I “retired” in June 2014 after working since I was age 15. Most of my adult life I worked in a leadership role in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector with responsibilities to find better solutions to tough social issues ranging from early childhood education access, effective entrepreneurship education, to underemployment. I worked with committees, teams, staffed collaborations, sat on Boards of Directors and planning committees of all kinds. I trained others in what I was learning and pressed large institutions to replicate models that seemed to be working. I never backed down from a new tough problem, but retirement had me stymied. After 6 years of “retirement”, I looked back to see what I had learned from my trial-and-error-pivot approach to staying engaged and relevant while facing that age-related declining energy.
Here are my top 10 tips based on what I learned:
- Take naps– I didn’t realize how tired I was from decades of working on less sleep than I needed and then frequent midnight thought reminders of things I needed to get done. After “retiring”, I gave myself permission to lay down in a quiet place and take naps. I had to tell myself those were not “wastes of time”, but rather taking care of myself. It took about 3 months before I didn’t need to do that so frequently.
- Make a clean break as fast as you can
- Don’t go into the old office. Instead, I quickly spent time going through those boxes of files which were now at home and cleaning docs on my computer. All the while asking, will someone else find this helpful? I did capture a lot of history records and put them into a box or set them aside on my computer. I threw everything else out. A friend of mine gave me good advice – “someone might need those sometime” is not a good guide, especially now as everything people need is more easily found on the internet. I have gotten requests every quarter or so from someone asking if I had a record or copy of something.
- Say “no” to continued engagement: Say “no” to being on the advisory committee or working part time for your previous employer. That gives the new person breathing room to take on the job. I did continue to manage one project that was an award for entrepreneur of the year, which I had been the only person managing, just to take off a bit of pressure during the new person’s first months. They took it over the next year.
- Do make yourself available only to that new person, not other staff, and let them ask for advice, background or history. Don’t get in between the new person and the staff or board, no matter what.
- Take control of your calendar: I realized that during my whole professional career, my waking hours were managed by a calendar filled by job demands or expectations of others. I also realized that everyone else had been putting things on it forever, those committees, those weekly team and individual meetings, those monthly events I had to attend and more often guided by “you need to be there because of your role” I had to relearn how to use it as a tool. Here are a few rules I use now that work:
- No meetings or activities before 9 am
- Book time for exercise first, adding daily walks or weekly exercise classes for example. And protect those as high priority!
- No working lunches, save those for friends and fun or just relaxing at home.
- No night events at all, unless it is with family or friends that can’t be done during the day. And if I do have an evening, then clear the next morning for recovery.
- Protect weekends, – I started with making sure I had 4-day weekends every week with nothing scheduled except family. Some months have slowly eroded to 3-day, but I press back as soon as I can to protect that relaxation-rejuvenation time.
- When saying “no” to others, I just say “that time is booked”. This took a while to learn as those younger can’t fathom the decline in energy older people have. They don’t need to know why I said no and seem not to understand when I say “I need a rest”.
- Be okay with “nothing to do”… It took me months to not be anxious about forgetting something I should have been doing, checking my calendar and email for what I missed. Now I relish taking a break in the middle of the day. Watching movies during the day can be a delightful way to spend 2 hours.
- Shop during the week. My husband and I both discovered that weekday shopping is so much better. The full-time, long-time staff are in the stores (they know things newbies don’t). There are fewer shoppers and no family groups, making it easier to shop.
- Revisit old hobbies and try new ones: What did you do when you were very young – those hobbies can come back. I found some were great fun to initiate again (crocheting and puzzles) while others I quickly discovered why I quit them. And find new ones. Learning more about history has been one for me. And there are lots of online how to’s and senior centers are always offering craft, painting, yoga and more.
- Practice saying “no” often. For the first 6 months say it as much as you can. That didn’t automatically come out of my mouth like I thought it would when I retired. I still say “yes” a bit too much and then revisit those commitments when they become too much. Say “yes” only to those things you really, really want to do. And remember “they need me to do this” is not enough of a reason.
- Get better at using all the tech tools. – Buy equipment that you can use easily. If you are comfortable with Microsoft, stick with that, if Apple tools are your go to..stay with them. Find a resource you can go to with your questions. Geek Squad at Best Buy gets rave reviews for some and if you are an Apple user their Apple Care service has been a god send to friends of mine who don’t have tech savey spouses And my teaching schedule connects me with students some of whom are great and respectful guides to how to use something better. And of course the internet is full of videos on how to do anything.
- Reconnect with old friends and more distant family. Longer, leisurely trips are now possible and visiting people I know who live in those locations helps cut costs significantly.
- Pay more attention to your body signals. “It will go away” or “I can delay it ‘til it is a more convenient time “, phrases I told myself when I was younger, no longer works. My most recent bout with a bladder infection is a good example. Symptoms are different for us older folks, recovery takes longer, and it is okay to call a doctor to see if what you are experiencing is “something”.
- Accept the praises for a well-done career: Just saying “thank you” was hard for me as I had always shared any praise with all around me. But at this time in our life, we are role models for others’ careers, so accepting, acknowledging the praise is important.
Which of these tips resonates most with you? What would you add? Let us know in the comments!
Want to read others’ thoughts?
Surviving Retirement when You’re a Workaholic
Retirement Advice for Workaholics
Terri Barreiro’s Bio: Terri Barreiro is an expert in systems change and a mission-driven venture advisor. She is an adjunct instructor and fellowship advisor at the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota. She is co-founder of and volunteer venture coach at Impact Hub MSP and consultant to nonprofit and philanthropic organizations.