The following is a guest post from Thelma Reese, Ed. D., a passionate expert on retirement. A former English and Education professor, she was a pivotal figure literacy and educational initiatives in Philadelphia: she created and was spokesperson for the Advisory Council for Hooked on Phonics, helped found Philadelphia Young Playwrights, directed the Mayor’s Commission on Literacy there, and chaired the Board of Children’s Literacy Initiative. In 1994, she organized the World Symposium on Family Literacy at UNESCO in Paris. She has appeared frequently on Philadelphia television and hosted a cable show. She and Barbara M. Fleisher created the blog ElderChicks in 2012, and are the co-authors of The New Senior Woman: Reinventing the Years Beyond Mid-Life (Rowman & Littlefield). Her new book, co-authored with Fleisher, is The New Senior Man: Exploring New Horizons, New Opportunities.
Retirement today is a far different reality than it was decades ago. In the era of the company man, it was the edge of the cliff. You were heading there, life it or not. On the way out you got a party and a gold watch (if you were lucky). And then you went home — and pretty much did nothing. But now, given longer life expectancies, better health, and multiple jobs or even careers packed into one individual’s lifetime, retirement may span a full third of your life.
That’s a lot of time to do nothing — or learn how to renew your life. Doing nothing can trigger depression, anxiety, and deteriorating physical health if you get too isolated and don’t seek help. Instead, if you’re facing retirement, or already there, here are five great ways to see this as a time of renewal — and thrive.
Make Some New Friends
Why is this tip first? The first step to avoiding isolation is company. Women tend to maintain close friendships over their lifetime, and with it, their confidantes and support system. But often, men are set adrift emotionally when they leave the social cradle of the office. They’ve likely spent most of the time with their coworkers and work associates and suddenly that camaraderie is gone. Don’t let solitude take its place. Resolve to make new friends as well as keep the old.
Hiking the Grand Canyon – Rim to River – With Friends, Old and New
Attend to Your Partner
There’s a longstanding wife’s saying about marriage that rings true: “I married him for better or worse, but not for lunch.” So many marriages aren’t used to spending time together — but thrive on a separate but connected relationship, with separate interests and schedules. But now you’re going to have to eat lunch together. Spend time consciously re-acquainting yourseves with each other. Make the effort to share your hopes and expectations with each other. If she’s still working and you’re not, you may experience a sense of exclusion as she’s still out in the world. Figure out ways to bridge your two lives.
Talk About Love
With your doctor, your partner, a new love interest — society is much more open about sex and intimacy now. Increased longevity can mean you’re working through some physical and emotional changes. It’s smart (and it’s your right) to be honest with your doctor if you’re disturbed by changes you’re experiencing. And if your doctor doesn’t seem informed, or is a poor listener, get a new doctor. Intimacy works best when it is an expression of deep love or affection, and it may take new forms that are just as pleasurable to both concerned. If you’re finding new love, remember you’re not immune to sexually transmitted diseases. In fact they’re on the rise in some senior communities.
Stay Active in Your Field
Some men find they’re happiest when they keep up with their field. If that means learning new technology or skills, there are ways to do that — attend conferences, take workshops, interact with younger practitioners. You may find that your wisdom and experience are much welcomed. In so many of us, our passion for our fields isn’t diminished just because we don’t have to make a living at it. And staying active in the field is not only stimulating, it can be immensely gratifying as well.
Focus on Feeling Well
Feeling well is a sign that you’re paying attention to your own physical and mental well-being. Learn the warning signs — such as forgetting not just something minor like a neighbor’s name, but your own address. Don’t let yourself spend each and every hour alone. There’s a key difference between satisfying solitude and isolation, and there’s a difference between being sad and being depressed. Stay active, resolve to get out of your house at least once a day, and find ways to socialize — civic groups, senior centers, religious organizations, neighborhood watches, volunteering. You’ll be welcome and in some cases, needed. Don’t be surprised if you’re pressed into service. Enjoy it.
Some men choose to keep working well past the usual retirement age, and just scale back as it’s comfortable. Some men are “phased out” before they’re ready, which can sting. Some can’t wait to be done with work so they can finally get to a new passion or old interest. The common ground is that life expectancy has given senior men a whole new phase of life to explore. There’s no reason to see this as a dead-end. More likely than not, it’s a whole new beginning.