18 February, 2004

Was it the time or the place?

Six months from retirement has turned out to be an important development point. Initially, retirement felt like being on holiday. In some ways this is surprising. Pre-retirement had been clear-cut, with being increasingly “out of the loop” in my administrative responsibilities and with a wonderful retirement party and other celebrations and expressions of good wishes, so there was a clean, considered, break with my job. Equally, retirement was immediately encumbered with worrying and complex multinational income tax considerations – a major learning experience that I’ll write about one day – and working with our architect, activities that are not usually associated with being on holiday. The first few weeks were heavily involved with purchasing the amazing number of mundane items we needed to live in our unfurnished flat before our belongings from California were available – holiday shopping was never like this.

On the other hand, there was the strange feeling of going shopping in the middle of a weekday – almost like “playing hookey” – and doing many more things together with Iris that are key parts of being on holiday. Also, we didn’t know anybody in town, except for Iris’ nephew, Stuart, and his partner, Amber; again typical of being on holiday. Less obvious, and I don’t think I “twigged it” until after we moved, was living in a very small flat with rented furniture. It was just like being in a mid-size New Zealand style motel room and no way would the emotional side of my brain associate this life-style with a permanent situation like retirement.

A good friend, B.L-W., told us, when we met unexpectedly on a cruise a few months before retirement that the first 6 months of retirement were characterized by “euphoria” due to freedom from the pressures of work and time to catch up on long-delayed projects. Others have expressed similar sentiments. I certainly experienced the euphoria and sense of freedom from the expectations of my employment, and although 6 months is not time enough to catch up on all my projects – major understatement – it was great to get started on them.

After nearly six months, Iris and I began to experience “cabin fever” in our motel-like flat. The immediate trigger was a further delay in the start date for our house building, opening the prospect of many more months before the house would be ready. In retrospect, too, I wonder if there was also an underlying metamorphosis from the initial retirement “euphoria” to a deeper and more permanent satisfaction with retirement and a developing understanding of the opportunities it affords. And so it happened that when an opportunity to move came up, we were ready to recognize it and seize it – “fortune favours the prepared mind”. Now we are renting a modern house, using the furniture I made over the last 40 years, as well as clothes, crockery and so on we’ve accumulated during our lives. We are clearly no longer in the kind of accommodation I associate with being on holiday. I wish “paradigm shift” were not so hackneyed because I need something to explain the completely different way the new – albeit still temporary – living conditions feel.

Now that we are settled in here for at least 5 more months – until our house is ready – I no longer feel I’m on holiday. While having more time with Iris is still wonderful, we don’t have the holiday feeling that we had to spend every minute of every day together because we would be back at work soon. We still have a sense of urgency – so many have told us: “It’s later than you think” – but the longer term view of retirement is now with me emotionally as well as intellectually. Whether it is due to the “six month-effect” or to moving from our motel-like flat to a house, there has been a significant maturation, almost like growing up. Don’t worry, though, I’m still a kid at heart.