I’m Not Retired; I Just Don’t Get a Paycheck Anymore

Retired, or retirement are such weak words for what we are experiencing. They were fine for the lifestyle of 30 or 40 years ago. Most often someone “retired” from an active, productive life and then spent their “golden years” traveling, volunteering, or relaxing on the front porch, watching the world go by.

Today, that is not the normal experience. For many of us this phase of life is more vibrant, more creative, and simply more fun than when we were working full time to prepare for retirement. Maybe we have cut back on our spending habits, moved to a smaller home, or curtailed our physical activities because of an illness or injury. None of that should affect the reality of having the time and freedom to explore other parts of ourselves.

As the title implies, not receiving a paycheck or regular income from gainful employment (interesting phrase) doesn’t automatically lead to an accurate description of where we are in life. It certainly shouldn’t imply we are living a certain way because of how we receive our income.

I imagine you would agree with me that many of the people you know are just as busy and working just as hard as they did while getting a regular paycheck. For many, the cliche about not knowing how “I ever had time for work” is quite true. When the obligations of regular employment end, the freedom to craft each 24 hour day to please and satisfy us can suddenly make a day seem too short.

Of course, good time management can get away from us. We can over-commit, over-schedule, and over-promise our availability. We feel pressure to do more, be more available to others, and to believe an hour on the porch reading a book is a wasted 60 minutes that could have been more “productive.” Time becomes our master instead of our servant.

After several months, or even a few years, the demands on our time tend to find a proper balance. We are able to have the proper mix of “me” time and “involvement with others” time. We learn to say no when necessary and yes when it suits us.

Roughly one-third of retired folks say they have considered going back to work, either full or part time. Boredom, financial needs, loss of community, and a need to contribute are often cited as reasons. While I understand these motivations, I would argue that all but financial considerations can be addressed without rejoining the workforce.
Too often I think these reasons are just the easiest answer, not necessarily the best answer. I would argue that taking a job because of boredom, feeling isolated, or because of the need to feel like part of a team is cheating you out of a much richer, more satisfying experiences. Taking any job comes with limitations on your time, your freedom to make choices, or your inability to react to something spur-of-the-moment. These limitations don’t have to exist when you are not working for someone else.

There is one exception to this: you have turned a hobby, a passion, or an idea into a business of your own. That is fundamentally very different from working for someone else. Because it occurs within your retirement framework, you can control how much time you are willing to give to whatever it is. You decide how far to take something. You draw the lines that prohibit encroachment into the rest of your life.

The previous link between a regular paycheck and what it means to be retired no longer exists. We don’t cash a check every two weeks, but that has nothing to do with how we live our life. We can be as busy or relaxed as we choose. We can spend our days shifting from project to project, volunteer work to grandkids duty, classes at the community college, zumba at the gym, wine tasting class in the evening, or binge-watching Netflix.

Or, we can spend the day on a hike through a nature preserve, bike to a favorite ice cream store, or spend an hour weeding the garden. We can read that trashy summer time novel,  nap in the hammock, and then have dinner at our favorite restaurant by the lake.

None of these choices imply retirement to me. They are simply a full menu of options available when I am not trading my time for money.

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Bob Lowry writes the Satisfying Retirement blog. For the last eight years he has offered practical and time-tested advice on all phases of a fulfilling retirement lifestyle.

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