Susan Davis Gryder 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Once the nest is empty and you’ve officially retired from work—what’s next? Plan ahead for a smooth transition. One doesn’t have to be an avid scrapbooker to mark the major milestones of a life. We can tick off the most common in our head: School graduations. First kiss. First job. First car. First home. Marriage. Divorce. Birth of a child. Death of a parent. Many of these are exhilarating. Some are painful. And the older we get, we find that quite a few of these milestones—even those that are largely positive—begin to feel somewhat intimidating. After all, such transitions tend to make us recognize the passage of time more acutely. In addition, we find that we roll with big life changes less easily, especially those that involve a loss of some kind. And yet, with a little help and the right attitude, most of us get through such major turning points and emerge with new visions, new passions and great memories. School Nutrition knows its reader demographics and recognizes that many of you might be nearing one or two of these milestones yourself. Are your kids heading off to college or leaving your house for a home of their own? Perhaps you can see the end of the road for your full-time career and are preparing to declare a date for retirement. You might feel mixed emotions about these changes—simultaneously caught up in the excitement of the transition while harboring a little dread and anxiety, wondering what you will do with your days, or how far your savings will carry you in difficult economic times. The most important thing, say peers who have already navigated these waters, is to anticipate that you will have mixed emotions. These life milestones can be a time of exploration and reinvention, and making the most of them requires some forethought. So, if you’re nearing retirement or have begun helping your youngest pack up and move out, take the time now to plan, refl ect and look forward to how you will make these transitions to the next chapter of your life. Let Yourself Dream Retirement and a newly empty nest are occasions to ask yourself: “Who am I?” and, maybe even more important, “Who do I want to be in the coming years?” Make time to reflect on these questions. How have you changed since you were a younger adult? What were some of the roads not taken that still nag at you? These questions lead naturally to others: “Do I want to start a second career? Pursue long-held interests for which there were never ‘enough’ hours in the day or days in the year? Spend more time with friends and family? How will I stay fit, promote my own health and keep my relationships strong?” These are big questions, and they can be intimidating, especially if work and family have kept you so busy that you haven’t done much introspective thinking in recent years. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to reach out to people around you, as well as to expert professionals to get some guidance and inspiration. The resources you can tap before starting your journey are almost as overwhelming as the questions! Find a concrete place to start, whether it’s doing an hour or so of online research each day, making a dedicated trip to the library or bookstore or having coffee with a friend or acquaintance you know from the neighborhood or church who seems to be adjusting to retirement (or an empty nest) in a really admirable manner. Some life coach gurus suggest crafting a “vision board” to help guide your thoughts. This simply involves creating a collage of images and words (from magazines, newspapers, the Internet) that resonate. Using a creative, rather than analytical, approach to your reflections often can lead to unexpected insights. The box at left offers other good resources to get you started thinking about this next life stage. Plus, the individual “Sound Familiar?” stories scattered through this article also might serve as practical inspiration. Don’t be afraid to dream big—but don’t completely throw out common sense in the process. You want to be sure to manage your expectations. In the anticipation of such major life changes, it’s easy to put a lot of stock in how much “better” things will be, now that you are not “tied down” by the restrictions of work and family. Marketers are not above taking advantage of this daydream. You may already have seen advertisements that promise retirements both luxurious (villas, vineyards, beaches) and action-packed (hot air balloon rides, bungee-jumping). While we may certainly hope to enjoy a fulfilling retirement as a reward for all our years of toil and trouble, such marketing ploys can create pressure about what you should do when you have more free time and an extra bedroom or two in your home, regardless of your finances, health and personality. This is your retirement; out-of-the-box ideas can be helpful inspiration, but don’t let yourself feel pressured or discouraged by a fantasy view of the elements of a “good” retirement. Avoid an Abrupt Transition Don’t wait until the first day of retirement or the morning after you’ve dropped your child off at the college dorm to start thinking about what’s next. Give yourself the gift of time for a smooth transition, and that means starting to think about your needs and wants before that “first day of the rest of your life.” Some experts recommend looking at the year prior to retirement or the empty nest as a transition year, suggesting that a priority be made during this period for reflection, celebration and documenting memories. This is also a good occasion to research opportunities to identify and meet with others who can “mentor” you through this transition. Look into support groups, meet-up opportunities and online chat boards for others who are new empty nesters and retirees. Get your support system in place now, so you’re prepared to weather the inevitable ups and downs of such a major life milestone. Unless you’ve made the decision to retire rather suddenly, it’s likely that you have the luxury of time to have a measured farewell to the routines of work. Likewise, if your child is college-bound, you have some advance notice to adjust to a quieter household. Make a point to celebrate what it means to have reached these milestones, from your career accomplishments to shepherding your child to adulthood. Surely, there’s much to take pride in, from personal growth to personal relationships and everything in between! Even if there are some regrets and bittersweet emotions attached to these changes, these are worth internal acknowledgement, too. Consider keeping a journal during this transition year; it can be a safe place to express your feelings and capture memories. Don’t like to write? Consider preserving visual memories, like a scrapbook filled with photos, lunch menus, recipes, thank-you cards and other souvenirs from work. Plan When You Can “Planning” for major life milestones is no small matter. Financial planning is essential, of course. The big picture—will I/we move somewhere smaller and easier to maintain; will I/we move out of the area; will I/we begin a new job; have I/we prepared for the potential of illness and disability—will require considerable thought and subsequent methodical action plans. But even if your transition will involve relatively minor adjustments, don’t neglect to plan for daily activities that will help you break out of your old routines, mitigate feelings of sadness, loss or boredom and stay emotionally healthy. With extra hours in your day—and perhaps extra room in your home—you may want to resurrect an interest put on hold, invest more time into a favorite pastime or explore something entirely new. Consider giving back to your community through volunteer activities. Take one of the many classes offered in most communities through recreation departments, community colleges or churches. Be on the lookout for lecture series at area museums or colleges. Investigate programs available at the local library. You can find clubs and groups for a host of activities, from books and movies to walking and managing your money. Discovery Health identified the top 10 hobbies for active retirees: ■ Creative hobbies (ranging from painting to woodworking) ■ Sports (swimming, golf, tennis, etc.) ■ Restoration projects (cars, boats, furniture) ■ Yoga and Pilates ■ Travel ■ Walking ■ Dancing ■ Gardening ■ Cooking ■ Community Service Try one or more of these activities to keep a spring in your step. Keep a Healthy Outlook For many women, these big life changes often occur during or soon after we experience the major physical changes of menopause. These can magnify the emotional impact of all the other new things in your life, so stay in contact with your doctor and get regular checkups. Exercise can keep you healthy, and it also combats the stress and anxiety that come with major changes. Make sure to include exercise in your transition plan, even if it’s just a walk every evening. Keep an eye on your mental health, too! Take some time to rest on your laurels and congratulate yourself on a job well done, whether it’s a successful career or a successfully launched child. Pamper yourself: Get the sleep you need, get together with friends, cook yourself nourishing, comforting foods. You’ve earned it! For other advice on ensuring that your golden years are healthy ones, see “Live Long and Prosper,” on page 40. Tend to Your Relationships When children leave home or one or both spouses stop working, it can change the dynamic of your current relationships. Everything from the time you spend together (and alone) to how you communicate has the potential to change along with your new life stage. Recognize that this is a new dynamic, and adjustments—and patience—may be paramount. Start reflecting about what it will take to nurture your relationships with your family and friends. Are there new, mutual interests you can pursue? How much time will you spend together, and how will you ensure that you each get the private time and space that you need? These are questions that you should discuss well in advance of that first day of retirement or newly empty nest. Remember that this transition is a major one for your spouse, too, and make time to talk about your respective hopes, dreams and worries as the big day approaches. Women’s concerns (caretaking) about retirement can be very different than men’s (lack of status and purpose). Keep these differences in mind—and ensure that channels of communication stay open. Don’t forget to leave room for some romance in your life, especially if you are married. While you may have more flexibility in your schedule, you may need to remind yourself to plan the occasional date night or other special event. Indeed, without the stress of children or careers, many couples find that the quality of their interactions improves, with fewer interruptions and conflicts. It’s Your Time—So Take It! No matter which path you choose in the years to come, you have many options to consider. Give yourself some time to adjust, and try to avoid being impulsive when considering significant changes. Take the time to plan, think, reflect and dream—and then, go out and live that fulfilling life! SN SNAPSHOT ■ Dream big about post-retirement plans, but don’t completely throw out common sense in the process. ■ Recognize that you might have regrets and anxieties mixed in with excitement about the future. ■ Relationship dynamics are likely to change; have patience and be flexible. WHERE TO START? If you are ready to start thinking about the transition to an empty nest or retirement, there are an almost unlimited number of resources available, both online and in print. Following are just a few to get you started. ■ If your children are leaving home, look for online support through websites like emptynestsupport.com and emptynestmoms.com. ■ For inspiration, seek such books as Chicken Soup for the Empty Nesters: 101 Stories about Surviving When the Kids Leave Home by Jack Canfield; The Joy of Retirement by David Borchard; or What Color Is Your Parachute? For Retirement by John Nelson. ■ To learn the basics of what retirement can mean to you, visit www.aarp.org. ■ To learn about what’s available where you live to help you transition to retirement, find local resources and contribute to the community, check out Civic Ventures, www.civicventures.org/nextchapter/overview.cfm. ■ If you are considering a second career, look for opportunities and ideas at such websites as senior s4hire.org, retirementjobs.com and experienceworks.org. SOUND FAMILIAR? Elsa is a devoted single mom who successfully balanced both a career and a family. She loved volunteering at her daughter’s swim meets and cheering on her son’s high school baseball team. For years, it was a non-stop stream of activity, from Girl Scouts and science fairs to band concerts and the prom. Once her kids went off to college, Elsa found herself at loose ends. Her work in the school district was still fulfilling, but in the evenings and on weekends, her house was unnaturally quiet, and she couldn’t help feeling lonely. Casting about for something to fill her free time, Elsa renewed an interest she first discovered back in college: mosaic art. First, Elsa did some research on where she could take a class—then one class led to another. Soon, she found she had a genuine passion—and some real talent—and a hobby quietly turned to a vocation. Elsa set up a studio in her garage and began teaching classes herself, sharing her love for the art with students and boosting her income. When Jane, age 62, retired from her position as school nutrition director of a medium-sized Midwestern school district, she was relieved to leave behind the daily grind of going to work. She felt young and energetic—ready for a big change. All her adult life, she had imagined this transition, expecting to move out the area and retiring to someplace warmer and sunnier. Jane’s husband was still working, however, and he was reluctant to even set a date for retirement. Plus, with three young grandchildren nearby, she now had mixed feelings about moving away. But without work, Jane started to feel disconnected from her community and restless, with no place to channel her renewed energy. She missed seeing colleagues and especially missed seeing the students. Then she realized she still had a lot to offer those kids! She signed up as a reading tutor at a local elementary school and began spending happy mornings with 1st- and 2nd-graders. After a few months, she decided to expand her volunteering, offering to help the cafeteria team on occasion with a special promotion or nutrition education activity. Jane eased into retirement by staying engaged and keeping connected to some of the things she loved most about her full-time career. Becky had followed all the steps. She announced her pending retirement to the school district 10 months in advance. After thorough research and several discussions, she and her husband purchased a condo in Florida and were preparing to put their house in New England on the market. They had long dreamed of living near the beach and leaving behind the exhausting northern winters. And yet, as the date for her retirement approached, Becky found herself overwhelmed, exhausted and depressed. She loved her job, and she had many good friends in the community whom she would leave behind in a matter of months. Becky started to struggle to energize herself for the many tasks involved with selling their house. She found she was picking silly fights with her husband. What should have been a happy time spent in looking forward instead had become a source of anxiety and dread. At the urging of a good friend, Becky decided to share her feelings with her doctor, who, in turn, gave her a reference to a therapist. After a few sessions with the counselor, Becky began to feel more comfortable talking through her feelings of anxiety and loss. She also began scrapbooking, creating a memory album with pictures of the school where she worked, notes from her coworkers and students, and mementos of her career. The therapist also encouraged her to sign up for Facebook, and after she got the hang of it, she realized that she could stay connected to many of her close friends, even though she’d be miles away. By the time the realtor hung the “Sold” sign on their house, Becky was once again looking forward to the new life she would begin with her husband. Susan Davis Gryder is a freelance writer in Silver Spring, Md. Photography by Siri Stafford, Hermera, istockphoto, Alfrendo Images, Jupiterimages and Thinkstock.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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