2016-03 From the President: Retirement: The age of triage

Last September in a play on words I suggested that in the third quarter (autumn) of our lives, we are caught between life’s stages, not unlike the “tweeners” who are abandoning childhood and grasping for and testing out new adult identities.

In this tri-age of our lives we are abandoning many trappings of employment and testing new ways of living. We are between life in the fast lane and life in a slow lane. We are between paychecks and required minimum distributions. We are between adult children and grandchildren, the former still our biggest worry and the latter our greatest joy. We are between long-term colleagues and new relationships with friends, traveling companions, and associates. We are between calendars filed in by other people and calendars we are free to fil in ourselves.

This freedom scares many of us and delights others. “What can I do with that blank day on my calendar? How do I find something to do that makes me feel useful, needed, and fulfilled? Now that I have a choice, how do I want to spend my time?”

This last question is, I submit, the most important question that everyone needs to answer—at any age. It becomes more urgent when one has something less than 30 years to identify and pursue those things that one really likes to do. And it is, I think, one of the reasons we become so busy in retirement. We fill up that calendar with activities that bring us pleasure.

For some of us it is the same teaching, writing, or research activities that have always been a passion. For others it is alternative passions that have been sitting on the shelves of our minds for a long time. These alternative passions vary as widely as our imaginations, but some that come to mind are travel, photography, reading novels, writing a biography, taking music lessons, cooking from scratch, knitting, woodworking, or volunteering at local institutions and giving back to the community.

Quoting myself from the UMRA Newsletter, September 2015, “Triage is ‘a process in which things are ranked in terms of importance or priority.’ * At this age we are busy re-ranking the priorities in our lives; we are triaging activities, possessions, locations, and even friends.”
 *[American Heritage Dictionary 5th edition, 2013]

One familiar act of triage is the pitching out or boxing up of papers, books, and other objects as we move out of our University offices. When I ask colleagues how their lives have changed since they retired, they almost always say, “Never been so busy” or “Don’t know when I had time to work.” But then they also say, “I sleep longer; I read the morning paper; I play with my grandchildren; I have more fun.”

I have noticed that, now, when I meet fellow retirees for lunch, no one runs off to a one o’clock meeting. There is time to savor the conversation or the second cup of coffee. Time to savor the moment is a privilege of retirement. Time, our most precious commodity, can be allocated to those activities that bring us the most satisfaction. It can be used to appreciate the sunrises and sunsets, to smell the proverbial roses, and to walk slowly on garden paths and sandy beaches.

At first we may walk or read more slowly by choice. Later, we may walk more slowly by necessity, as strange little aches and pains creep into our joints and our psyches. Aging happens!

Given the nerve and tenacity it takes to age gracefully, retirement could be classified as an extreme sport. It takes courage, patience, perseverance, acceptance, self-confidence, and some giant leaps of faith. It is rewarded with those delicious mindful moments where we celebrate our achievements.

— Jean Kinsey, UMRA President
      jkinsey@umn.edu