Retiree for Hire
by Jim Brennan
Today marks one year since I retired after thirty-seven years of wake-ups. One year, where the hell did all the time go? My mom always said the older you get the faster time flies by, but my wife put it in perspective when she returned from work the other day and told me a patient made an insightful observation, “Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end the faster it goes.” I said, “Yea, that’s why you have to get more from each wipe.”
Getting the most of each wipe of daily life is the only way to retaliate against the ticking clock. If slowing down initiates atrophy, then never slowing down should be the goal just as Tom Petty exclaims in Mary Jane’s Last Dance, “You never slow down, you never grow old.” Neal Young’s put it this way, “Better to burn out than to fade away”, a strategy he epitomized traveling back and forth from Nashville to New York to treat a brain aneurysm in the middle of recording an album.
When people ask what I do with my time I’m usually stumped trying to remember what I did the previous day, or few days, or week, or month; so please don’t ask me what I did over the past year. All that I know is that I was busier than hell every single day. I took a break yesterday afternoon and cycled over to a local lake. Sitting on the bridge at the inlet I watched as an egret skimmed the surface of the water and wondered where I would be had I not made the move last summer; Washington D.C., West Coast, Texas, or my office answering a question that I’d answered five hundred times. I smiled to myself knowing I made the right decision before saddling up again.
Retired friend’s who knew my lifestyle advised, “You won’t know how you ever had time to work.” They were right. Only rather than meetings, deadlines and headaches it’s cycling, gardening, writing, the kids and the grandkids. The contrast in activities registers quite a different reading on the stress-o-meter.
Shorty after I walked out the office door for the final time a good friend gave me a well-intentioned gift, a book about retiring with a mission. So late on Saturday night I was into a good bottle of pinot noir and pulled it out and gave it a read. I had a hard time getting past the mission statement and taking a life inventory, but when I got to the action plan I screamed and woke my honey from a sound sleep. She ran into the living room and asked what the matter was. I told her that our society has become so tightly wound that it’s no longer okay to retire and chill, travel, party and enjoy life. Now you have to find more crap to wind yourself up again. Under those conditions why would anyone want to retire? Apparently, these days’ people retire to go to work. Not me!
Nevertheless, welts that remain on the back of my head as a testament of the Catholic school guilt ingrained so deep into my psyche I thought better list exactly what I learned the first year of retirement so I could start defining my next career. Following is what twelve months free of staff meetings, business travel, presentations, and personnel actions have taught me:
1. I have too many damn cloths; I can get by on about one quarter of what I possess (including underwear.) Since retirement I’ve donated more cloths to shelters than I had in my entire life, still I am unable to close my dresser drawers because of bulging material hanging from the sides. Suits? I expect one day that more of my kids will marry, but I’ll rent a tux. Ties? If I lay them end to end they reach across the street to my neighbor’s driveway and I’ll probably never wear another for the rest of my life. Shoes? Who wears those things? One pair ought to do until I’m in the box and planted. In the meantime running shoes, hiking boots and sandals will do just fine.
2. Razors, soap and shampoo last forever. Before I retired my aging mentors encouraged me to calculate retirement income and expenses. The exercise enabled me to identify adjustments that enable me live a relatively comfortable lifestyle, certainly not lavish, but comfortable. But now when I back out the cost of the aforementioned sundries I am able to take a second vacation each year, to an international destination no less.
3. Always have a backup plan. Once people know you are retired they think you have all of the time in the world. It’s incomprehensible to the workingman/woman hunkered down in the grind that a retiree can keep themselves busy, even if it is goofing off. So to counter the onslaught of request to drive this one here, that one there and pick the dog up at the vet, I’ve created a cheat sheet I keep in my wallet that has some indisputable excuses if called to lend a hand: Car’s in the shop for oil change; dog is sick; waiting for a pizza to be delivered; fixing the toaster…….
4. Revelation: Caller ID is the most useful technology created in the past half-century. Thank about it.
See, I did learn a lot over the past year; and yea, retirement is settling in and agreeing with me. I concede that taking “inventory” of lessons learned was a useful exercise because now I know my next profession won’t require getting dressed, bathing or leaving the house. I’ve decided to become an organic farmer/blogger/eBay entrepreneur. Oh, did I mention that expendable income isn’t that important to me?