Diary of a New Retiree

By Guest Contributor December 15, 2010 12:42

By Alan O’Neill

I really enjoyed working.

The last company I worked for was like a family. I joined it after my 60th birthday, and thought that I would retire when I reached 65.

My wife and I bought some property and started to build our retirement place. Building cost more than we thought, because we had to make roads and cut away a hillside to make room for a house, but it was going to be a wonderful house. We used up some of my IRA to make it the way we wanted it.

When I got to be 65, we had just finished the house, and we wanted things like furniture and window coverings. I thought another couple of years of work would be easy and help with expenses. The extra money would also let me buy a few “necessities” – such as a tractor and a chain saw.

I lost track of time, and before I knew it, the company celebrated my 70th birthday. The fire marshal would not allow that many candles on a cake indoors. Because the company’s owners had been so good to me, I wanted to be sure that I had a qualified replacement to take over my job. I found a great one. There went another excuse to delay retirement.

I think I was stalling. The idea of not having a “job” was frightening.

But after my 71st birthday, it was becoming more and more difficult to get up and go to work. I made plans to retire, and started to tell my coworkers. That helped push me to actually do it. I was excited and happy that I would have time to do more things around the property.

Then, the more I thought about retirement, the more I wondered and worried how it would be, because I had worked continuously at one job or another since I was a paper boy at age 14. I learned electronics in the Navy, where I stayed for almost 11 years. I was involved with the Cuban Missile Crisis and did two tours in Vietnam. Then it was on to a series of jobs involving electronics and computers. Eventually I worked with Sun Microsystems as director of training for customer support. The company had 2,500 people scattered in 17 countries, speaking 11 languages.

Later, I took a less stressful job as a writer, describing software that helped engineers design computer chips. When we moved to the foothills, I was hired as a technical writer by a company that makes automated manufacturing equipment.
Leaving the working world was not going to be easy. Thinking about all this was making me feel depressed, and so I contacted a counselor to help me sort out my feelings. That helped some.

I picked a date and wrote a resignation letter. The bosses knew I had been thinking about retiring, and were not surprised. They wished me well and arranged a good-bye lunch for the entire company in my honor. At the lunch, everyone was supportive and congratulated me on gaining my “freedom.”

Month One

Well, I made it through this first month. I’m still talking to the counselor, which has helped me cope with something unexpected. In the middle of this month I found out that my son, Shane, had died of complications caused by his Type 2 diabetes. His girlfriend called and told me he had died in his Idaho apartment a month ago. He was 47.

By the time I found out, the coroner had arranged his cremation at the funeral home. I would have had him cremated anyway, I was just sad that I had not known that he was so sick. This makes the adjustment to my new life more difficult.

My retirement is also an adjustment for Emily. We have been married for 36 years, and Emily is 10 years younger than I am. When we first talked of my retirement, she said I wouldn’t have any more excuses for not working on her “honey-do” list. I almost changed my mind about retiring.

As the saying goes, “At retirement, the wife gets twice the husband, and half the money.” Emily has been worrying about that. She is still working at two jobs. She has her own business making and selling window coverings, and does surveys for the government, among other things.

We are quite different in our approach to spending. Emily wants to make lists that identify things like where the money is coming from and where we are going to have to spend it. On the other hand, when I have made up my mind, I go charging ahead and “know” I will get the money when I need it. That doesn’t mean that I don’t worry about money, I just do it anyway.

But so far, we have been able to pay the bills and even have a little left over. That has been a pleasant surprise. We’ll see how it goes the second month.

I had been hesitant about starting larger projects because I seemed to think I can only work on them on weekends. That was the old way.  I am adjusting to the idea that I don’t have to go to work, and that I do have time to start and complete larger projects – sometimes even in the same week.

The toughest part of this is beginning to work on a project, then being led astray to other jobs before finishing the first one. I will have to get better organized, and prioritize the work so I can finish a job. Because I have so much time now, it is easy to say that the side job won’t take much time and then I can go back to the original project. That is a mistake.

I have the time now to be more active in three other interests. The first is working as a docent  in Columbia State Historic Park. I also enjoy competing in black-powder shooting contests, which I have been neglecting for several years, and I want to get back to it. The third interest is working with a small group of historical re-enactors called the Columbia Foot Dragoons.

I am looking forward to having time to participate in these groups and their events. While I was working, I had to miss many of them.

Month Two

I am working on assembling a storage shed that I purchased as a kit (many pieces). Although I have time, I did not expect that this would take so much of it. This is the largest do-it-yourself job I have ever tried.

In addition to building the shed, my wife and I have decided that we should have a garden.  We bought enough fencing to enclose a 15-by-20-foot area. When I get tired of working on the shed, I go to work preparing the garden area. We are still deciding what to plant.

Now that I have time to look around the property, I see dozens of other areas that need attention. I will have to learn much more about forest management. Many of the trees are too close together and need to be thinned. This will help with the supply of firewood for next year as well as reducing the fire hazard on the property.

Because we are on a remote road, county crews don’t seem to have any time or money to maintain the road. So my neighbors and I use our tractors and other equipment to do the work. I will go to the county road department and see how they might be able to help.

It looks like I will be busy with all these projects into the foreseeable future.

I have no idea how I ever had time to go to an actual job. I think I really like retirement.

Month Three  

Many of the things I worried about when I was thinking about retirement were not the problems I imagined. I have lots to do.

The counselor has been a lot of help, and we think that I won’t have a problem with depression. I’ll continue the visits for another month.

The money is tight, but not as big an issue as I thought. Emily is beginning to think that we might be able to pay all the bills after all.

I am beginning to be better organized, so I don’t start too many projects at the same time.  There is a lot of work to do, but work may be too strong a word. This is fun.

I should have retired five years ago.

Alan O’Neill, 72, lives in the Columbia area. He has returned to his last employer, Kinematic Automation in East Sonora, once or twice to help with a project or two, but now considers himself fully retired. And happily, he finally completed his shed, which stores some of the equipment vital to his many retirement projects.

© 2010 Friends and Neighbors

By Guest Contributor December 15, 2010 12:42