A few years ago, in response to a chance remark from Grace Coddington, I wrote a post about being retired. Coddington, at age 74, had recently left her job as Creative Director at Vogue. And, replying to a reporter who asked if she planned to retire, she said: “Definitely not.” She didn’t want to “just sit around.” So Grace Coddington thinks that retirement means just sitting around.
“Uh. Okay.” was my first thought after reading Coddington’s words. “What the hell?” was my second. I admit I was a bit miffed at her comment. It was tone deaf, if you ask me. And like a post on the now defunct blog Man Repeller that same year which depicted retirees as wearing baggy pants and slippers, kind of offensive. And my post in response was, in part, about the many shapes of retired life. How experts say that most people these days don’t retire to sit around. Instead they do all kinds of things, including taking on new careers, partial careers, “bridging” careers, unpaid but meaningful work, and new ventures of every description. Like blogging. So, take that, Grace Coddington.
Today, when something reminded me again of Grace Coddington’s comment, I realized that however much I protested Coddington’s words at the time, I must accept that I have indeed perfected the art of sitting around. Of course I’m not necessarily sitting around all the time. But, since retirement I have had to learn to adjust to a slower pace of life. A life that is not punctuated by work commitments, and work deadlines.
In my case that means no more prepping, marking, or doing report cards on a strict schedule. No more living my daily life minute by minute according to bells. No more rushing to classes, cafeteria duty, staff meetings, committee meetings, department meetings, parent-teacher interviews etc. etc. Or hearing my name end in a question mark most of the time. “Ms. Burpee? Can you help me with…?” “Sue? Can we order…?” “Sue? Can you come to the meeting on…?” Well, you get my drift.
Retirement for me meant lots and lots more free time. Obviously. But adjusting to having so much unscheduled time sounds easier than it is. Especially if you have no intention of spending your retirement just sitting around. Especially if you have a well-developed sense of guilt. And perhaps a need to be seen as a productive and valued member of a community. Adjusting to retirement takes time. And, odd as it sounds, effort.
After the first fraught months of my retirement when Hubby was ill, I began to focus on what I was going to do with my new life. Who I would be, now that I was no longer Ms. Burpee. That bit was hard. At first I mourned the loss of the old me. Then, I focused on what was next. What did I want to DO? I wanted to write a blog. So I set about researching and reading all about that. I bought a dedicated journal and began to plan. I tried to set up a schedule or a routine for myself. And, hardest of all, I had to learn to value what I was doing.
I still had lots of free time left. Hubby and I planned trips, took trips, and I wrote about them in my blog. I travelled more frequently to New Brunswick to spend time with my mum. And I wrote about that in my blog too.
Perhaps the part of my work life I missed the most was the daily, casual interaction with students and colleagues. Retirement was a bit lonely. So I reached out to friends from work. I didn’t wait for them to call me. I remembered how busy work could get, and how time can slip by when you’re busy. Suddenly you realize that you haven’t seen someone for months. So I sent group emails and organized drinks and dinner nights. That was a lifesaver for me. I had so missed yakking with my colleagues.
Once I retired, I had way more time to focus on my fitness. I no longer had to worry about squeezing in my workout at the end of a day of teaching and before I sat down to mark. So Hubby and I ski, cycle, or walk together at least once a week depending on the season. The rest of the time we do our own fitness thing. I walk or ride my exercise bike six days a week while listening to an audio book. I do a weight work out once a week. And these activities have priority during my day. I break off blogging to go for my walk. Or plan a shopping trip or a lunch date around my morning workout.
Even with all these retirement activities, I do NOT neglect sitting around. In fact I am, and always have been, an expert at sitting around. Mostly because I have my nose in a book. And now that I have more time, breakfast book time, after lunch book time, and evening book time are a given. Unless Hubby and I are travelling. But even then I demand a slow day every couple of weeks on a long trip. I must have a slow day for sitting around with my book. Otherwise I become a very cranky traveller. And no fun at all.
And in the last year of retirement, I have even mastered the art of the afternoon nap. After lunch, after book time, comes nap time. Guilt-free napping is a joy.
So here’s where I’m going with this whole discussion of retirement, my friends. I realized today, that adjusting to retirement might well have been training for coping with lockdown. Except for the travel and meeting friends part. Retirement forced me to develop skills which have helped me weather this seemingly endless pandemic. I’m serious.
Consider the challenges of coping with life during lockdown. I’m not talking about the very real health worries of some, the stress of working front-line jobs particularly in health care, or the uncertainty of those who have lost jobs. Those are extremely difficult situations, and in no way resemble my retirement journey.
But let’s look at the challenges for those people who are healthy, who are not working dangerous front-line jobs, and are coping with life at home during a pandemic. Stress, uncertainty about the future, boredom, lack of social connections, loneliness, grieving what has been lost, lack of daily routine and structure, lack of personal space because everyone is at home at the same time. On a certain level that’s exactly what I felt I faced when I retired. Without the added fear of what the world was coming to, of course.
Experts including psychologists and psychiatrists interviewed by Jeff Wilson last fall for his New York Times article How Will We Cope With the Pandemic Fall agree that coping with lockdown life during a pandemic is tough. They suggest “acknowledging the hardship” that is pandemic life, and say that it’s okay to “grieve for what is lost.” But they counsel not to “get stuck” in one’s misery. They say that planning helps during uncertain times, that establishing routine can be helpful, that fitness and healthy eating are even more important than usual. And they stress how vital it is to maintain social connections.
Of course adjusting to retirement is not exactly the same as living through a pandemic. Especially a world wide pandemic. But when I was reading this article I began to see that the coping mechanisms that helped me navigate my first year as a retiree have also helped me this past year.
Without travel and seeing friends regularly, pandemic life can get boring. So Hubby and I changed up some of our usual routines. We planned more treats. Simple things, like stopping for chip wagon fries after a long walk or taking a picnic lunch when we go skiing. Last spring, we had daily homemade, midmorning lattes on our deck. We do more of our fitness activities together. We planned projects together. I began to include Hubby more in my videos and monthly vlog. That has been a hoot. I’ve begun to make phone calls to family when I’m on my exercise bike. It’s amazing how long I can pedal when I’m yakking.
Of course that does not mean that I have not had my COVID meltdowns. If you read my blog regularly you’ll know that when I have a wobble, I always acknowledge it. Ha. Usually by writing a post about it on my blog. Like the psychologists say, it’s okay to grieve, as long as we don’t wallow.
And I will say that my planning skills, the fact that I always try to follow on a loose weekly schedule, and make fitness a priority have served me well during the pandemic. We all know that too much sitting is not good. But judiciously applied, one’s sitting around skills can come in handy during lockdown. Reading is good. Educational. Diverting. Relaxing. If one chooses the books carefully, it can be very stress-reducing.
And let’s not forget the joy of a well-deserved afternoon nap.
Now. I want to come back to that reference I made earlier to a post on the blog Man Repeller back in 2016. The one that offended me because it depicted retirees as sitting around in their slippers and pastel baggy pants playing cards.
I’d forgotten about that until this morning. And now I’m chuckling because all around the world for months and months this past year we were all wearing slippers and baggy pants. Retirees, people who work from home, millennials, teenagers. Yep. Slippers and baggy pants or sneakers and baggy sweats. I don’t know about the pastels. We all swanned around the house in our “lounge wear” most of the time. Except when we got to dress up to go to the post office. Or the grocery store.
So maybe that Man Repeller post wasn’t as offensive… as it was prescient.
Now how about you, my friends? What skills do you have that helped you cope with lock-down? Are you expert at sitting around? Or maybe napping?
P.S. Thanks so much to Aaron Caycedo-Kimura for giving me permission to use his work. I love that cartoon. I guess that means that I do triathlon too. Ha. You can find more of Aaron’s work here.