That Mirage Off In The Distance … Is That Retirement?

I have been thinking about retirement a lot recently, not because I’m getting anywhere close to it, but because it’s one of those things – like college when we were teen-agers – that you have to plan for, worry about, and generally agonize over. Believe me, retiring today is nowhere within the realm of possibility, unless we were prepared to hightail off to some rural county in Arkansas and then never, never leave again. And even then, I’m not sure we wouldn’t outlast our savings.

In fact, one of the things I’ve been wondering is how the heck current retirees are funding their retirement. All the models I’ve seen are based on rates that actually spin off enough interest to live on. At one percent, the interest on a million dollars is the capacious annual sum of … $10,000. That assumes so many things, the greatest of which is that they actually have a million dollars, and the least of which is that they don’t live in Silicon Valley.

I’ve also been thinking about how I’d actually spend my time in retirement. For a long time, I’d had fantasies about living in a different city for a few months and then moving on. That seems less likely, given the financial base I have to work with. But I’m compiling a to-do list:

● Plunk myself down in a comfy chair and read all the books on my shelves that I haven’t read
● Stay in the chair and re-read the books I’d already read before retiring
● Learn a new language (or, more accurately, try and re-learn an old one, since I’ve variously studied Spanish, French, and German over the years)
● Play the piano more often (or, more accurately, just “play the piano”)
● Do more crossword puzzles

Those all seem like worthwhile ways to pass the time. But then I remember the great line from Play It Again, Sam, when Tony Roberts is regaling Woody Allen with tales of why life will be so wonderful after his divorce: “You’re free. You’ll go out. You’ll meet exciting new girls, you’ll flirt, there’ll be parties, you’ll have affairs with married women, sexual relations with girls of every race, creed, and color.” To which Woody Allen replies, “Ah, you get tired of that.”

Would I get tired of retirement? When my father stopped working, out of curiosity I asked him what he did all day. He replied, “The day goes by” – meaning there was always something to do, whether it was errands, gardening, or planning a trip. That was back in 1980, and his days are still just “going by.” I’m kind of intrigued by that kind of relaxing pace, though maintaining it for 32 years seems challenging.

It makes me wonder if it’s not retirement I’m looking for off in the distance. I can pretty much split my career into ten-year segments: ten years in travel and regional publications; ten-plus years in technology trade magazines; ten years freelancing. Perhaps as humans, we need something new to perk ourselves up every ten years. Maybe instead of retirement, I should be looking for the next new thing. Ah, but then I encounter the great paradox of one’s fifties: usually they’re your peak earning years (although not so much for some Boomers), so if you’re actually going to retire, the idea of finding some New Thing means taking a pay cut … and putting off retirement even further. Talk about your golden handcuffs.

So here I sit, just as we all do through most of our lives, trying to discern what those fuzzy images off in the distance really are.

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About middleagecranky

The Middle-Age Cranky blog is written by baby boomer Howard Baldwin, who finds the world, while occasionally wondrous, increasingly aggravating.
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6 Responses to That Mirage Off In The Distance … Is That Retirement?

  1. Virginia says:

    My grandmother used to say that everyone needs three things: Something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to. I don’t doubt you’ll be able to find things to do and look forward to, even someday when you’re no longer working to make money. (I think you’ve got the someone to love covered!)

  2. Barbara says:

    Thank you for writing about this. I can relate to every word. It looks like I will have to work close to every remaining day of my life, but I wonder how I will be able to do this physically and mentally, since I already see myself slowing down at 63. There’s more to say, but I’ll just thank you again for putting my thoughts into words.

  3. gingerR says:

    I was unemployed last summer for about 8 weeks. I’ve since gone back to work, but when I look back at that time I realize that I wasn’t happy without someplace to go every day. I did a few things while I was off but my accomplishments weren’t all that impressive. I think I might as well be going to work, my house won’t ever be perfectly organized if I stay home anyway.

    It’s a mental adjustment to think that you have fewer working years ahead of you than behind.

    • I dunno, Ginger. Given how expensive college is and how difficult it seems to be to get a career started these days, I think I’ve glad I’m closer to the end than the beginning!

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