Having retired recently after working nearly a half-century, I can honestly say it has been a very difficult transition for me.  I’m not talking about portfolios, financial managers and money. I’m sharing with you the experience that awaits you: a new identity, new beginnings and your new world. This is a biggie because you are finding yourself after years of thinking you knew exactly what you wanted.

On a positive note, we can begin by elaborating on 50 years of office lunch hours. I’m not sure during my work career if I ever tasted any of the four food

Image courtesy of Unconditionally Her contributor Cindy Small

groups during daylight hours. Breakfast was a rushed packet of oatmeal unceremoniously tossed in a mug to be choked down, or worse yet, a “bar” of some sort of mashed food and nutrients consumed en commute. Then, I normally ate something squishy from a plastic container and pecked on the computer at the same time. My legacy I leave behind in the office dorm refrigerator is cheese, a dark brown stained bag and expired yogurt.

Being retired, though, my taste buds have evolved. There is the leisurely coffee with steamed milk and soft-boiled eggs. Lunch is on a plate with unlimited time. It can be very “Iron Chef” should I so desire, with ample energy and time to create a masterpiece. Then, a light dinner since every calorie counts and I am so suddenly ambitious to eat clean.

Another encouraging retirement idea is how your wardrobe will change! At work, the pressure is on to present red-carpet moments upon arriving. Plus, a glowing, waxed face, Botox-ed features and styled hair. It’s exhausting trying to achieve “Jackie Kennedy” standards.  The pressure is off to dress professionally now, so I forget a dry cleaner exists and my closet has been emptied. Out go the power suits and heels. In go gypsy skirts, leggings, wildly colored kimonos and the ability to be as quirky as I wish. Wrinkles in clothes are just fine, dahlink, don’t stress. Be fearless and be comfortable! Wear fabulous eyeglasses, avant-garde jewelry and lots of black.  Of course, all this works unless you fancy a part-time job – or gasp, volunteering – and they hand you a dress code. Honey, ain’t nobody got time for that type of censorship.

Your psychological portfolio is also important and you have to get used to the words “I’m retired.” It sounds so great to think about not setting our alarm clock, long lunches with friends, the ease of making doctor appointments anytime – a leisurely life without a schedule. Well, in the real world, those thoughts do really suck the big banana. You are not your business card any longer unless you want it to just say “RETIREE.” I never thought about creating a mission statement before retirement and after 3 months, I am like a fish out of water… or maybe a fish in too much water. I hear all this is normal towards settling into a new chapter in life.

I always worked in academia surrounded by students, faculty, staff as well as the maintenance workers and a lovely lady who poured my Starbucks on campus (Venti cup, extra ice, half and half) each day. I’m realizing now I must replace those relationships and that is kind of like just starting kindergarten only I’m old as dirt and the recipe for change is so difficult.  I can only share with you I am in the throes of seeking volunteer work and it is not a knock that suddenly arrives at your door. Rather, it is like seeking a job and takes lots of telephone time, interviewing and searching for the right fit. If you are going to do something for free, at least be happy. Plus, if the computer jams, you can walk out the door and never return. Dear God, may I never have to order ink cartridges “ASAP” again or hustle out a tangled mess of copy paper in a jam so others can meet their deadlines. That is freedom, but such wide-open spaces can often leave you feeling a bit lost, too.

During my first 6 months of retirement, I will be the first to say I didn’t follow that route of getting settled slowly but rushed eagerly to fill the voids and anything rushed rarely works. Instead, if you are in a new location after retiring, act like a tourist and get to know your surroundings. Then plan the road map to what makes you happy. Small, baby steps. Like college, it takes a while to figure out what your major will be.

Whether you are spiritual, political or seeking new adventures: good health and staying in shape is what makes those synapses snap and will allow you to take amazing trips and make creative choices. You have a window in which to take those trips and then the anatomy becomes dicey. Climbing mountains in Peru? You best get to it. It is amazing how not sitting at a desk any longer can change your body and attitude in an immense way. For me, especially as a cancer survivor, I now take long walks and swim each day like a drill assignment. It feeds my brain, makes me feel good and I become more invigorated to take on whatever the world holds for me.  You won’t have as many limits on your exploring new pursuits as you did when working. Without a big budget, I love taking “study abroad” trips with various universities. I went with a group from Ohio University (I didn’t know a soul) to China and also to Oaxaca, Mexico and the memories are tattooed in my brain. Of course, if you have more cash than God and your children’s college was paid in full the 1st semester, travel around the world first class, have a glass of champagne or three and take in each moment with no worries. I know only a few people on this planet who can do this, in case you think it is common.

I found that a self-created schedule is a must. Time set for walking, time for writing and time for reading, and time for whatever your interests are. Finding like-minded people is not the easiest task, especially if you have no children or grandchildren to pamper. So, with that said, it is a perfect time to do something right out the box. I’m thinking of being a hostess in a diner (for me, schmoozing is an essential part of life), maybe work in a vintage clothing store or learn to speak Spanish fluently. Right now, I am sitting on my laurels grateful for the time I have left. I’ve worked very hard for a long time and cutting out guilt is part of the process. Concentrate on the positives: I don’t have a boss; I don’t have to inhale a soggy bagged lunch and I can enjoy that lovely latte with swirls on top, no lid, not in a car. This is the chapter of life you’ve earned, so savor it like the delicacy it is.