June 12, 2020

How I Learned Retirement Could Be Lonely

Please forgive me for being so personal today. In 2019, I completed my third leave of absence. A big long 8 months for that one after shorter but still extended 6-month periods on the first two occasions. You could say I already tasted retirement three times or at least semi-retirement.

I am very grateful for it. My first go at it in 2012 was quite enjoyable, but I have to say I often felt lonely during my last two prolonged stints away from work. I felt less lonely in confinement the last few months than during those last two leaves of absence. Maybe in part because my two ladies stayed at home with me but probably much more because I worked my butt off.

I was lacking the sentiment of making things better. I missed helping others. For me, it’s not just a question of being around people. It’s more about lacking being useful to society.

During our recent isolation, it was completely different. Many facets of that crisis were and still are unusual and tough yet, the fact my position allows me to help out others teleworking makes me feel a lot better.

It’s funning because before that, the psychological aspect of retirement was never on my mind. I would be the last person to talk about it. For me, retirement planning was all about money and accumulating enough of it to stop working. I was not even considering it and secretly laughed about others talking about it. I mean, how could it be a problem to be on vacation all the time?

Being Passionate About Helping Others

So, let’s face it! Retirement can make you feel lonely!

There can be different kinds of retirement loneliness. For me, I found out retirement can be kind of dull unless I can find a way to be of service to others. No one will react the same (funny that I had to correct a typo originally writing sane instead of same) way but, one thing for sure, retirement will have a disturbing impact on your activities and you mentally have to prepare for it.

Earlier in life, I was an avid golfer. Today, I play a lot less. I recently realized I don’t miss hacking little white balls that much (I never really liked practice anyway). I much more lacked the camaraderie and experience with others. You may find this strange, but I really like searching and finding my playing fellow’s balls. I like to give them small tips to improve their game. I also like seeing that sparkle in their eyes after a great shot or score. That game is very relative and can gratify any caliber of golfer. For instance, it can bring great joy to someone breaking 100 for the first time or making his/her first par.

A while back, I envisioned retirement playing golf every day. I even saw myself alone on the course. It was not important as long as I would play a lot of golf. Now, I understand my playing buddies are essential to me. Luckily, golf is a game you can play with everyone. You could have different partners every time you play. And despite my somewhat solitary nature, most of the time, the important thing is not going at it alone. In my case, not because I need others but probably more because I like and need to help them.

I am very afraid to become a burden to others getting older. I know and can accept people can help me. But I can’t get around the fact I have to find a way to also be useful to them (not just the specific ones who help me). For instance, I will never say no to a warm home-cooked meal. But because cooking is not my thing, I always try to still be of help around the kitchen. This means you’ll often see me chopping vegetables, setting up the table, washing the dishes, etc. All in all, despite not liking cooking at all, I still enjoy, and I am proud to strive to be the ultimate kitchen helper.

In that sense, I never understood elderly people always in the way on the weekend at grocery stores. And I absolutely don’t want to become that old guy. Now, I understand they can feel lonely. But I still feel they could find better ways to meet people and remain useful to others. I know they feel alone and maybe abandoned. It can be a big problem for many seniors but, bugging busy workers at the stores on Saturday mornings cannot be the solution.

It could be giving a break to parents by taking care of their children or playing with them, prepare meals for your family or people in need, maintaining a garden to provide tasty fresh vegetables, entertaining by playing music or telling interesting (not just to you) stories, etc. You get the idea. Instead of bothering others, you can rather try to make their life easier, more enjoyable.

Everyone can find their own ways to remain useful to our society. Not just because others deserve your help. But also, for you because it can be very gratifying and fulfilling to do so. In the end, being serviceable to others can make you feel great.

Finding Balance and Exploring Your Interests

Some might say they worked all their life and deserve to rest in retirement. I get the resting part but as I said, the helping others part can also be very beneficial to you. So, at some point, the key will be to find balance in all of this.

Concerning that, you should expect an adaptation period early in retirement. You’ll have to find your own balance between helping and maintaining your good health and strength.

You could also prepare for all of this. For instance, you could start your helping activities part-time before you completely stopped working. Semi-retirement could be a great option to get used to your new retirement rhythm.

From my experience, I would recommend exploring your interests before your actual retirement. With retrospect, my first leave of absence went on much more smoothly because I had planned some projects before it. Some like trips were in great part for me but other activities like writing were more about lending a helping hand.

Don’t expect things will automatically fall into place after you stop working. You could find it very long when you realize in Saturday every day. It could be even harder when you realize it’s not Saturday every day for everyone else.

Getting back to balance, the 12-Minute Method can help a lot in that regard. The 12-Minute theory stipulates about an almost even balance between your needs and your activities. To remain healthy and sane in retirement, I still believe you have to strive towards a split in about the same proportions.

In the so-called active portion of your life, a big chunk of your activities is occupied by working. In retirement, you less work or even could completely stop working. Be wary about a possible shock if you stop working all at once and don’t plan for any replacing activities.

I strongly believe in a somewhat active retirement. It’s the only way to remain in good health, both physically and mentally. In practice, this means most people will have more activity time geared up toward leisure. I now believe a portion of that activity time can also be used to help others. And filling up some of their needs can truly make a difference while making you feel great.

Remember that the 12-Minute Approach suggests an average daily allowance of 12 hours to your activities. It can be reasonable to slow down a little in retirement. But it probably can become a problem for instance if you only do something a couple hours a day. Being less active may mean your body and mind will only decay a little faster.

That being say, with age and after a long career, everyone deserves and needs to rest. I don’t want to suggest an excruciating pace. You’ll have to take some time to take care of yourself if you happen to get sick. Licking your small wounds may also take you a little longer.

Then again on the other end of spectrum, some retirees engaged themselves that much that they end up with a prime minister’s agenda. This can only get them exhausted in the long run.

All in all, the real secret might be to discover your new balance in all of this.

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