Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Retirement: The Best Time Of Your Life

June 22, 1998

Retirement. That long awaited day will soon arrive. Are you ready?

What makes a successful retirement? Here are some challenges to meet if this phase of your life is going to be productive and enjoyable.

1. Retirement takes preparation. Retirement isn't just leisure and freedom from responsibility. The pleasure of life is not in spending empty days chasing sunshine. Even sunshine burns if we get too much.

When people cultivate new hobbies, interests and talents, they are excited about what they can do with their time. Otherwise, retirement is seen as merely a relief but not a challenge or opportunity. The shock of going from something to nothing takes the life out of living.

Goals, passion, concerns and problems challenge our faculties. Each day needs to be important. People who do well in retirement live a balanced lifestyle and have a full agenda of things they want to do.

A full and rich retirement doesn't happen by accident. It happens because people understand the value of using their leisure time well, cultivating their talents and interests, and by finding ways to serve others.

"Old age is when we outlive our dreams. When old dreams die, new dreams take their place. God pity the one dream person." - Anonymous.

2. Keep busy by working and serving. Retirement is a form of career transition. It is moving from one form of work to another where the retiree gets to pick a work of his or her own choosing. We grow when we come to the end of something and begin something new.

Work isn't synonymous with a 40-hour week at a place of employment. Work is consistent effort toward meaningful goals. That can happen at any stage of life.

When we have a purpose, then there is a focus for our thoughts and energy. Goals energize us. Deadlines, even if they our own, make the gift of time precious. Without deadlines, the "work" doesn't have to be done and time loses its importance.

The noblest of goals is service to others. The daily routine of former employment may have limited the opportunities for service to others. Retirement is a wonderful time when people can experiment with love - to care for neighbors, grandchildren, a noble cause - a chance to meet the needs of the young, the old and the less fortunate.

"Not to be occupied and not to exist amount to the same thing. The further I advance in age, the more I find work necessary." - Voltaire

3. Learning keeps us young. This world is fascinating. There is so much to know and experience.

Retirement is a time to reflect on what we know. It is a time to learn more about what we still want to know. One major difference between those who grow old and those who do not, whatever their age, is their attitude regarding life around them.

The young at heart keep current. They are curious. They are still trying to figure things out. Their wisdom is that they know how much more there is to learn. Their drive is that they are still curious and adventuresome. Their sense of excitement comes from having new and expanding experiences. They are open-minded and flexible.

"As for myself at age 75, I can hardly wait to get out of bed in the mornings. I have so many exciting things I want to do - take walks, argue with my friends, read my letters from learned people in all parts of the world." - James Michener

4. Retirement is a time for play. Retirement can be a carefree time. By picking and choosing our own goals, we manage our stress. Daily duties have been set aside. There is more freedom to try new things, to travel, to attend events, to visit family and friends. It is a time to play with the grandchildren. It is a time when a couple can be more playful with each other and find exciting things to do.

When work is something you love, it is play. Hopefully, with retirement, the world of work and play will merge.

"And when you hear yourself saying, 'I'm too old for that', you are closing doors. You are not too old for anything! Because age is in your head., nowhere else." - Leo Buscaglia

5. Retirement is a time to strengthen your marriage. Having to mesh schedules is a challenge. Each partner has had their own agenda and measure of independence. It will take time to learn how to adjust to the activities of the other, plan together and redefine boundaries and expectations created by the 24-hour togetherness.

Past difficulties in communications and problem-solving will surface. Too many couples allow their togetherness to degenerate into a power struggle over who is right or who is going to get their way. All that bickering takes away from the fun of retirement.

This is a time to learn to be easy-going, flexible and willing to give in or compromise. There are important struggles than the battle of wills.

Keep your friends and social circle. Family ties and gatherings are important but shouldn't be the focus of your life. You will do well well when you retain your independence and look after your own happiness.

"It is only necessary to grow old to become more charitable and even indulgent." - Goethe