that I didn’t experience this fear intellectually.  As a trained scientist, there was no empirical data to support this hypothesis.  My worries were on an emotional level.

It was impossible to challenge this emotional millstone during my working life as I was constantly producing, constantly giving of myself, and continuously making money. However, that all changed when I retired, and my lifestyle took a one-eighty. As I moved away from a lifestyle model that had given me so much success I had to face my greatest fear.  But how would I do that?

The following incident happened this morning.  Many may feel that it is trivial, but reality is written in trivial events. I could give similar examples from others close to me.  However, to do so would make this long post even longer and would not serve any additional purpose.  I’m writing about this incident as it is fresh in my mind, but it is no more significant than other lessons that I have experienced since I retired.

Last night Chicago was blasted with freezing temperatures with a low of 17℉.  I love experimenting and learning (my drugs of choice), and I decided that last night would be the perfect time to test out a Wabasto heater that Tom and I installed in Violet the campervan.  This particular heater is plumbed into Violet’s gas tank and is designed to lightly sip on petrol, which it combusts to heat her cabin.  I had already done some experiments with the Wabasto. I knew that the heater worked, but I had never used it in a real-life situation. So I decided that last night was the night, and I started the heater as I got ready to camp in my driveway.  The experiment was a resounding success as the cabin was a comfortable 61℉ throughout the night and into the morning.  This result proved that I could winter camp, even in a boondocking scenario. 

Getting ready to spend the night camping in the driveway.

My friend Tom has been incredibly busy as he has several projects on closing timelines.  I have been thinking of ways to help him, but I concluded that the best option was to simply stay out of his way.  In other words, I would give him space so I would not become another thing that he had to do.  When I say he has been busy, this is no exaggeration.  Yesterday, he started his workday before the sun was up and ended it at 10:30 PM.

At 6 AM this morning, I was greeted by Tom, who knew that I was spending the night in the camper.  He went out of his way to pick up some coffee and drive it over to me—a simple act of kindness that was utterly unnecessary but very much appreciated.  To me, it was a statement that said I was important enough for him to alter his insanely busy schedule.  It deeply touched me.

A cup of coffee filled with kindness.

As I stated earlier, I could give examples of others close to me who have shown their genuine care for me even though I can no longer produce for them. My interactions with those whom I care about are mostly routine. I try to be a good husband, father, sibling, and friend, but I no longer perform circus tricks.  I can only be me, the same me I was when I was age 5, age 10, age 25, or age 50.  The person me, not the scientist me, doctor me, photographer me, or insert title here me. To have those whom I love value just me is emotionally mind-blowing. It is also emotionally healing.  Another gift that retirement has brought.

I write this post as a personal reflection and primarily for my kids to realize that growth is a continual process.  In addition, I write it to emphasize the reality that at any age, we can always grow, learn, and become more whole as a person. We can challenge past false beliefs. So many individuals are uni-dimensional.  They view their life based on singular criteria. Perhaps it is their career, wealth accumulation, or possession and conquests. However, I am here to tell you that living such a life leads to a sense of incompleteness.  We are so much more than a single note; we are symphonies.  No one can conduct a symphony without hard work, practice, and introspection.  It is the same for our life symphony.  Every day gives us opportunities to expand and understand our complex selves.  As we know ourselves, we gain the knowledge to fulfill who we are. That growth is constant; it is not static. I hope this post encourages you to pause and pay attention to your inner soul and how you are either meandering towards or away from those core things that are truly important for your wellbeing.  Explore your career, relationships, interests, and life. What falsehoods do you refuse to let go of?  What realities are you neglecting to embrace? 

Peace

Mike

I thought I would add some photos of me from various points in my life.  Each represents a different season of my life.  My circus tricks change, but I stay the same.

Me at 4 years old already questioning the reality of Santa Claus.
I’m most likely in 7th grade in this photo.
As a teenager with Goddaughter, Jeannine, and fellow Godparent, Patti.
ID from my senior year at Northwestern.
As a young psychiatry resident. I have always been obsessed with technology. I thought it was pretty cool to have this gadgetry which I accumulated over a number of years.
Julie and I during our dating days.
Wedding day.
With Tom canoeing down the mighty DuPage in the canoe that I bought for $50. And yes, we both fell into the river.
My awesome family.