That word expresses how I felt as I contemplated retirement. By age 65 I’d decided not to retire until 70, so I had time. But every time I thought about life after retirement, all I saw was a hazy gray fog. I loved my artist husband and our life together. I loved cooking, reading, and traveling. And we had wonderful friends and family, especially our adult children and their partners. But after a long healthcare executive career filled with travel, brilliant colleagues and clients, and constant stimulation (ok, you can call it stress), how on earth was I going to fill my time in a meaningful way?
I had started my career as a psychologist in a community mental health center after teaching in public schools for four years during grad school, so after those years of public service, volunteer work didn’t hold much appeal. That was confirmed after only one day volunteering at the local thrift shop—nice idea, but not for me! I had joined my college sorority alumnae organization, thinking it might provide opportunity for engagement, but although the members were lovely, I found little common ground. I had taken up gardening, which I love, but that wasn’t enough to fill up retirement. My lifelong reading addiction could consume many hours, but I needed more. And you can only host so many dinner parties.
In our family, each year we choose a word to guide our intentions for the coming year. After hearing me say for the 10,000th time “When I retire. . .” my wise daughter suggested the word NOW. Do it now, don’t postpone living your life every moment. And after my husband experienced a couple of health scares, her words resounded powerfully. But at the age of 67, with retirement looming in less than three years, I was focused on NOW but still anxious about LATER.
As it so often happens, that’s when the universe intervened. Having kids in Europe and having fallen in love with France and Italy, we’d been thinking about living abroad for all or part of our retirement. But we also had kids in Texas, where we lived, as well as wonderful friends and extended family in the U.S. How could we handle being so far away from them? As I was compulsively searching for other’s experiences living abroad, I happened upon a blogpost by Lynn Martin, who with her husband Tim had sold their home, stored their most precious belongings, and become “nomadic retirees,” living several months in various locations. Eureka!
That evening, as I prepared dinner while my husband made cocktails, I couldn’t wait to share my new idea. “Honey, I just discovered a new concept. What would you think about becoming permanent travelers in retirement?” Now, my husband is not what you’d call impulsive. He ruminates over every decision, taking (in my admittedly impatient view) inordinate time and procrastinating on decisions. As I shared what I’d learned from Lynn’s “Home Away” blogpost and we started our initial discussion, I knew I’d need to go slowly so that Phil could warm to the idea gradually. So of course I immediately bought Lynn’s book and insisted on reading it aloud over coffee in the mornings and wine in the evenings. To my delighted surprise, Phil was tentatively on board almost immediately! Now, to begin thinking through this new idea.
Within a week I’d developed a draft budget for our nomadic life, evaluated our finances and the pros and cons of selling our house, and compulsively digested everything I could find online about this exciting way of life. The only hitch so far was figuring out what we would do with the head of our household, our cat Baxter. We couldn’t imagine being without him, but we knew he was not cut out for the rambling life. But as of today, we have over two years before I retire, so that should be plenty of time to solve all the problems associated with this notion. I had recently read Mark Manson’s book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, which had taught me that life is a series of problems, and the lucky ones are those who get the best problems to solve. We now had a top-notch set of great problems.
“Every time I thought about life after retirement, all I saw was a hazy gray fog.”
On a family trip to Sweden this was our favorite dinner–featuring reindeer tongue!