As I sit alone in my trailer, I feel the darkness descend upon me, like a cold shiver starting down my spine. My body started to tingle, or maybe it was more like a buzz, and I collapsed further under the blankets covering my legs. It’s a beautiful fall day in Washington state, but why do I feel like I’m sinking into the cold, gray waters of Puget Sound?
When I retired a little over two years ago, I never thought this day would come. All I could see was space and freedom. However, everything has light and darkness, yin and yang, bliss and sadness. I now scold myself for being so idealistically ignorant about retirement.
When I left my career as a healthcare manager, I was ready to leave behind the never-ending mailboxes, strategic decision-making, and the burden of caring for 70 employees and eight separate facilities.
I was surprised by so many things after I retired, and now, two years later, I’m surprised again. Maybe my surprise can become a success strategy for others.
Hidden mines I wanted to see
Once I got through the first few months of retirement, I was surprised to find myself struggling with productivity expectations. For the first few months, we were busy selling our possessions and getting our house ready to put on the market. It was easy to trade my accomplishments at work for the hustle and bustle of selling a house.
But once I got used to traveling and then arrived in Jacksonville, Florida, where I spend the winter, I started to feel guilty for days when I didn’t have anything urgent or important to do.
Even though I was more tired than I had ever been, I felt the need to justify resting and watching TV. In the end, it took me several months before I finally felt like I had a break. I wish I had been kinder to myself, recognizing that I needed to recover from career stress.
America has elevated productivity to divine status. When you ask someone how their day was, you usually get a list of things accomplished. It’s as if our worth is determined by the number of tasks we complete.
I wish I had known that I could suffer from unproductive emotions.
I wish I had been prepared with a mindset that prioritized taking care of myself and restoring the balance in my life, which had been heavily skewed towards success at work. I wish I could just think about fun things and enjoy my lazy days.
Another secret I wish I knew is that we are created to accomplish a purpose.
Without the feeling that we are contributing to something meaningful, the urge to find meaning in our actions is diminished. We often hear statistics about humans. Died soon after retiringis thought to be caused by a lack of purpose.
My mindset as a healthcare administrator has rarely focused on productivity. My goal was to ensure my employees were valued and happy. When that sense of purpose was removed from my life, I scrambled to figure out what to focus on and how to better understand my worth.
Note the distinction here. I believe that values and purpose are separate but intertwined. Values have more to do with who we are, and purpose is more defined by what we do.
One of the biggest threats to a well-rounded retirement is believing that what you do is who you are.
When I retired, I lost the group I was responsible for and suddenly found myself scrambling to find a meaningful focus. Thankfully, I didn’t believe that my career gave me value and I didn’t walk away wondering who I would be without it.
Now that my career was in the rearview mirror, I needed to figure out how to express myself. I wish I had been prepared for this part of the transition. If I had known I would lose my purpose, I would have spent time thinking about what would happen next.
Transitions such as retirement have the potential to stimulate our creativity. Many years ago, I read an interesting book that said: path of transition. This book was written by a university professor who gave important assignments to his students every year. They were asked to write an obituary.
The professor studied the answers every year and found that most students were characterized by the vicissitudes of their lives. Their lives were marked by change after change, whether it was the divorce of their parents or the death of a beloved pet.
The authors supported the idea of seeing transition as a time and space for fostering creativity. He suggested taking time to learn and grow from it, rather than rushing into change.
As I moved toward retirement, I realized I could use my passion for writing to care for others.
If I can explain what I’ve been through and how I’ve grown through pain and trauma, maybe someone else can be helped by my experience.
I didn’t go into my retirement with the intention of starting a new career for myself, but that’s exactly what happened. I couldn’t be happier, but it also had its pitfalls.
Secret struggles must not remain secret
Navigating the unknown after retirement is difficult, but certainly doable. We have learned many lessons, experienced new challenges and navigated the changing financial landscape with liquidity and flexibility.
One of the changes we made was my wife stepping into the world of seasonal retail work. It was a big change for the veteran healthcare worker, who has been on the job for 35 years. She enjoys learning new skills, working with good people, and putting money into her dwindling bank account.
However, as a gentle extrovert who values engagement, this change was difficult for me. I often felt sick when she left for a full day of work. I wasn’t that sad or anxious, but I felt like I was living under a dark cloud.
For several months I kept this a secret. As you can imagine, I tried to do enough trailer writing and chores to seem productive.
Childhood trauma instilled in me a dangerous philosophy of “you’re the only one I can rely on” that I’ve worked hard to dismantle over the last few years. So when I suddenly felt like I was hiding something, I knew it was time to come clean.
It felt liberating to tell my wife, daughter, and son-in-law where we live that I was suffering mentally when my partner worked long shifts. I did. There are still days when I worry about it, but I feel like it’s easier to be honest.
What surprised me is that I didn’t see it coming, but I should have. I know myself so well that I know that socializing brings me life.
Before I left, I never thought I would leave behind a life full of interaction with my colleagues. When she started writing in earnest in January 2022, she had no idea that life as a writer would be a mostly lonely journey.
The great news is that there is a solution to this. If you find yourself in a similar situation, the following may help:
Connect with other writers online. I am in close contact with her two groups of writers virtually. One was a group originally formed on Twitter Spaces, and in many ways these women became my allies. We meet on Zoom and share private Facebook chat threads to support each other and keep up to date.
Second, I’m part of an amazing team of writers who edit on Medium. I was thrilled to be invited by Dr. Debra G. Herman to join her team of editors. And it was great to connect through Slack channels throughout the day. When I’m at my desk writing a manuscript, knowing that our team is echoing it behind the scenes feels like an emotional safety net.
Finally, I have a good friend who is a fellow creative and runs her own interior design company. She, too, was struggling to find engagement while working from home alone for long periods of time. We decided to meet once or twice a month at different coffee shops for coworking girlfriend days.
We have a great system where we spend the first 15-30 minutes reviewing and sharing details about what we’re going to be working on. Then, spend a few hours working on each project. When the time is up, we head home to plan our next collaboration session. It was invaluable to both of us.
I’ve been writing about retirement on Medium for the past year and a half, and I’ve found that these articles are the most widely read. I hope these shared secrets will be of value to others.
Kim Kelly stamp (she/her) is a writer and speaker who writes about authenticity, retirement, relationships, and life on the road.
This article was originally published at: Moderate. Reprinted with permission from the author.