Retirement: A Strange Kind of Bliss

I grew up on an island where most people were connected to everything to do with sea, fishing…and did I say sea? I remember the writer and poet Gorch Fock mentioned the proverb on many fishing vessels saying: “Ora et Labora”. Pray and work! I suppose that’s what I’ve learned and that’s what most people lived by. The ‘old folks’ had a hard life, working around the clock, either on land behind dykes that could easily give way to the powers of the sea, or those at sea, battling the elements. They prayed and worked and worked.

In a strange way, that’s what I did too. Not so much praying, I have to say, but working long hours, several ‘jobs’ combining motherhood with working in our own business and initiating a social life for the family. And when I didn’t work, I thought about how to improve my work in courses, reading, up-skilling. I rarely complained because that’s what I knew one did. I actually liked it. I felt useful and effective.

“…and then the prince bowed down and kissed Sleeping Beauty awake!” – – Oh, darn, the wrong story. What really happened was, the Retirement-Fairy knocked at the front gate…not totally uninvited!

8211987329_67a28165c5_oThis is – or better was – my retirement dream. Not necessarily living on an island in the Pacific – after all, one has to meet one’s shopping needs, – but what it stands for. Sun, warmth, barmy waters, quiet, peace, no dead-lines, no have-to’s.

And without much complaining, that is what I’ve got. I love it. I can follow my indulgences like reading, watching daytime TV, writing, going out for coffee, shopping, and my all-time favorite thing: Staying in bed till at least ….AM if not longer, sipping my tea or hot chocolate,  reading the news, checking up on people on facebook, listening to an inspiring TED talk, or acquaint myself with the trials and tribulations of 19th Century noble women through my cherished writers like Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer.

BUT then something unpleasant happened: the old training kicking in. Instead of enjoying fully this time in my life, reaping the fruits of years of hard work, I catch myself, ever now and then, feeling guilty. Not enough ‘Labora’! I should be doing something productive. Lazy is not allowed. The old rules and childhood ‘examples’ set by the adults around at the time, are powerful reminders that creep into my mind unnoticed. Even the fortnightly pension payment triggers odd thoughts. I never was paid for doing nothing.

A friend told me that this feeling of ‘I need to do something, be productive, contribute’ will go on for a while, and being officially retired since the beginning of this year, I am told I have a while to go. I look forward to it. What surprises me that I feel this way. I did not expect it. For years I envied retired people for their ability to just pack up and do what they feel like. But, even though in my logical mind I have paid my dues and done my duty, I hesitate. How puzzling!

However, knowing how the human mind works I know that I feel what I think. As long as the childhood training is invading my thoughts with uncomfortable reminders of not enough ‘Labora’, I will being caught with feelings of guilt. It doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to lay back and enjoy this time. It pays not to takes one’s own thoughts so seriously. Just because I think it doesn’t mean its true.

I assume it takes a while to shift gear and, like the seasons, have a season for resting and harvesting. I’ll have to keep this in mind and ward against ideas that might have made sense around 1900 in Northern Germany but are out of date and out of place today… for me at least!

There is a thought: I need to go shopping and get a bed-table for my breakfast in bed to make a more enjoyable; and I am going to download some more romance novels for my ipad!

 

 

Moving and Downsizing: 4 Important Lessons

image1 (1)Whenever someone asked me about moving, I responded – honoring my gypsy great-grandfather – that moving is in my blood and one of the easiest things. I do it with my eyes closed…and I do it very well, having had my fair share of moving (60+ times in my adult life). No big deal. “Eins, zwei, drei, ruck zuck,” as we say in Germany. Packing up the household in two days, unpacking in two, maximum 3 days, and having a ball all the way through. “Sweet as” as we say in New Zealand!!

I love moving. I love having a new place with all the new possibilities it brings regarding decoration, neighbours, cafes, environments, shops, and even sometimes new languages. What’s not to love?

Having felt like the moving queen of all times for most of my life, our recent move from Auckland to Wellington (645 km according to google maps) has been a harsh learning curve. I am not as invincible as I thought I am when it comes to uprooting and starting new. Go figure! Maybe that’s why people say “you shouldn’t uproot old people.” But then, I didn’t think I belong in that category yet, even though I have a super gold card that entitles people 65 years and over to free public transport and some other questionable benefits.

Lesson # 1: Sixty five is not forty: It should be pretty obvious, but going into this experience I didn’t know that there is some truth in that. My hunch is that is the same for other people too. Our mind is young, adventurous, and still has the “I-can-do” attitude. Under normal circumstances that may ring true, but moving is a big deal, emotionally and physically. Never underestimate the emotional ‘work’ that comes with moving away from your familiar environment. Having plenty of time to say good bye to friends, enjoying their company consciously, has become a blessing even though it was hard to do at times. Of course we’ll stay in touch, but it will never be the same as living close to each other.

Lesson # 2: Downsizing means letting go of old friends: When kids have left the house and it becomes obvious that a retired couple doesn’t need a four bedroom house with double garage and large garden, squeezing into something half that size requires radical mucking out of cupboards, garage, storage…did I say cupboards??? Reading books about downsizing it sounds all very simple: a stack of stuff for sale, a stack for giving away, a stack for the hospice shop, and a stack for the dump. Well, auntie Betty, downsizing adviser, there were not stacks, we had mountains! Some of the things I was glad to see gone, others broke my heart (metaphorically only). Some had memories attached to wonderful moments when the kids were little and life was a constant struggle to find enough me-time. Yet now, with me-time galore, that looks at times like a very desirable state.

Lesson # 3: I should not have skipped going to the gym: My excuse was “too much to do”. And to be fair, there was lots to do. The mucking out was a gigantic job. Nothing was safe from the big ‘sorting out’. The level of physical exhaustion and the need to lay down and take a nap or sit down and take a break was not only huge, but hit me unexpectedly. I was so unfit, it is hard to believe. I should have listened to my gym person and keep doing these dead-lifts, squats, and long distant bike rides. Now I know, but hopefully this was the last move ever – with me being conscious of course!

Lesson # 4: Give yourself time: Having done previous moves with my eyes closed and in no time at all, it was a surprise that I got tired much sooner, and packing and unpacking wasn’t done in no time at all. It all took much longer, although I tried hard to push through the fatigue. I had to concede defeat. In hindsight, it would have been much smarter had I anticipated and correctly sensed my ‘advanced’ age and calculated more days for the tasks at hand.

The overall conclusion of this move? It is a fact that most people feel much younger than their actual age, and there is nothing wrong with that. There is no rule how we have to feel or behave at a certain age. Well, that is my opinion! But give yourself a good chance to have an enjoyable move when you have to or want to move into a smaller, retirement like space. Get some extra hands to help you and/or give yourself more time for the packing and unpacking. Sixty five is not forty!