Thursday, November 22, 2012

Not your daddy's retirement . . .

by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.
What prompted this essay was a “Saturday Essay” written by Dr. David Andersen for The (Toledo) Blade (March 19, 2005), entitled, “Retirement’s gift is the chance to blaze new trail.”  When I first read this essay, I was just interested in another person’s point of view.  I was closing in on my first ten years of retirement, and I found his perspective interesting but much different from my own.  Although Andersen closed the door on one “life,” he left the door wide open for a new one—“Looking out over what once seemed an abyss, I now begin to see instead, uncharted terrain.  The journey isn’t over.  My destination is still out there. . . .”  

What I did in retirement was simpler.  I cut what I was doing (teaching and writing) in half, and I simply focused on writing alone.
Actually, when I read Andersen’s comments about leaving loved ones, “The other aspect that is over is my relationship with a people I have grown to love. . . .,” I was reminded of the retirement joke: “Why does a retiree often say he doesn't miss work, but misses the people he used to work with?  He is too polite to tell the whole truth.”  I am not making fun of Andersen’s comment nor am I suggesting it wasn’t true.  (Having known him quite well, I know the truth of his statement.)
One of the aspects of Andersen’s column that caught my interest, too, was simply that I really wasn’t familiar with retirement—what it means or how it is handled.
What is interesting about this essay title, “Not your daddy’s retirement,” is that I really haven’t had much experience with anyone else’s retirement.  My father, a university professor, died with his boots on at 53-years-old.  My father-in-law, at 98-years-old as I am writing this, retired at the age of 70 (in 1984) from the University of Michigan and has, since his retirement, completed writing 3 books.  His retirement is probably the closest to “normal” (if there is such a thing!) with which I am familiar.  We are both authors.
There are so many factors that influence retirement, one being pharmaceuticals.  One website said, “Superior pharmaceuticals and better education about health are available now, making it possible for people to live longer, healthier and more energetic lives.”  That alone is enough to differentiate “your daddy’s retirement” from present-day circumstances.
Technology alone has changed the nature of retirement for many people.  Instead of sitting in a room someplace, reading books and magazines, and watching sports on television (which sums up much of the life of my father-in-law now), they can become completely absorbed in the Internet—playing games, joining chat rooms, staying in contact with friends and relatives, etc.
Watching sports on television reminded me of a sports-related, retirement joke: “Two old timers in their 90's were chatting in the rest home.  One was healthy and the other quite ill.
The healthy one asked, ‘I wonder if there is baseball in heaven?’
His chum replied, ‘I'll be there soon, and I will let you know.’
A few days later the old gent passed on and that night the surviving friend was awakened when he heard a voice.
‘Edgar, it's me Bob. I have good news and bad news. The good news is there is baseball in heaven. The bad news is you're pitching on Wednesday!!’”
I am not suggesting that I am a model with respect to retirement behavior, and I’m not pretending that I am perfect; however, when I read the “proven tips that you can implement right away” by Cynthia Barnett at the website Right At Home, in her essay “Seniors—Effectively Manage Your Time In Retirement” (posted by Jeannie Locy on April 18, 2011), I have to say they struck a nerve.  For me, they represent all that I have been doing now for 15 years of retirement.  Remember, these are Barnett’s ideas, not mine; I have adapted them.
When I began my retirement in 1996, I did not know exactly what I wanted to do, but soon after that, I created a personal mission statement.  I evaluated my life, figured out what was important to me, wrote down my priorities and what I hoped to accomplish in my life.  My specific goal was to become the writer I always wanted to be.
Because I had written a lot previously, I knew that I could do it, but I had never done it full time, so I kept track of how I spent my time.  I knew that writing demanded “alone time” with no distractions, and my wife had already lived over 40 years with a “writing husband” in addition to teaching, so I knew I could survive and overcome the time stealers.  But that was essential since I worked in a study at home.
I developed a realistic plan.  Basically, I wrote essays for The (Toledo) Blade, while I worked on one book after another, all the while writing new editions for Communicating Effectively, 10th (McGraw-Hill, 2012), every three years.  When editors changed at The Blade and the “Saturday Essay” column was dropped, I set up a blog to have an outlet for my essays, and later I established a publishing company for my books.
I got organized at once, and since I was already a writer, I had a computer, a study, and all the necessary supporting apparatus—books, dictionaries, thesaurus, pens, pencils, and paper. I found that the cliche was true: the more organized I was, the more productive I became.  I get up at 3 when I exercise, but on all other days I am up at 6 a.m. to begin writing.
I had to prioritize.  If certain activities didn’t fit in with the bigger plan and would waste too much time, I didn’t do it.  My retirement years were too important to waste, so I guarded my time with a vengeance—as all serious writers must do.
I found that I could combine activities.  My textbook included practical advice and so did my blog essays.  Often I could combine those efforts.  It saved time.  When I had to run errands, I only go if I have 3-4 things to do.  Combining saves time.    
I plan all my activities, and I take the time to follow my plans. The absolute best way to accomplish goals is to plan out all my activities—no matter what they are.
I delegated work to others, too.  I have a number of editors who work for and with me at McGraw-Hill.  I brought my son onboard to construct websites and market my books.  I hire my daughter as a proofreader of my books, and I had for some time another person who posted my book reviews on
I am a perfectionist; however, I am a realistic perfectionist.  It means that I know that I can always do better and improve, but I follow the 80-20 rule.  It takes 80% of my time to write an essay, and it takes the other 20% to bring it to absolute perfection.  My essays are not perfect, but they come close enough.  “Trying too hard can lead to feelings of frustration and wasted time,” writes Cynthia Barnett, “Therefore, know when good enough is good enough and simply be willing to move on.”
“In conclusion,” Barnett writes in a summary to her essay that could just as well have been written for this essay, “you can take control over your time and get more done than you ever wanted. Although this requires careful planning and learning, you can accomplish all of your goals by not being a perfectionist, delegating to others, setting long and short term goals, planning and combining activities, prioritizing, getting organized, developing a realistic plan, keeping track of your time, and creating a personal mission statement.”
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At Retirement-Online  the essay, “Retirement Activities,” offers a half-dozen great ideas.  The key, of course, is to stay active.

At The Retirement Café Ernie J. Zellinsky has written a terrific essay, “Top-ten activities to pursue when you’re retired,” packed full of useful and interesting suggestions and advice.  This article is well worth your time.
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Copyright November, 2012, by And Then Some Publishing LLC

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