Five Retirement Surprises

Are you kidding me?

I took the quizzes, read the research, ran the numbers and did the math. But these five things still caught me by surprise.

1. “Honey-Sweetie-Dear”
When younger adults start to smile and “pat you on the head” with their words, you have reached the land of “sweet little old lady” and “dear little old man.”

I was shocked when it happened to me – but I shouldn’t have been. We all do it – even me.

I once assumed all of the “sweet little old lady” qualities about a woman I had in class – after all, she was pretty old. But I also noticed how uncomfortable she was around another class participant, who was a policeman. It seemed odd.
Turns out, she was a recently retired prostitute who was still dealing a few drugs on the side. There was a lot more to her than I had assumed.

And that’s true for all of us. All us folks out here with wrinkles – we’re just other adults. With our own unique history, and current issues, too. And some of them are pretty surprising.

Remember that when they call you sweetie, and smile mysteriously.

2. Once you’re retired, what you did before doesn’t matter. At all. To anyone.
OK, maybe to your family. But it can be a shock to discover how much your perceived value in the world has changed. All those years at work, you had a defined role. People asked about your work, and acknowledged your place. Co-workers may have looked to you for guidance or information. Maybe they valued your approval.

And now that’s gone. You are suddenly a “used-to-be”, and for the “currently-are” set, “used-to-be” doesn’t fit. It’s nothing personal – it’s as if your space simply dissolved when you left.

But here’s an exciting truth: changes keep happening. And as you journey into those changes, you may be surprised to discover that the work world you left behind – which once seemed like center of the universe – is now more and more irrelevant to you. You have moved on. They are now “used-to-be” to you.

Try not to gloat.

3. The whole world is young and beautiful.
From your new physician to the person behind the desk at the library – suddenly, they all seem like “kids”. And somehow, everyone, of every age, has a beauty all their own.

The tired mother at the check-out counter, who scraped her hair back and ran out the door this morning with no make-up and a wrinkled shirt, is a softly drawn Madonna. Friends, acquaintances, people old and young – I’m surrounded by beauty every day.

It didn’t used to be this way. I was pretty critical when I was younger. I compared everyone I met to a standard from somewhere, compared myself to the standard and to them, and we all either won or lost, depending on how the comparison worked out.

But now I don’t compare the person before my eyes to anything. And I don’t compare myself to them, either. More and more, I simply rejoice in the person before me.

I even rejoice in myself, on occasion.

4. You are in the land of freedom – of time, of purpose, of money.
You can play, or you can work. You can fill up your days or you can let them flow. No one owns your time. It’s the greatest danger, and the greatest adventure, of retirement.

Now you decide.

How do you want to spend your time? When I was a kid, I wanted to read, but it was always tricky. If anyone noticed, work would be found. So I hid my book behind homework, or read with a flashlight under the covers at night.

For a full year after I quit working, I spent much of my time in my favorite spot in the living room, reading mysteries and romance novels.

Right there in the open.

Sometimes I would laugh out loud, it felt so good. Sometimes I still do. Sure, I have more commitments now, but only because I choose them. I can take a vacation day – or week, or month – whenever I want. When you’re older, you can do that. You’re the grown-up now!

Your purpose is free, too. That’s a more serious challenge as we age, and especially after we retire. If we have no sense of purpose, we’re likely to die earlier. The adventure is to create our purpose, and choose how we live it.

Some decide to go back to work, and rediscover purpose in that area. Some go to school, or take up art, or focus on family relationships, or volunteer. Your purpose doesn’t have to make you famous, or make you money. It only has to give direction and meaning to your life.

Money might be easier.

Or maybe not. For some, money is a serious challenge. The older man or woman greeting you at Wal-Mart may struggle to make enough to survive. But many of us discover that “enough” is different from “everything we thought we wanted.” For many, “enough” is the freedom to accept what we have, and to be happy with that. To live joyfully in this time, this place, without longing for more. It’s the freedom of knowing that what I have is enough. Right here, right now. Enough to be free, and even enough to share.

I am free to be content.

5. Sex can be better than ever
When I was younger, I never imagined that “old people” even had sex. But in fact, not only do people over 60 have sex, they report some of the happiest sex lives of all.

Maybe it’s because we’re not so tired. With all the tasks of earlier adulthood – building a profession, meeting the demands of the job, managing money and kids, finding daycare and dinner, understanding relationship issues and keeping everyone in clean clothes – honestly, it’s a wonder any of us ever managed to stay awake long enough for sex.

And we’ve changed, too. The failures and fears that stressed us when we were younger are not so worrisome now. We know ourselves and each other in a deeper way, and we recognize what a treasure this time together is.

The mix of time, self-acceptance and mutual appreciation makes a great aphrodisiac.

So. There’s more to retirement than I expected. There are challenges, and some of them are significant. But there are perks, too, and blessings I never anticipated. It’s a journey worth taking.

Even when you get called “Sweetie.”