Life Before and After Retirement: Same Same But Different

I have a confession to make. I love blogging. I seriously do. I love everything about it (well…almost everything)! I love reading the thoughts of others who are in similar stages of life as I am. I love reflecting on what they have to say. I love having the freedom to send my voice into the blogosphere to be read and perhaps reflected upon by others.

A couple of weeks ago, I read a post by Kate (Views and Mews). In it, she discussed her changing outlook in retirement that was often polar opposite to how she felt during her career life (e.g. “Friday yay, Monday blah” suddenly morphed into “Friday blah, Monday yay!”).

When reflecting on Kate’s post, I had the sudden realization that I am the exact same person in retirement that I was in my work life. This shocked me. Somehow, I was expecting someone totally different!! Okay, so I do get more sleep, am more relaxed, have less stress (and fewer emails). But deep down, I’m the same ol’ Donna. You’d recognize me! Same values, same beliefs, same attitudes, same distinct habits (like my love of detail, my tendency to attack small tasks immediately and my ability to post pictures of an event on Facebook…even before everyone has arrived home from said event!)

While mulling this all over in my mind, I wrote last week’s post, A Retiree’s Job Description. I was overwhelmed by the thoughtful and insightful comments that I received from readers. You guys are good!! I was especially struck by Joanne (My Life Lived Full) who wrote that she “is not the same person today that she was six years ago.” Then Janis (ReitrementallyChallenged) suggested that maybe in retirement we “discover someone who has been inside of us waiting for permission to come out.”

So who am I now? The exact same person? Not the same at all? Or someone who was inside me all along…waiting for permission to be herself?

And then I realized that Janis was on to something! These bloggers were all on to something! Upon this reflection (which was A LOT OF INTROSPECTION even for me) I suddenly knew. It wasn’t that I am now the exact same me. Rather, I am more ‘me’ than I have ever been before. My career robes have been removed taking with them many expectations that had been placed upon me (a large number of them self-imposed)! I no longer need to be so acutely focused on a specific area. I’m less worried about disappointing others. This, in turn, has allowed me to be more open, less guarded and has given me additional time and freedom to…well…be ‘me’!

My work life (which I LOVED and for which I am eternally grateful) also helped to nurture and shape the ‘evolved me.’ (Seriously, where do you think I developed my hyper-focus on detail and my tendency to multi-task?!) But like a benevolent parent, work has released me to spread my wings and reconnect with areas of myself that sat dormant during my career.

In preparation for this post, I browsed through a pile of work photos to compare to my most recent shots. Definitely still me…but even more so!

“Same Same But Different”: Something that is substantially the same as something else but differs in the details.

Rocket Girl…and Equality Among the Sexes in 2017

When my youngest son was in kindergarten, I was a middle school principal. My son’s school principal was female. Many of my closest friends were also…you guessed it…female principals. This caused my five-year-old to innocently ask, “Can men also be principals?” “Only when they are very, very good,” I said with a wink.

One of my book clubs is currently reading Rocket Girl. This ‘creative non-fiction biography’ pieces together the life of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s first female rocket scientist, and ‘unsung heroine of the space age.’ Source.

When introducing this novel at our book club, we also touched on the similarly-themed movie, Hidden Figures. In both works, obstacles to women (often combined with other barriers of racial prejudice, poverty, etc.), in male-dominated fields, sat continually at the surface. This evoked a spirited book club discussion as to how far we truly have come in regards to ‘equality among the sexes’ in 2017. Our group remained divided in their responses to this question.

Stimulated by this discussion, I did some checking.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2016, produced by The World Economic Forum, examines ‘equality’ between men and women in four different areas (education, health, finances, politics) in 144 countries. This document also highlights countries, that within their region and economic group, provide opportunities and distribute resources more equitably among the sexes.

What were the findings?

For the 144 countries studied, in 2016, the gender gap between education and health outcomes had closed 95% and 96% respectively. However, gaps between political attainment and economic participation had only closed 23% and 59%. In summary, this report stated than an average gender gap of 31% remains. Source 1. Source 2.

It is frustrating that the road to gender equity often contains steps forward mixed with several steps back. (68 countries increased their gender equity in 2016, while 74 countries saw decreases. Overall, the economic gender gap reverted to where it was in 2008!). Adding to this discouragement, geographic areas that I consider to be the most liberal (like my own), often ranked far behind other areas regarding this attainment. Iceland, Finland, and Norway took the top three spots of the World Economic Forum’s Gender Equity ranking. Canada placed 35th overall, while the US placed 45th (down from 28th in 2015). Source. Report findings reveal that if the rates of change seen in the past ten years continue as is, South Asia could see a closing of their overall gender gap in the next 46 years. Whereas, due to its slow progress over the past decade, the North American gender gap is currently predicted to take 158 more years to close. Source.

Of course, these projections are just that and cannot be interpreted as conclusive facts. However, by documenting, graphing and highlighting present trends, these stats are an eye-opener and urge a strong call for action.

Do any of the above figures from the World Economic Forum surprise you? What are your thoughts?

Also, if you are interested in finding out more about Mary Sherman Morgan, I found Rocket Girl to be an absorbing, fascinating read…and a great springboard for provocative, engaging discussions!

Cover image created by Canva.com

Humane Communities

On Tuesday afternoons, my husband and I walk dogs at our local SPCA. Due to the SPCA’s long-standing efforts on spaying and neutering programs, as well as our community’s responsible dog ownership, there are often no dogs for us to walk. This is a very good problem to have!

Earlier this week, we attended a reception for SPCA volunteers. The guest speaker was Geoff Urton from our Regional SPCA Office. His topic was ‘Humane Communities.’ The broad goal of Humane Communities is to nurture empathy and compassion for both people and animals in community members of all ages. Often the word ‘people’ is left out of the above definition which is ironic as humanity lies at the center of this body of work and is key to its success. If we do not have understanding and compassion for humanity, how can we genuinely have empathy for other members of the animal kingdom? Renowned for their passionate work for animals, the SPCA has also adopted such people-centered programs as ‘Not Myself Today.’ This initiative aims to reduce the stigma of mental heath and foster safe and supportive environments. It is programs like these that help make the SPCA an incredibly well-rounded organization.

Being a long-time believer in the importance of animal welfare, I was excited to hear what our speaker had to say about the topic at hand. While the BC SPCA has been taking a number of steps to ensure Humane Communities (progressive animal control bylaws, farm certification, low-cost microchip programs, grant funding, wildlife preservation programs, animal shelter and services, etc., etc.), this was not the focus of Geoff’s address. Instead, he turned the microphone over to those of us sitting in the audience.

Many of us, including me, shifted uncomfortably. It became clear that the keynote’s message was that it is YOU and ME, not our local animal shelters or SPCA, who create and sustain Humane Communities. While government, animal organizations, law enforcement, veterinarians, schools, etc. all play a key role, the ultimate responsibility is for the citizens of communities to envision, aspire, speak up and create a better, more humane world.

Through his collaborative presentation, our speaker left us with two challenges. What kind of world do you want to live in? And, how are you going to make this happen? His first question was the easy part. The hard part is having the courage and the confidence to know that I can make a difference…and the gumption to jump in and make a start. For me, what is needed is the resolution to make the transition from a ‘long-time believer’ to a ‘passionate and committed’ one.

What about you? What is your vision of a Humane Community? What is one small thing that you could do that would help bring your surrounding environment closer to that vision?

You can read more about Human Communities here and here.

Retirement Responsibilities

So far, I’ve written a fair amount about the perks and freedoms of retirement. Without a doubt, the list of retirement pros is long. However, I would be neglectful not to portray the flip side. As the famous saying goes: “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With (great) freedom comes (great) responsibility.”(Source)  I initially began the following as a simple list of bullet points that could be included in a retiree’s ‘job description.’  Once I started writing, I began to realize the vastness of this topic. My sincere apologies to anyone reading in a hurry!

Do Your Homework – After my husband and I made the financial decision to leave our jobs, I began to research the emotional side of retirement. I found the quickest and most interesting way to do this was to follow retirement bloggers. Instantly, I could read personal accounts of the daily highs and lows of retirement, and learn from others who had pioneered ahead of me. I believe that this single decision helped best prepare me mentally for my life after leaving the workforce…often in 800 words or less! Some great blogs to check out are listed on the sidebar of this post. In addition, I have quoted from a few of these retirement blogs in this article.

Find/Maintain Purpose – When high expectations are not met, boredom and frustration can set in. As author/blogger, Tom Sightings has recently posted, ““We need activities that stimulate our imagination, connect us to other people, and help us develop a commitment to something more than our own self-interest.” Not finding purpose is frequently cited as a chief concern among those struggling with retirement.

Expect the Unexpected – According to the Ontario Securities Commission Report (2014), more than 50% of Canadians, aged 50 or older, said something outside their control negatively affected their retirements. The unexpected can come in the form of health issues for yourself or a family member. It can also come from the sudden decline/loss of an investment or property. Backup plans and safety nets are essential, especially when you do not have a steady employment income.

Watch Expenses – Following the above, balancing and prioritizing finances are critical skills, especially in retirement. Budgeting for your expenses and cutting back on extravagant or unnecessary expenditures (i.e. living below your means) helps provide extra security in retirement and a less stressful post-career life. A Dave Ramsey quote (recently cited on Mr. Fire Station’s early retirement blog) is very appropriate here: “A budget is telling your money where to go, instead of wondering where it went.”

Become a Jack (or Jill) of All Trades –  In the workplace, it is often easy to access the skills of other people, leaving you to focus on what you do best. Prior to retiring, my husband and I seldom worried about computer troubles, or editing, or…well, many things! Complicating this matter further,  living overseas gave us quite affordable access to housekeeping, maintenance workers, spa services, movers, etc., etc. The day that we retired, these all became ‘luxuries of the past.’ We have each become much more versatile in our skill sets.  We now know more about our computers than we ever thought possible. We confidently tend to household chores and maintenance tasks, We eat out less often. Even home manicures/pedicures/hair coloring are now part of my regular routine (shriek here)! Going along with the above bullet-point, the more that you can do for yourself in retirement, the broader your financial safety net will be.

Use it or Lose it – It is common understanding that a decline in cognitive and physical performance takes place in our senior years. Although many factors can contribute to this, the ‘use it or lose it’ theory is frequently cited.   Thus, daily activity, self-care and not letting ourselves fall into sedimentary routines is essential as we age. The great news from researchers is that although it may take more effort to learn new information during our retirement, our foundation of knowledge and experience can far outweigh that of youth. (Source) This same body of research indicates that those who keep themselves informed and up-to-date in their post-work life tend to have a much higher retirement contentment rate.

Enter with your own self-esteem and self-worth fully intact –It is said that in a wolf pack, wolves instinctively admire the role/position that other wolves have in the pack at that moment. (Source) During our career lives, it is often easy for people to connect with us, or instantly feel respect for us, simply based on our job titles. Replacing that career title with the word “retiree” usually does not pull the same punch. (Janis at RetirementallyChallenged covers this topic nicely!) It is essential to come into retirement with a healthy self-concept and our own intrinsic motivation. I can’t help but link a BlitzZoom video here—It’s appropriate…and makes me laugh every single time that I watch it!

Have a Caregiving Plan (both for giving and receiving care) –Last year, the cost impact of caregiving on American female caregivers, in terms of lost wages and Social Security benefits, was $324,044.  [Source) Caring for an ailing parent, spouse or simply for grandchildren is a reality for many, especially retirees. Due to the demands of this multi-faceted role, it is important that caregivers also take care of themselves and get the support that they need. Essential resources for caregivers include: respite, up-to-date information, training, home modifications and support groups/family counseling. Blogger Kathy Merlo has recently posted on this topic, offering practical self-maintenance strategies for caregivers.

Nurture Relationships – I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Having strong, positive relationships has been solidly linked with longer life.(Source) Having friends to turn to decreases social isolation, provides emotional and physical support, helps us to manage stress and, according to some research, improves our immune systems. (Source) For married retirees, the importance of healthy communication, flexibility and give-and-take cannot be understated.

 Give back – Retirement is a great time to reflect on the joys and opportunities that we have had in our lives. It is also a great time to give back to others. There are endless ways in which to do this. Local volunteer organizations, like Volunteer Canada,  connect volunteers with others who need their skills/support. Still hesitant? Helping others increases self-esteem and offers multiple health benefits. Volunteering also provides personal empowerment and stimulates the release of endorphins, which can improve nervous and immune system functioning. (Source)  Linda, at Thoughts From a Bag Lady In Waiting, wrote a very eloquent reflection on her experiences volunteering at the Oinofyta Refugee Camp in Greece. Your giving back contribution does not have to involve a major commitment…every little bit counts!

The above only begins to scratch the surface of the ‘Retirees’ Job Description’. What responsibilities would you like to add? I would love to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

 

Words on a Page

When working on my last post, and reflecting on ‘lists’ and on what I would miss, the following memory was provoked.

Many years ago, I was asked to select ten words, out of 100 listed, that I believed named what was most important to me. “A personal values assessment,” I said aloud. The examiner was unamused that I had so quickly predicted something that she had wished to reveal much more slowly.

Despite being given that ‘test’ more than 20 years ago, I remember the majority of words that I chose as if I had selected them yesterday. Although I have gone through many personal changes since that time, I believe that I would still choose most, if not all, of the same ten words today. That seems so strange and yet quite comforting at the same time. My life is much simpler in retirement, and hey, wasn’t I supposed to gain deeper wisdom as I advanced in age?

While I believe that the majority of my core values have remained the same, I know that many of them are now manifested quite differently. For example, diligence is a word that defines a large part of me, but how I now choose to apply that diligence is quite distinct from what it had been in my work life (including many of the benefactors). ‘Acceptance,’ ‘accomplishment,’ ‘acknowledgement,’ ‘challenge;’ are all secondary pillars for me (not my top ten, yet still important). These aspects of me have significantly altered in my retired life and now seem more personal and less extrinsically centered than ever before.

I did a search on-line to see if I could find the same (or nearly the same) assessment that I had taken those many years ago. Although I didn’t find the exact one, I did find others. The first one cited below is closest to the test that I had taken—although this version is much longer and comes with accompanying pages on eliciting and prioritizing your values, etc. , etc. (values1, values2, values3).

What do you think? Have you noticed a significant change in what you now value most from what you did previously? For those of you who are retired, do you see noticeable value differences as you simplify your life?

Photo Credit:  https://www.canva.com  NB – Words listed on the sample photo are not all my “personal words” (although some of them are included).  Rather, this picture shows a  broad sampling of words that are often included on Personal Values Assessments.

The List

Recently, I’ve been in a Nora Ephron phase. No, not lying around watching endless hours of ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ or ‘When Harry Met Sally’.

Jennifer Abrams, a communications consultant that I follow, mentioned Nora’s ‘What I Will Miss and Won’t Miss” list from I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections. I picked up a copy of Nora’s memoir and was immediately drawn into the funny, clever, and uncannily relatable stories (although to my knowledge, I was never in a smoke-filled New York newsroom in 1964, I now feel that I have been). I became engrossed in Nora’s style, fascinating life, and striking honesty.

What did disappoint me, at least upon my initial reading, was Nora’s ‘list’. Maybe I had built it up in my mind so much that I unrealistically expected more. I was sad that her ‘Will Miss’ section ended with ‘pie’ and that Nora directly referred more to missing food than to missing people (People: 5, Food: 10). This got me thinking about what would be on my list.

I haven’t yet set out to tackle either section of my list fully, but I do have some items floating around in my head that definitely will be included. Since I believe that I will never lose the essence of the most important people in my life, it is the little things about them that often come to mind.  I will miss:

  • My husband’s uncontrolled fits of laughter when he is alone watching TV, or reading, and thinks that no one is listening
  • My son’s habit of ALWAYS eating when we chat together on Skype (and since he will think that this point is lame– I will also miss the incredible travel that we have experienced together)
  • My stepsons’ storytelling – I laugh even anticipating their versions of a particular family event
  • The antics of our 11-year old Husky, most of which he learned from our Lab (who is very much missed)
  • The inspiration, and confidences, of my friends
  • My niece’s cut-to-the-chase honesty – and her deadpan delivery of this truthfulness
  • Being a grandmother
  • Shopping with my mother–which has nothing at all to do with shopping, and everything to do with my mom
  • My sister. I have missed her every single day for the past ten years

And if including food, it would have to be hot corn-on-the-cob, generously salted and dripping with melted butter…followed by fresh berries with vanilla ice-cream.

What I won’t miss includes meanness, arrogance, and self-righteousness in all of their related disguises.

Nora provided 31 items that she  ‘will miss’ and 23 items that she won’t.  This gives me plenty of room to continue with my own list, as I have much more to add.

What about you? What’s on your list?