Author: Howard S. Freedlander, C’67
It’s now the end of year one of the rest of my life.
Mostly removed from a life filled with 10-hour work days and sporadic fits of worry during off-hours and vacations, I’m beginning to enjoy retirement. Now, I worry about not worrying—a bit strange and maybe a bit worrisome to my wife.
I have a part-time job as a consultant for a business consulting/government relations firm in Annapolis, Maryland. I even have a client, which this former bureaucrat actually brought to the firm. I work hard to bring new business to the firm through my extensive contacts. I dare say I hardly qualify as a rainmaker.
Volunteer activities have kept me busy, particularly my 45th University of Pennsylvania reunion. As class president, I approached my duties as a job, conscientiously calling and emailing classmates to attend our reunion and to contribute to our reunion gift. We exceeded expectations for a “minor” reunion like the 45th. Somehow, my job as class president seemed like more fun than my obsessive approach as a deputy treasurer in Maryland. I still worried, constructively, I believe, about meeting and hopefully surpassing goals.
And, I did something else in my hometown that surprised me a bit. I joined a men’s club, where I eat lunch at least twice a week at a common table populated by 12 of us. At Penn, I belonged to a fraternity; for nearly 45 years I claimed no similar affiliation. Dealing with hours of leisure time, marked by several hours a day of quiet—a bit disquieting to this extrovert—I needed stimulation. And that’s exactly what happened. Political conversation can be difficult at times but bearable.
My wife continues to work. I like that. She’s earning money, and I like that too. Sometimes my daughters call, periodically for advice, often to see how I’m doing as a mostly content retiree. I appreciate their interest. They don’t talk long, understandably. They accept questions and advice in small chunks.
I worry about my wife’s impending retirement in perhaps 18 months. My approach to chores will change dramatically: I actually will have to do more under more consistent supervision. Seriously, my wife, once unchained from her job, will change my retirement. I will have to negotiate daily and perhaps disagreeably. I worry about the new dynamic when my wife is the house boss for the entire day, not just at the end of the day. I may have to find a full-time job to avoid household responsibilities.
Overall though, since retiring, I sleep better. My temperament is more even. I listen better, though my wife might disagree. Life is pleasant, uncluttered by anxiety of work-related deadline and crises.
My transition to retirement has been easier than I would have imagined. Friends and family thought I might have trouble adjusting to free time, a life without work and its intrinsic mental intrusions on your non-office hours. I too wondered if depression would replace obsession. As I discovered, I enjoyed leisure, time alone and my hobbies such as volunteer activities. I have adjusted to the absence, for the most part, of “bold” actions and activities driven by work demands.
Don’t get me wrong. Retirement can also be a challenge. I worry about my mental acuity; my work-induced sharpness seems dulled by lack of work-related engagement, intellectual challenges. I worry about physical degradation despite my twice-weekly workouts, which, in some ways, points out problems with balance, flexibility, and strength. I worry about continued good health, due to inability or perhaps unwillingness to lose significant weight. I think about family medical history and flinch a little.
Retirement brings with it obvious worries about aging and loss. You quickly realize as you look at your friends that time is limited. As you spend increased time with grandchildren, you realize that it might be unlikely that you will attend their weddings, or observe their college years. When I look at my two daughters, both in their thirties, I realize that they will be carrying the family legacy and interpreting it however they wish. They will talk about their parents in the past tense. They will grieve as I still do my parents and grandparents.
As I view life as someone approaching his 67th birthday, at least I still have the capability to worry, hopefully in moderation, and produce results, both personally and professionally. Life moves on to a new chapter, the last part of the book. Retirement allows you to be creative and write your own narrative, without work as the major plot line. You control the outcome, in a way.
With little prodding, I realize that retirement is another challenging passage, a time to view possibilities and probabilities with a healthy combination of positive thinking and realistic expectations. While it is a time to do as you wish (dependent on good health), it also is a time to enjoy what you have, not merely your material possessions, but your relationships with family and friends. Not since my college years have I had the time and energy to focus so entirely on relationships.