After working 24 years for corporate America, my work identity was very strong. My career offered many opportunities and interesting experiences. I worked hard, learned a lot, earned a good living. I was focused, organized, motivated. My last assignment was the culmination of 24 years experience, and it was a great job. It allowed me to be creative, afforded me the clout to get things done, revolved around things that mattered. I had positional power, people looked up to me and sought my opinion. But after four years in this job, most of the programs I started ran themselves, and it was hard to watch a corporate bureaucracy slowly encapsulating the innovative, nimble programs I had pioneered. It was time to retire.
My company had a very nice going away party for me. My friends took me to lunch.. and dinner...and coffee. My husband and I threw a great party, where we danced and drank and said farewell to all of the people whom we had enjoyed working with through the years. I feel that we marked the occasion well, and after it was over, I was ready to go.
For the first few months I felt like I was on vacation -- or playing hooky. Our daughter was still living at home, and the poor kid got so much hands-on mothering she didn't know how to act. I packed her lunch. I was at home when she got home from school. One day she said to me, "Mom, did you and Dad retire just so you could RUIN my senior year??"
One of the very best things about retirement was re-claiming Sunday night. For years, Sunday night had been the time when I fretted about all the things I didn't get done over the weekend and began worrying about all the things I had to get done at work the following week. I was usually grumpy and out of sorts on Sunday night. And I often stayed up late to eke out the last few hours of the weekend, which made me grumpy and tired on Monday morning. But after I retired, Sunday night became a wonderful time. I no longer worried about errands left undone: I could easily do them on Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday. I no longer worried about all the things I had to get done the next week: there weren't that many things to do! Because Sunday had been so stressful while I was working, it became a very special, happy day for me.
Another wonderful thing about retirement was the luxury of being able to stay up late and sleep in. I'm a night person and even after a quarter century of working, I never really adapted to the 8:00 to 5:00 world. Through the years I learned that I do my best thinking from 4:00 - 6:00 pm and then again from 10:00 to midnight. After retiring, I could stay up to midnight and then sleep in to 8:00. It was wonderful. It still is. I'm finally able to live according to my own circadian rhythm.
During the first few months of retirement, I also especially enjoyed the time I had to spend with our daughter. While she's a self-sufficient, resourceful, charming young woman, I think she was happy to have some extra time with her Dad and me. And now that she's gone away to college, those precious months during her senior year in high school remain very special memories.
So basically, things were great in my first few months of retirement. I got to do many things that I hadn't had time to do: garden, read, exercise, stay up late, sleep in, take care of errands on weekdays. There were only a few things I missed.
First, I missed working with other people to accomplish an objective. I was never much for small talk at work and I didn't really miss being around people just for the sake of having warm bodies around. But I did enjoy the sense of accomplishment of working with a team to get something done while I was working. After retiring, my dog didn't really appreciate our team meetings... unless of course I had treats to offer for his attention and admiration.
Funny thing, but I missed having business cards. After retiring, I found myself scribbling my phone number on a napkin, paper towel, or scrap of paper when I met someone new. In a way I felt a little lost, like I didn't belong to anything. Finally I got some cards with my name and phone number.
And then of course I missed people asking my opinion, telling me I did a good job, and in general, making me think I was wonderful. My daughter didn't really think it was so great that I packed her lunch, and my husband wasn't in awe when I emptied the dishwasher or watered the plants. My self-esteem began to take a few hits.
I did a lot of reading in the first few months... newspapers, magazines, fiction and retirement books. I think my favorite "how to retire" book is How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free: Retirement Wisdom That You Won't Get from your Financial Advisor, by Ernie J. Zelinski. In retrospect, while I liked the book, I was still too close to retirement to act on the ideas, and I really didn't comprehend the depth of the changes that were coming in my life.
Bottom line, the first few months of retirement were great. They gave me a time to chill. Adjust. Get used to the new rhythms of life. But I still was functioning in my "work" persona. It would take a few more months before the true changes began to unfold.