The day I became vested in the Teachers Retirement System of Texas, I retired. I was 51, and had taught school for 29 years. Sure, I was young for a retiree, but aging school teachers are measured with a multiplier more in terms of "dog years" than regular years. By that measure, I was 167 years old. I did not hate my job by any means, I was just tired of doing it. School year cycles can have a monotony about them despite your best efforts. Actually, if you think about it, I had been on a school year cycle since I was in kindergarten.
More than anything else, I wanted to leave for a vacation while all the other suckers, I mean regular working folks, were headed back to school and such. But new travel adventures are the most obvious of retirement plans. There were several discoveries I made about my new life, a life of ultimate freedom and bliss (yes, it is bliss) that I hadn't expected or anticipated. Several impacted the very core of my lifestyle. Here are my top four:
This is by far and away the biggest change in my lifestyle: I'm well rested! I suppose that 30 years of getting up early is part of "adulting," but I was never a fan. However, my body clock was so well regulated that I always woke up just before my alarm went off and I was never late for work once in thirty years! Even on the weekends, I could barely manage to sleep past 7 a.m. I operated on around seven hours of sleep a night, which is probably fairly typical.
As a teacher, I remember looking up at the clock around mid-afternoon, while I was birthing yawn after mouth stretching yawn, and being totally spent. But, of course, we worker bees power through this part of the day. Today, my yawns only come while watching a little late night television. My natural body clock has, thankfully, shifted to what I suppose it sought after all those years. Now my sleep hours are from around midnight to 9 a.m., sometimes later! The notion that I could sleep nine or more hours a day seemed crazy to me just a few years ago. Today, I embrace sleep like a college kid. I consider sleeping on par with a fun-filled ride at Disneyland.
Retirement means there are no more excuses for not finding the time to exercise. While I was a Working Joe, I tried to stay in shape, at least a little. But, my workout routines would come and go. I would get on the bathroom scale every few days to make sure I never went above the "set limit" I had in my head. If I did happen to exceed that preset number, I'd watch my diet more and mix in a few singular walks or bike rides.
These days, I walk two blocks to a college rec center and workout routinely. I haven't jumped on the bathroom scale in almost two years. With a workout schedule more inline with what I did in my 20s, I figure what's the point? If my knees were up for it, I'd jump in a game of full court basketball at the gym, but at my age, I know better. Other than that, I feel better than I have since before my kids were born and free time became non existent.
Kicking back with a good book is one of life's simple pleasures and a form of entertainment that gives you more bang for your buck than just about anything else. But who has the time, or freedom, to sit down and do this for any length of time? In my worker bee days, I'd probably read six to seven novels a year. I always enjoyed reading in my spare time, heck, I was a reading teacher! But of course there was never enough free time, or interruption-free time to do much reading. No more.
I have a messenger bag that leaves the house with me every time I venture out. Inside it, there is always a book. Most days, I'll find somewhere around town to sit and read, usually for around an hour or so. Living near a college campus with dozens of buildings gives me seemingly endless nooks and crannies to hide out with my book. I refer to this as "studying". I've polished off more books these last two years than I have in the previous 10. This wasn't part of my retirement plan, but it was a welcome change in lifestyle. Now, I feel naked when I don't have a book to read close by.
The dynamics of my friendships have changed exponentially these last few years, something I was uncertain of, and maybe even a little bit worried about. I interacted with dozens of co-workers every day, several I had worked with for a couple decades. Work friends are tricky. I've seen and experienced work friends develop out of convenience and proximity. People move on and friendships fizzle. Out of sight, out of mind. I was prepared for this and knew it was coming. Even my friendships outside of work shifted, mostly because every single person I knew was still working.
At first, I texted and called friends to stay in touch. At times, I'd be a little miffed because it seemed I was the one working the hardest to keep the friendship going. Maybe they weren't real "root" friendships to begin with. Maybe they were "topsoil" friends and I was just now figuring that out.
My friends are busy people. They have jobs and kids and yards to mow and places to be. People come and go in your life and that's a reality. I treasure my old friends that passed through my life and I hold dear those friends that truly make an effort to stay in touch, and there aren't a whole lot of them, but I'm cool with it. The key is to keep yourself open to meeting new people anyway. Chances are you'll make a new friend or two.
Retirement is a chapter in our lives that some people truly dread. A few folks are defined as people by the job they do; it's part of their identity. Others are reticent to move into retirement because of the fear of the unknown. I was one of the people that, in the end, was counting down the days and ready to jump right in. For me, new paths were waiting to be discovered. However you feel about your upcoming retirement, I'd advise you to throw away both your bathroom scale and your alarm clock. Those two gadgets are the worst!
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