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September 01, 2006

Retirement: First Impressions

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards--

It's September 1st, and I'm retired as of today.

And everybody seems to want to know how I'm taking it or how it feels.

I'll tell you in a minute.

First, let me mention that, oh, 30 years ago I couldn't imagine being retired. I couldn't even imagine why anyone would want to retire. You see, I was still in bushy-tailed career mode and could slog away at my desk for hour upon untold hour.

Now? Actually I've been ready to bail out for four or five years. No real prospects for promotion. Few or no professional goals to try attaining. An enhanced desire to travel. And to have fun while I'm still fit.

It's a cliche that one suddenly knows that it's time to retire, yet there's a lot of truth to it -- cliches don't appear out of nowhere. It was true for me, the guy who at age 36 denied retirement.

Okay. Enough petty philosophizing; you Boomers and Gen-Whatevers wanna know what it's like.

I'll probably give you a different answer in one year, five years, ten.

As for today, the answer hit me as I was sauntering between the Bellevue Barnes & Noble bookstore and Bellevue Square mall: I felt just like I did back in the days before I got my first real, grown-up job.

Just pokin' around. Yeah, I had a few things needing to be done, but no special deadlines. My time was what I would make of it.

Also comparable to summer breaks when in high school or college. Or the summer when I was fresh out of college waiting to go into the military.

In other words, as it begins, retirement is nothing new.



posted by Donald at September 1, 2006


Sounds lovely, and congratulations.

My own puzzlement has less to do with retirement than with work: Why would anyone want to do any such thing? Of course, I speak as someone who never had any desire to work, let alone any career aspirations, Life for me pretty much goes on hold when I head to work, and starts up again once the workday is over.

"Needing to pay the bills," "wanting to have a middle-class standard of living," and "being willing to play along with the system enough to get a paycheck out of it" are understandable to me. But people who are gung-ho to report to the office? They mystify me entirely. A personal failing, I know ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 2, 2006 2:20 AM

BTW, I'm very curious to see how your new state is going to affect your blogging!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 2, 2006 3:22 AM

Michael -- Regarding your second question, there should be little net effect.

By that, I mean (1) on the plus side,I'll have more free time most days to research and write, and (2) on the negative, when I'm traveling, especially outside the USA, I might not be able to blog much at all -- as later this month when we're off to Europe.

Yesterday I signed on to Verizon's Internet hookup service. By attaching a cable twixt my cell phone and the MacBook I can access the internet from most major cities and some spots elsewhere. I noticed last week that Jonah Goldberg appeared to to blogging from his car in Montana (the Fair Jessica or Cosmo the Wonderdog probably were driving). So he probably has a similar setup.

Matter of fact I'm using this setup here at the Starbucks in Seattle's University Village -- I'm munching a cinnamon roll and sipping coffee between sentences.

Furthermore, since Nancy's a tennis player and I'm not, I suspect her tennis sessions will make for happy blogging time for moi.

In othe words, I'll still be bloggin' away, but not so much on the Sunday-Thursday schedule I tended to follow this past year.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on September 2, 2006 10:22 AM

As someone who has spent a lifetime working in the arts, either at not for profit institutions or as a self-employed freelancer, retirement is out of the question. No pensions or fat IRAs here. I'll work until I drop just to keep putting food on the table and a roof over my head. My only hope of retirement is if the Daughter Unit marries someone very, very successful and very, very generous who might let the wife and I settle into an in-law apartment in exchange for light housekeeping services. Lucky for me I enjoy what I do.

Posted by: Chris White on September 2, 2006 11:50 AM

I've been retired since Feb 2005, and couldn't be happier. What's not to like, when every day is Saturday? Work is vastly overrated for those with an imagination.

Only those suffering from an impoverishment of the soul fear leisure!

Posted by: Don McArthur on September 2, 2006 12:10 PM

Work always interfered with what I wanted to do and even now what I want to do is often for the sake of others, which I suppose could be interpreted as a blow against narcissism, but believe me I get accused of narcissism anyway, now that I can do what I want to do. Of course, the chief accuser is me.

I wanted to write and get respectably published a biography of Bob Scriver, which I promised him I would do in about 1962 and finally have gotten done. Or will have by next spring.

I try to push along the Blackfeet tribe, particularly the members I taught and therefore feel I have some responsibility for. "Twelve Blackfeet Stories" does that. So will "A Guide to the Blackfeet Reservation" now in process.

Then there's animal control, which is still misunderstood and sometimes ineffective after all these years -- partly because of the increasingly bizaare turns the humane movement takes. On friday the front page of the GF Tribune told about PETA demanding that Ringling (a cow town) give up it's name because it implies assaults on elephants and cruel confinement of tigers. The whole state is laughing. Besides, I enjoy making a hero out of my former boss.

Increasing age is balancing against the amount of stuff I want to write, my work. Getting diabetes properly diagnosed and treated probably gave me ten more years. But I have a creepy feeling that if I don't have books roughed out ahead of me, I won't live any longer. It's not about getting published. Work has become life. I've been retired since 1999, so minimally funded that there is barely enough for food and fuel. I'm the same age as Donald, but hardly the same lifestyle. But I've been to the Bellevue Square mall enough times.

So this is mine, no one else's. All I want to do all day is read and write. The hell with housework or the yard. The hell with vacations or travel or parties or all that other boring stuff. I've waited all my life for retirement and it's not like any other time because now I have the power. The Power.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on September 2, 2006 4:22 PM

My son wanted to retire and peruse The History Of Lamborghini to his heart content ever since he was 13.

Posted by: Tat on September 2, 2006 6:44 PM

My dad is retired and has been for about 7 years He works part time now. He got so bored after the first year that he decided to go back to work, just working less. Unless you have a huge savings account, you can't travel all the time. I don't think people realize how much structure work gives to their lives.

I also got my car worked on a couple of weeks ago. There was an old guy there who drove me to work. I talked to him during the ride, as we were the only two in the car He told me that he started doing that job because he also was bored being retired. It was his twelfth year back on the job. He said that of the guys he knew who retired at about the same time he did, 4 were dead. The others spent their mornings at MacDonald's nursing a coffee until the afternoon soaps started up on the tube.

When I started working at 22, one of the guys I started with was about to retire. All he talked about for the last year he was there was how happy he would be to retire. Finally, the day arrived. He was retired about a year before he came back to work, again part-time. He said that he got bored with travelling and that he didn't have the money to keep doing it all the time. So back to work he came.

Last one. I knew another guy who retired at 70. Stayed on until he got the max pension possible. Rich guy already. He lasted about a year until he died.

Sorry to be so morbid, but from what I've seen, retirement isn't all its cracked up to be. Its not the summer of your eighteenth year anymore. It seems pretty reasonable to me to work, but less, as it gives you some structure, more income, a sense of value, and or what not, also with plenty of time to relax.

As far as my own view of work goes, I can't imagine retireing. I can imagine changing careers to what I want to do, and then working until I drop. Also working less. I am very unlike MB--I want to do something valuable with my time an collect a paycheck for doing a good job, not just for showing up. I don't see work as hindrance to everything else. It simportant in its own right. Since I am an engineer, I thnk that's the right attitude to have, because the projects I work on have serious implications for the public at large. There is no way I would be happy sitting at home reading books, or endlessly travelling. Its not in my blood.

Good luck to you Donald, and congratulations on reaching a major milestone in life. But don't be surprised or dismayed if retirement isn't all its cracked up to be. You might just find out you like working just a little, or a lot less, but still working. Enjoy it now, but keep it in mind.

Posted by: s on September 2, 2006 7:25 PM

While in many respects lazy, I have nonetheless spent most of a full career climbing one greasy pole or another. No stranger to long hours, me. This accounts in some measure for my lack of contribution to this weblog--a promotion came along and I find my brain nearly fully occupied. I come here to read and to savor, but I find myself curiously unable to come up with much to say.

But I liked this posting, Donald. It hit home. I took what was for me a long vacation this summer--two weeks!--on a very nice lake in the woods. After decades of thinking of my career--and my life--as stretching out forever (or at least till way, way over the horizon), for the first time I could peer over the horizon, and realized it was pretty darn close.

It felt pretty good, all things considered. Odd, too, for a guy whose self-image has been so bound up by professionalism for so long. I think I have been fearing life without that attachment, and maybe now I realize there's less to fear. Maybe I'll get back to blogging.


Posted by: fenster on September 2, 2006 7:27 PM

Retirement, unless we win the lotto, will be when they pull the grass rug over our heads and we become food for the worms.

"Welcome to Wal-Mart! Would you care for a buggy? Yes ma'am, shoes are on aisle 10 - to your right. What a cute baby you have!"

I'm practicing.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on September 2, 2006 10:40 PM

"What's not to like, when every day is Saturday?" I've never really adjusted to Saturdays since I became too old to chase leather balls about muddy fields. Perhaps dogs feel the same?

Posted by: dearieme on September 3, 2006 10:48 AM

Retirement is one thing for people of traditional retirement age. Today, however, many people are retiring at younger and younger ages; 55 seems to be the new 65, and retirement as early as 50 is not unheard-of. I would imagine that coping with retirement is much harder when you're still young and vigorous. These 50-year-old retirees might find it a lot less pleasant that they had expected.

Posted by: Peter on September 3, 2006 10:59 AM

Plenty of views on retirement (and work!) in the comments so far; thanks for your interest.

Clearly, retirement is what one makes of it, given physical and monetary resources available -- not to mention one's temperament.

Re Prairie Mary, my retirement income isn't all that great in itself, but I'll be able to pool resources with Nancy, which will help. And I spent about 25 years of my adult life on really tight budgets, so I truly appreciate the opportunity to blow a little money on travel.

Barring a serious financial crisis or some unexpected client direct-depositing 30 pieces of silver in my bank account, I have no plans to get even a part-time day-job.

For one thing, my 2Blowhards gig is fun and keeps me mentally active. Plus, it can occupy an hour or two a day.

Then I want to get back into oil painting. I started that a couple of years ago, but then 2Blowhards and wedding planning came along and squeezed out that bloc of time. Now I have that time back.

I also have a wad of hisrorical demographic data from around the world and think it might be nice to get some of that on the Web in some form (and possibly bring in some shekels).

Not to mention travel and social stuff.

Health permitting, I should be okay.

(I know that other folks -- especially career-oriented men who lack outside interests -- can have serious adjustment problems.)

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on September 3, 2006 11:53 AM

Wow, Donald! Painting sounds great! You seem to have a good eye and a feeling for line, just judging from the glimpses we get online. Who knows where this might go? I hope it makes you deeply happy, because I think that's the secret to good health.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on September 3, 2006 8:28 PM

Donald -

I hope your retirement is everything you want it to be.

A number of my relatives were either self-employed small business owners or small ranchers, so I guess when I think about it, I see myself working until I drop, inheriting from these relatives a view that working and living are intertwined. On the other hand, I also ruefully note that most of the people of my parents' generation retired from their jobs, while many of my contemporaries have had to jump from job to job because of corporate layoffs and downsizing.

Ran across this recent yahoo news story, oddly on topic:

100-year-old Briton keeps on working 'to avoid boredom'

Britain's oldest worker has enjoyed a day off to celebrate his 100th birthday but explained he would become a "miserable sod" if he ever had to retire for good.

"Buster" Martin, a mechanic for a south London plumbing firm who has 17 children and 70 grandchildren and great grandchildren, tried giving up work at the age of 97 but couldn't face the boredom.

"Boredom is a big killer of men," he told the Daily Telegraph. "I went back to work because I like to keep active," adding that if he ever retired he would become "the most miserable sod you have come across."

The centenarian, who grew up in an orphanage and first married when he was 14, joined the Grenadier Guards and served in World War II before switching to the Navy.

Posted by: Alec on September 5, 2006 3:11 AM

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