In my most harried moments, when I’m at a dead run and desperately hoping for a reprieve, I imagine a life in which the demands of a job don’t hang over me as menacingly as a just-sharpened machete. In other words, I daydream of one of life’s great luxuries: retirement.
But the next day — heck, sometimes within minutes — I reconsider. I love what I do, frantic moments and all. I love the fascinating characters I meet. The emails from readers. The stringing together of words to create a sentence. And as I get older, I particularly like how the structure of work shapes my day into something constructive and, in my mind at least, important. That kind of routine can be so comforting, like the first cup of morning coffee.
I was entertaining a certain kind of ambivalence when I read about a survey commissioned by Ameriprise Financial. The report showed that moving into retirement is far from easy and comes with its own emotional adjustments. Leaving the office or the factory floor is, after all, not just a financial decision. It also requires a rethinking of how we spend our time and how we view ourselves.
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Almost two thirds of the surveyed Baby Boomers reported they faced challenges in adapting to their new way of life. The toughest parts of the transition? Missing the day-to-day social connections with colleagues (37 percent), getting used to a new routine (32 percent) and finding ways to give purpose to their days (22 percent.)
The most satisfied retirees were those who had actually prepared for the passage. "They didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to retire," Marcy Keckler, Ameriprise’s vice president of financial advice strategy, told USA Today. "They had considered it and planned. They had some doubts, but they were also looking forward to retirement."
So though I’m years away from the finish line, it’s good I’m thinking of the home stretch, right?
I belong to a biological family of worker bees. Those who heed the quitting bell do so because of health reasons. Most just keep clocking in. Though officially retired, my only living parent, a CPA by training, goes to work every day. He’s 86, still a whiz with numbers. An uncle and an aunt fill in at their medical offices a couple of times a week. All come from a time and place where work was a thing you abandoned only when you were six feet under.
Several friends, however, have hung up their business suits and entered the golden years with perhaps less gold, but a whole lot more time. "If I don’t finish a project Sunday afternoon, I can do it Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday. Or whenever," one recently boasted. I glanced at the tools spread around him with a pang of envy. But that moment passed soon enough.
Another friend, who returned to the world of work after five years of leisure, is delighted to be dashing out of the house in the morning again. The new job makes her feel more productive and interesting. She jokes that she even gets along better with her husband.
We are a people whose identity is fashioned by the work we do and the profession we inhabit. We are teachers, plumbers, doctors, journalists. When our gigs end, we have to redefine ourselves, seek renewed purpose and meaning. The switch isn’t without complications.
Then again, as far as I’m concerned, a writer never never retires. She only changes the frequency of her deadlines. Words always beckon.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.