Monday, April 9, 2018

Eight Years and Counting

It was eight years ago today that I walked out of my office at UCLA Medical Center for the last time. I was officially retired.

But it quickly became evident that we all have our own, very different, retirement dreams. Though my husband Bob and I left the stress of Los Angeles traffic, selling our home of 29 years and moving to an active adult community in rural Arizona, we settled in to very different retirements. He happily slipped into his dream routine: working out, playing music, reading, doing crosswords and jigsaw puzzles. After taking a six month breather to relax, swim, socialize and indulge in recreational reading, I took another direction: getting back to my original career -- writing. This blog was the first step in my new direction.

What have I learned about retirement in the past eight years?

1. We all have different -- and valid -- visions for retirement. While I revel in the fact that I no longer have to get up before dawn for a hellish commute, I find great joy in work that I love. In the past eight years, I've written three books for major publishers, many blogs and podcasts, and am now writing regularly for And I'm happy -- even when deadlines loom. I'm not suited for full-time retirement. I'm not cut out for card games and other common pastimes of retirement communities. That doesn't mean that I think my way is the better one. I've come to see the value of engaging in activities one loves -- whether it's golf or MahJong or crafts or volunteering -- without snarky comparisons. Some people want to spend their retirement days enjoying and caring for their grandchildren. Some people have moved to this remote location to put some distance between them, their adult children and daily babysitting duties with the grands. It all works. We all delight in doing exactly what we want.

2. Frugality, within reason, is a good idea.  We bought a brand new home with the fantasy that repairs would be minimal for a long time. All those budget projections we made pre-retirement didn't account for the fact that water heaters and appliances in Arizona have dramatically shorter lives than their counterparts in California. The harshness of the water here took out our water heater, in rather spectacular fashion in the middle of the night, after only four years. We've already replaced a refrigerator and a washing machine. Not to mention our complete air conditioning system. Last summer, Bob's car needed thousands of dollars worth of work. Just before Christmas, both of our cars needed new tires. Someday soon, I'll need another dental implant. It's always something. Even when you've planned carefully, even when you're truly okay financially, there can be jolting surprises and some unanticipated adjustments to your budget.

3. Whoever you were before, you'll be in retirement. When Bob and I used to fantasize about retirement, we imagined ourselves in a social whirl in our new community -- active in all manner of classes and events, socializing with neighbors and living a life quite different from the one we had as two working, commuting, exhausted, mostly solitary people in suburban Los Angeles. And at first, it seemed we were on-track with our fantasy personas. We had parties and outings with neighbors. We worked out at the gym every morning -- with a group of gym buddies -- and spent long, languid afternoons in the outdoor, recreational community pool, talking with friends. But gradually, our daily routine became more familiar: I spent more time working. Bob craved time alone to read. We took fewer classes over time until we weren't enrolled in any. I found that the exercise classes that I had envisioned attending regularly clashed with my writing schedule, especially when I was on a deadline for a book. I found that I preferred working out -- often swimming laps -- in the evenings. As the years have sped by, we seem more and more like our old selves: semi-reclusive, engaged in largely solitary pursuits. Bob occasionally visits our neighbor Wally for an afternoon of talking and laughing. I do the same with my friend Marsha, with whom I have breakfast every Saturday. But usually we're alone -- he in the house, reading, and I in our casita, writing. And it suits us. Just as it suits many of our neighbors to go to parties and dances and group trips.

4. As time goes by, one lets go of one's previous working life and becomes more engaged in cheering on the younger generation.  Generatively grows in these years as you celebrate the triumphs of the younger generation. And there are moments of new painful realizations that some of the knowledge or power you once had may be gone forever. I may never again have the level of success or earning power that I enjoyed as a writer in my younger years. Bob still has dreams about work from time to time. But recently, he was shocked to find -- dreaming about giving a seminar once again on hydrologic technology -- that some of his technical knowledge was no longer there. "I'm no longer The Pump God," he told me with a hint of sadness yesterday. "I don't much. I guess now I'm only The Pump Prince -- or The Pump Jester." At the same time, we both feel tremendous pleasure in seeing the career success and wonderful personal growth of our "surrogate son" Ryan Grady, who is nearly 35 and a licensed clinical social worker and administrator in Los Angeles, with a happy marriage and a lovely new home. It's such a joy to see his successes and also those of the adult children of our friends and to celebrate every one of them.

5. We realize, more than ever, the importance of cherishing each day.  Eight years ago, we and our neighbors were healthy and active. Now we've watched, often with a combination of sadness and horror, as lives change irrevocably with illness and growing disability or end, either abruptly or with long suffering. Too many friends have died in recent months and years. And many others will soon follow. Just this morning, Bob got a call from his high school friend Stan, who lives in California, to tell him the bad news he just got from his doctor -- that his congestive heart failure is at the end stage and that there is nothing further they can do for him. Bob himself has had his challenges the past few months: sudden blindness that one doctor diagnosed as dry macular degeneration with a prognosis of lifelong central blindness. A second opinion was more optimistic: the second doctor correctly diagnosed PCO, a common side effect of cataract surgery that is curable with  a quick laser procedure. Bob can now see again -- and doesn't take his good fortune for granted for a minute.

We take nothing for granted. We've been very fortunate these eight years. Today, we're still healthy and active. Today, we're solvent and have a home we both love. Today, we can each live our retirement dream. We realize, with new clarity, how quickly everything can change. So each day of health and vigor and discovery is a treasure.


  1. Very well said. I was so happy to retire and have enjoyed taking day trips to old houses and learning the history of their owners. I have also enjoyed nature on a daily basis. I too thank God for my health and well being. House nightmares occur from time to time, but they get corrected. My ordeal with having a voice disorder has lead me to fulfilling pursuits on the computer as an neighborhood watch lead, communication with the police and fire dept, and coordinator of area contact people around the world who volunteer to help people with spasmodic dysphonia. Life is good. Thanks for the succinct and positive blog.

  2. Lovely post. It is a time of change and adjustments, but I try to spend each day in a spirit of gratitude for life even with its complications and curve balls.

  3. Wonderful post. Interesting how we eventually fall into what makes us feel comfortable yet productive with retirement. Also how we have to adjust to robust health for ourselves and loved ones slipping away and being grateful for what is the new normal.

  4. What a thoughtful post and one to remember and share. I do believe it is important for us to live every day as our best selves with no unfinished business with those we love. We never know -- and we've all too often seen -- the sudden and unexpected end (the heart attack or stroke or embolism or car accident). Take nothing for granted -- four words to carve on one's heart.

  5. Dear Kathy, like you, I've never really "retired" from my passion, which is writing. For me, it is the glue that holds together all the disparate parts of my life--past, present, future.

    Like you, I have learned to live in the present. Illness over several years helped me give up my need to control the present--and the future. I am grateful each day that I can write and research. How long that will last I don't know, but I do know the joy of it now. And that is enough.

    Thank you for saying so well what many of us have discovered. Life is a daily gift. Peace.

  6. A realistic look at real retirement vs. fantasy! A few of the dreams we had when we retired 4 years ago, we've put to rest.Seems that RV lifestyle looks rather daunting and expensive, and we figured out--we don't even lik edriving that much! What were we thinking!? I DON'T miss my old job, and have come to enjoy a lot of just easy going day to day pleasures:waking up wihtout an alarm clock, daily exercise at my own pace, lots of cooking,reading, and yes, playing canasta twice a month with friends. My husband is a fixer.. loves doing ALL the household chores inside and out, and we do take trips here and there, but not nearly as much as we thought we would! He also, after one year, returned to work part time, his own business, in a home office, and is happy with that balance Overall, retirement is an interesting journey you just have to do to figure out,I think..a little planning and a lot of flexibility!

  7. Thank you for this great post. It is nice to find just the right rhythm for our retirement lives. I find that what I thought I would be doing is very different from what I am doing. I also find I am just not the kind of person playing cards, going out tours to local sights, or perhaps going to the senior center to paint or learn to hobbies. I’m just not interested.

    I too like to be at home writing, or reading, or just doing whatever it is I do around here to fill my days. I have my church groups which I enjoy. I volunteer for a church committee, and I enjoy that too, but it doesn’t take much time, so that is a plus.

    My husband on the other hand loves still working. I’m glad that works for him. It would not work for me.

    It is interesting to read about your retirement life in Arizona where so many are so involved with so many activities. Each must do what fits their own needs. I’m so happy you know what that is for you, and that you are doing what make you happy.