I stopped working. This was how I defined retirement, the absence of work.
I couldn't have been more mistaken. Retirement was so much more than "not working." Yet, that was all I could see at the time.
I thought I had retired. In fact I had only stopped working to get a paycheck.
Although, not having to work for a paycheck is pretty damn cool for a while. Actually at the time, it was exactly what I needed.
It felt good to stop working for a paycheck. Did I say it felt good? It was good. I felt great to stop working for a while.
To be free of money anxiety, free of the need to drone away day in and day out. To get up, go to work, do my best. Push, drive and take pride in a good days work. Only to collapse in a heap when I got home, that was my routine. It used to be the dream, or so I thought.
I loved exciting and interesting work. It provided me with a sense of purpose. The sense that my life, effort and career was of value, the holy grail.
Until it became boring, repetitive and painful.
I told myself I needed the paycheck. Got to keep going, doing the responsible thing. After all, I had a family to care for. Plus, the idea of going out to look for another job or start a business was even less attractive.
So what is a guy to do? I retired.
But the meaninglessness was even more painful than boring work. Which I was not prepared for. All the travel, empty days wore thin. I discovered that retirement was a world where every day of the week was like a Saturday.
Saturdays were the days when I caught up with family, went shopping and spent the most amount of money. I rarely spent money when I went to work. Yet, there I was facing the paradox of choice. I could do anything I wanted, I had money and time. I indulged myself. I entertained my whims of fantasy. I went on expensive vacations, followed my nose and my muse. I did what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it.
Then I ran out of money. Oh crap, now what?
I decided to un-retire. To stop traveling, playing and generally doing nothing. Time to stop doing nothing. Which actually was even scarier than running out of money.
It was time to chase my ideas and back to making a pay check. Hallelujah! Time to go back to work. No more empty boring days.
Few people are willing to talk about the real fear of retirement - the boredom factor. The fear of being able to choose to do what I want. I don't even discuss it with my friends.
Work provides structure and meaning to our lives. I knew that no matter how crazy and strange life would get, I always had to get up and go to work. It was wonderful and boring, quiet and sane. As busy and stressful as my work life was, it was far less insane and bizarre than my personal life. I was able to hide in plain sight.
Work became the great equalizer. My jobs were like an island of sanity in an ocean of turbulence. The angry sea of life was kicking my ass.
I was busy caring for my family. Dealing with a rapid succession of deaths in my family. In short order, my job became the most stable part of my life.
As I look back on it now, I don't know how I coped. Thank god for work. The reality is I somehow figured out how to cope. My work, the JOB, the paycheck was a godsend. A gift from heaven, until it wasn't.
Once the chaos settled down, I had healing to do. Trauma to deal with and grief to process. So I stopped working because the job, the paycheck had become a crutch. It became a way to cope or actually not deal with the craziness that was my life.
I was able, for 8 hours, to pretend that my life was not the shit show it had become. It was a great relief to find some stability in the seas of insanity that was my personal life. As long as the work was interesting and challenging, I was right as rain. When boredom reared its head I knew it was time to either look for another job or stop working.
I decided to retire. I did not think it was permanent, but for now I had to stop working.
It was time to retire. To give myself time to heal, rest, relax and generally do nothing.
I gave myself the gift of not doing. I let myself rest, relax and reconnect with what mattered to me. That is what I learned in my first retirement. I needed a reason to get up in the morning.
The gift of my first retirement was that I found out what I cared about. I discovered what mattered to me now. Then I gave myself the gift to do whatever made my heart sing.
Yes, please I'll do more of that... which matters most to me. That which makes my heart sing. That is a retirement worth chasing.