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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is the audio reading of this post: