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New Roads

I’m concentrating on getting back in shape these days. All of the open time since I retired, mixed with weeks of bad holiday eating, have left me carrying extra pounds. I’ve been a runner for years, but my 20 miles a week (in a good week) doesn’t really cut it when I’m also eating pecan bars and twice-baked potatoes. Still, I’ve been here before, I know how to drop some weight if I’ve piled it on, and I’m ready to pay closer attention to how I’m moving and what I’m consuming. I’ve gotten lazy during these many months of the pandemic, when I stopped going to the gym and did nothing to replace the weight training I was doing there a couple of times a week. So here I am, fairly out of shape, heavier than I like to be, and trying to change some of the bad habits I’ve slipped into over the course of the last year. I know what I need to do, but it requires changing how I’ve been doing things. In theory, that always sounds great; in practice, it’s much tougher.

A good day doesn’t have to contain so many things that I’m exhausted and stressed at the end of it.

All of this is similar to how I feel about my life in general right now. I’ve spent much of the last 30+ years focused primarily on work and on whatever part of life I could jam in after work. All through that time, I paid lip service to needing more balance in my life. But, I didn’t realize how much practicing that balance back then would help me now. When I had open time during my working years, those hours were usually devoted to multi-tasking focused on chores, errands, and getting ready for the next round of work. I made lots of lists of what I would do when I had more open time—like during Christmas and summer breaks—but the lists were a million times longer than the hours I had available. So, I’m just as out of practice with living a life that doesn’t include work as I am trying to get into shape.

Luckily for me, there are lots of books and interviews out there to guide me, and the whole world seems to be tuned to that algorithm. Wherever I look, I find an article about staying fit when you’re in your third act, or a book about how people in their 60s and 70s and even 80s are finding the new road they want to travel. Just yesterday, I started reading a book by Peter Spiers, a vice president at Road Scholar, which used to be Elderhostel. Before getting to my first important take-away from the book, it’s worth noting that the name of this educational travel group for seniors was changed because the participants didn’t like being called “elder.” I'll happily take a little of that attitude about my new life.

The other important lesson I learned in just the first 10 pages, though, besides the fact that I am not the only person facing the challenges of reinvention, is what it takes to be truly fulfilled in retirement. Spiers cites researchers who identify “socializing, moving, thinking, and creating” as the keys to a meaningful life after work—as well as, he notes, for “cognitive health.” I like considering this list because it can include so much. And, it goes beyond that initial amazing feeling of having full days of open time and relaxing because you’re not on a schedule. I appreciate this kind of freedom as much as the next person, but a week or so of it during Christmas break reminded me that I need balance.

Now that it’s January and a new year, I’m ready to face some of these challenges more energetically. I’m hoping that a couple of weeks into my 30-day strength training program will find me with less achy muscles and more confidence about getting and staying strong and not getting lazy about it again. I’m also hoping that the exploring I’m doing will uncover some possibilities I hadn’t yet considered. But mostly, I realize that being on this new road—both physically and in terms of my life energy—teaches me something new every day. This week, I was reminded that a good day doesn’t have to contain so many things that I’m exhausted and stressed at the end of it. A nice run, a conversation with a friend, meditation, a bit of creativity, some playing with the dogs, and a good book make for a wonderful day. Tomorrow it may be something entirely different—something I haven’t done before or a turn I hadn't planned for. I’m ready for new roads like that. Stay tuned.


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