The best-laid retirement plans … and one older woman’s ‘new normal’

“‘Normal’ is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for — in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.”Ellen Goodman

I have a new normal since deciding to semi-retire, leaving behind my publisher role at IB to focus three-quarters time on my own business. However, the joke was on me thinking it would mean I’d have less work and/or more playtime. As I recently reposted on Pinterest, “When one door closes, sometimes you want to get a hammer and nails to make sure that b!tch stays shut.” Another favorite retirement quote: “I’m going to retire and live off my savings. What I’ll do the second day, I have no idea.”

Semi-retirement is, after all, a joking matter. The benefits I assumed would be inherent in the role just are not materializing. Yes, working at home, “free to be me” means not brushing my hair and dressing in paint-smeared clothes. But yep, those are the days when I invariably bump into a coifed and polished client or (worse) a younger, professionally outfitted associate who also needed to stop at Staples at that very moment to pick up printer ink. In other words, just when I’m most sick of underwear and responsibilities, the universe reminds me that I’m still on some big cosmic working-girl clock.

I also thought I’d be able to sleep in most mornings, since I’m biologically a night person. After my husband semi-retired, too, to also join our consulting business, I said to heck with anything in the a.m. that doesn’t involve sleeping, sex, or bacon. Well, this morning we were both awake at 5 — discussing an upcoming pilot study we’ll soon produce for a banking client.

I thought I’d lose weight. I figured I’d walk every day and maybe even go to the gym a few times a week. In fact, I actually thought I’d lost a couple of pounds, until I discovered my sweatpants had just come untied the one time I worked out. It turns out that building a business and wooing potential clients is the antithesis of a diet, since it is best accomplished at a restaurant or, at the very least, over a latte at Starbucks. And what is a latte without a scone or a tasty little cake pop?     

I also wrongly assumed I’d be more in control of my own schedule. Ha, ha, ha. True story: Recently I instructed Siri to cancel all my appointments for the rest of the day because I thought it would be fun to pretend I again had an assistant. I was waxing nostalgic for Shirley and the “old days” when she would remind me not to overschedule. Siri (the smart-@$$ virtual assistant on my phone) replied, “Oh, that’s a relief!” It’s even too much for her to bear.

I Googled “adjusting to semi-retirement” to see if I was on track or derailed. A top 10 list began with the advice to “establish a budget so you know you’ll have enough money to live on, so that you can spend your time enjoying hobbies instead of working.” I’ve found, semi-retired, that I have, in fact, cut back on some work-related expenses. Not enough that I don’t have to work hard at my business, however, and keep the pipeline filled. I’ve also discovered that senior discounts are to be celebrated. Forget vanity; now I’m offended if clerks don’t offer the senior prices!

The second tip was to downsize your home, so I suppose that our recent purchase of a second home (while keeping our primary home here) wasn’t the smartest thing to do at this stage of our lives. But it was the most fun thing I’ve done in years — so, oh well, motivation to add even more business clients!

The third hint was to keep on working. “Many retirees take part-time jobs, either related to their previous careers or in an entirely different field.” Check. Fourth was “share your knowledge” — which, the article said, could be via a paying gig (not everything has to be pro bono in retirement). Check. Next was “become a student” and audit classes. That’s cool, as I’m going to take a Photoshop class at Madison College, so check again.

Fifth was to learn a skill or start a hobby. I’m rehabbing an old house and learning way more than I wanted to about mold remediation, grouting, and electrical wiring. Check, check, check. Sixth was to volunteer. Actually, I’m cutting back on volunteer activities to accommodate work and travel schedules, but I still do board service, so three checks for that. The seventh hint was to get political, but I’m not going to spend my golden years in hell. (And the politician replied, “Blah blah blah blah blah.”) I am not cut out to become a gray panther.



The last two hints were to stay active and to travel. Check, as I’m putting over 700 miles a week on my car now.

For the most part, it seems I’m handling this semi-retirement gig okay. A lot of my assumptions were a bit off the mark, but I do find I’m still a lot happier lately. I sing more often in the car, and I have taken the occasional midday catnap, which is a real departure from my former life.

In truth, I thought that when I became an older woman (not an OLD crone yet, but on the well-worn path), I would wear purple and a wide-brimmed western straw hat with turquoise and leather on it, and spend my spare dollars on Guinness and birdseed. I thought I would shovel grand gardens and wear paint splotches like jewels on my clothing for the love of my “art.” I thought, when I became an older woman, I would read books by Cormac McCarthy late into the night in the bathtub while holding a glass of champagne in the other hand, reclining in candlelight, listening to music by Kenny G., glitter in my hair.

Glad to know I was at least on target with that.

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