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Finding My Balance

Since I stopped working the first time—in 2014—I've been drawn to articles and books that promise to help people prepare for retirement. I’m interested in how others have reinvented themselves, given themselves permission to just chill, and have developed new skills and activities. Nine times out of ten, though, get-ready-for-retirement articles are about how much money a person should save to feel comfortable in her later years. I take issue with this for several reasons. First, if you’re close to retirement, it’s way too late to learn that you're going to need a few thousand dollars more each month. If you’re in your early 60s, you undoubtedly already know how much you’ll need and, if you’re ready to pull the plug, you’ve probably got enough.

The missing information in most of these articles is how to live your actual life after you retire. The pieces focused on making the emotional transition from work to retirement are infrequent, at best. I suppose one could argue that having enough money would make your life good no matter what you do, but I still think it’s important for people to get an idea of what lies ahead and how to prepare for it. One piece of advice I wish someone had given me—while I still had time to work on it—was to learn how to balance my life better. The world is filled with articles about work-life balance, of course, but they never mention that if you don’t learn it when your life is jam-packed with activities, responsibilities, and schedules, it’s going to be tough when you’ve got all the time in the world.

I’m a little all or nothing anyway, so I’m working hard these days on learning not to work so hard.

This isn’t really aimed at easy-going folks who love fishing and golfing and traveling, and have plenty of opportunities to do all of those things. I’m thinking instead about people like me, who pretended to have balance when I was working, but really didn’t. I’ve always traveled, and puttered around my house and had interests, but most of that was secondary to my work life. If my job was stressful, I carried that stress with me. If I needed to get more done than the work day allowed, I brought it home with me at night or on the weekends. Most of my relationships were with people I worked with. This is actually not a terrible way to live and it's how many of us organize our lives. But what I didn’t realize is that leaning so hard in that direction all of those years has made it a bit hard to find a good balance now. I’m a little all or nothing anyway, so I’m working hard these days on learning not to work so hard.

The first time I retired, when I casually mentioned to someone that I was going to create a daily schedule for writing and working out, the person I was talking to rolled her eyes. But I knew that if I didn’t have a plan, I would talk myself out of doing either on most days. Of course, when I was actually free of work, I didn’t stick with the schedule (because who would?), and I felt a little like a failure. I realized at that moment that I had focused most of my adult life on striving and achieving, and now I needed to learn to relax and do whatever I felt like doing at the moment. It would be like practicing basketball your whole life and then having a retirement that was filled only with baseball. Making the constant adjustment was so exhausting that going back to work actually seemed easier.

When I was getting ready for this second round of retirement, I thought about that balance idea and of course realized that it’s just something I need to practice more. So, I’ve been taking myself on some walks in new neighborhoods, both literally and metaphorically. I’ve stopped wearing a watch, and I no longer set an alarm. These are small steps, but balance is a moving target. The terrain changes, and so do we. I love watching people I know who are also newly retired as they make their way into this unchartered territory. I envy their willingness to dance a little on this rocky ground, but it absolutely inspires me to do it, too.


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