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Thinking About What's Out There

When you retire, it’s like someone gives you a huge, blank canvas and tells you to go crazy. You can embellish it however want to—with any colors, shapes, sizes, or forms. It’s entirely up to you. That’s a pretty awesome feeling, but it’s also a little intimidating. What will I do, how will I do it, and how will I get there? But I can’t know the answers to those questions until I go through the process and figure it out, despite the fact that my insecure self wants a list, a plan, and a picture of what my future life might look like. So, I’m paying attention to what's right in front of me, working on slowing down, and on being patient—both with myself and with those who say, “What are you worried about? Retirement is the greatest thing ever.”

The only thing standing between me and whatever is out there waiting for me is my own anxious brain reminding me of the "perils" that lie ahead.

As I look at the open landscape ahead of me, some things are already there—people I love, my dogs, my house—and, my rituals. Fairly soon into my retirement, in charge of my own schedule, I realized how precious certain daily actions are to me. I love, for example, to lie in bed in the morning with Jodi and the dogs, drinking coffee and reading the paper. I’ve done it for years—for much shorter periods when I was working—and I still treasure that time. I love to watch it get light in the morning, as the day reveals itself to me outside of my bedroom window. I like knowing what’s happening in the world, and I love reading well-written pieces in The New York Times. Most mornings, I end my ritual with the NYT crossword puzzle and a bowl of yogurt and fruit before I go for a run. I’m spoiled now, nearly six months into retirement. When I have to go to an early dentist appointment, or have a Zoom meeting with someone on the east coast, it just isn’t the same.

In a lovely way, my day is framed by rituals. My other favorite one happens at the end of the day, also with Jodi and the dogs on that same bed. I love reading in bed at the end of the day, sometimes writing in a journal, or even meditating, if I haven’t done it earlier. It’s a quiet time, when I can drink a cup of tea and reflect on the day and on my life. I am not the best sleeper in the world, so centering myself and quieting my busy thoughts like this often helps.

Paying attention to these rituals—and letting them happen each day in some form—has been good for me. It helps me know what’s important to me and what makes me feel grounded. It also helps normalize the otherwise odd feeling of all of this open time and the empty page. I'm also reminded that, even though I can’t say for sure how I want to fill my time, I naturally gravitate toward what makes me feel good. It gives me confidence that I can stay open to the possibilities that lie ahead.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not the most spontaneous person in the world. I lean toward routine and toward liking to know what comes next. Retirement is not that. On one level, that’s scary to me and I worry occasionally that I’ll never quite figure out how I want to live separate from work. But mostly the idea of the blank canvas is exciting to me. I imagine filling it up gradually, changing my mind many times, traveling down several roads, and stopping here or there to check out my new surroundings. But who knows? And the fact that I can even entertain that question lets me know I’m ready to explore.

Part of me, of course, wants to track that exploration, schedule it, engineer it, and set some in-between markers. But clearly that’s a plan, not a journey of discovery. The only thing standing between me and whatever is out there waiting for me is my own anxious brain reminding me of the "perils" that lie ahead. That’s why I like starting with some rituals to frame my days—both of which I could do practically anywhere, at any time. For now, I’m eager to see what lies in between.


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