The Major Overhauls…
Life will go in a way different direction than you expected at some point. Then, what you’ve decided retirement should look like requires major revision.
It could be something fun–like deciding you want to live closer to the grandkids. It could be something severe and painful–like the loss of your significant other or a major health dilemma that hijacks your sense of “what’s left” for you or your partner. The list goes on, but the point is obvious. This is not a homogeneous stretch of years. You’re going to have to revise your plans in major ways as you live it. That’s actually a plus.
Our current take on “retirement” focuses on the very beginning–all the things you want to do now that you don’t have to go to work. The surprise is that the basic needs that remain until our last breath are more often met after you get past that stuff. The need for meaning and purpose, opportunities for engagement, and deep connections with those you love are all things that come from living day to day both grateful and aware. We get more from dealing with life as a team effort rather than lolling in the hammock or charging into yet another extreme physical pursuit to prove “I am still young.” We thrive with challenges. We are healthier when we step up to change.
AND……Life WILL change….
When you had a job, things didn’t change very often. Now, stuff you can’t control keeps happening. Your aged parents need caregiving, so you move to Kansas. Or the owner sells your apartment building, and the corporation that bought it tears it down and builds a luxury highrise you can’t afford. Or you meet someone really special and moving across the country to be together starts to seem sane. Life is a lot more unpredictable at this stage.
You can find yourself veering way off your planned course many different ways.
A health crisis
Most of us worry about this one, to the point that “maintaining physical health” has become a second career for a lot of retirees. Yes, we need to do all we can to thrive physically. But things are going to happen anyway. Your mindset and your social connections will have every bit as much to do with how well you recover from that as your baseline physical health.
It’s daunting to face the uphill battle of coming back from one of the Big Three (stroke, heart attack, cancer). It’s a different kind of daunting to deal with a debilitating problem they can’t diagnose. And it’s yet another version of daunting to deal with a chronic condition that’s not life-threatening, but that denies you your desired lifestyle.
The focus in all three scenarios has room to be positive though. It takes a conscious decision to do that. Asking yourself the following is going to help you more effectively than just muttering “Why me?”
- How can I best help myself regain as much of my vitality as possible?
- How can I use what I can do to replace what I am not able to do that’s still important to me?
- How can I help myself thrive in this “new normal?” Self-talk is huge for this, but so is letting go of all the emotionally toxic things you’ve been tolerating in your life.
- What can I learn from this?
- How can I live my biggest life in this new version?
Don’t tell yourself “It’s all downhill from here.” It will be if you assume that, but it doesn’t have to be. See what you’re dealing with clearly. Learn all you can about what you have to work with. And then get on with your life. You’re stuck with a detour, but you’re still on the journey.
You become a caregiver.
This is probably the thorniest of all these challenges. It has the potential to totally hijack your life. You get into it with the loftiest of intentions and commit everything you have to helping the loved one who needs it. But if you aren’t paying attention, the cost of doing it that way is horrendous. You lose your identity as a separate human being. You lose your mental health as a result. Then you lose your physical health.
And then, even if you want to, you can’t help anybody. This is NOT a good way to caregive. To do the best possible job of caregiving, learn what your resources are and use them. Isolating yourself and your loved one by trying to do it all yourself is all wrong. (It is, however, “the way we’ve always done it.”) Get someone to spell you for an afternoon so you can do something for your own wellbeing. Avail yourself of the assistance that’s part of your healthcare arrangements. Subscribe to information sources so you get updates about what’s available and how to access it.
Make yourself ask for help. We are bad at this as a culture and it’s such a wasted opportunity. Helping gives as much to the person doing it as to the person receiving it. Yet we remain unwilling to ask. Why? Being a martyr caregiver is not loving, heroic, or wise. But waaaaay too often, it’s what happens.
You suffer a financial setback.
It’s not the end of the world when your financial plan implodes but it sure feels like it. Jumping on the first solution you think of probably won’t solve the problem best (particularly if it involves moving in with family you already know you don’t get along with). Financial issues need a calm, well-thought problem solving approach with as much valid, trustworthy advice as you can get it.
Financial problems are probably the most solvable of the major life crises in retirement. In fact, you might end up much happier than you were before it hit. But it takes a solid effort that goes beyond the obvious possibilities in looking for how to get out of the mess. There’s more flex in living arrangements than we typically see. And you may be able to go back to work at something that energizes you. Solutions in this realm can actually make your life better than they were before things went wrong. To accomplish that, you need to do the research–both about who you are and what’s available–and then the work needed to make it happen.
You lose the person you expected to grow old with.
This one is hard because it takes time to grieve that loss well enough that you can restart your life authentically, but you have the emptiness NOW. Glib advice from friends to “just get out and date” is oversimplified. But not doing anything to re-engage with the rest of the world is a recipe for disaster. Only you will know when you’re ready. But don’t keep giving yourself excuses.
You may have been grieving this loss as it occurred in slow motion while you served for years as caregiver to this special person. Or maybe it was sudden, leaving you in a suffocating free fall. Or perhaps you’re in an “on again off again” relationship that’s moving toward disintegration but at glacial speed. There are as many ways to lose someone as there are relationships. It happens, and it hurts.
That does not mean it’s appropriate to give up.
Take it at whatever pace your heart sets, but move forward. There are many ways to find new love at this stage of the game. Some, like online dating, might seem too scary to try. That’s when you need to give yourself some “tough love.” Get out there.
You realize you are drowning in boredom.
When you start to hear yourself saying “There has to be more than this,“ pay attention. You’re the only one who can care about what’s not in your life. You’re the only one who can dig into that feeling and figure out what you need to change. Quite often you don’t have to make huge changes to get life to sparkle again. But you do need to dig until you can see what’s missing. Half of doing a good job of solving a problem is making sure you know what it is. So don’t jump on the first thing that comes to mind. Are you really bored because your spouse isn’t interesting anymore? Or could it be that you have been ignoring something your really want to do, that wouldn’t even involve your spouse, that you are afraid to try?
Flexibility is KEY.
Whether a change starts with you or with something somone else decided, learning how to flex with it makes life infinitely more satisfying. Begin by letting go of ‘this/not that’ thinking. It’s not simply a yes/no dilemma. It’s “What’s the best way to deal with this? How can I get closer to what I want and still keep my life in balance?”
Maybe you don’t have the cash to live in Paris for a year. But you can read books about living in Paris. You can watch travel shows where they are in Paris. Or have “French Night” with friends where you go to a French restaurant or cook French food at home. You can learn the French language. Or host a French exchange student. You can make your life bigger regardless of the circumstances if you think beyond the obvious.
The less you use “all or nothing” thinking, the more ways you can find to explore what intrigues you. That keeps you growing and helps you thrive for the rest of your life.