Thinking About the Next Phase

At last, things are warming up out there. Rain has arrived, wonderful bone-chilling snow-diminishing March rain. Never mind that everything outside is a mess. This rain makes me hopeful, happy, in the mood to write and cook and have conversations, ready to think about what lies ahead instead of sinking into late-winter doldrums. 

In fact, thinking about what lies ahead has been a big topic around our house recently. My partner, Mick, is planning for retirement from the University of Minnesota, where he has been a professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine for quite some time. As his spouse, I’ve been part of a long string of meetings with a financial advisor; seminars about how to navigate Medicare, Social Security, optional health coverage, and general wellness; offers to join volunteer organizations and life-long learning groups for retirees. I’ve been a little surprised at the frequent reminders that people transitioning to this phase of their lives need to think about their plan, their purpose, and make time to play.

Why was I surprised? Because we – Mick and I – are both planners who have no shortage of purpose (there is so much to do!) and who play often. Neither one of us has ever been worried about finding things to do or feeling like we have no reason to be here anymore. It just seems like common sense to have things in mind that we might want to do when employment obligations change. And we are ahead of the game a little – Mick isn’t going to retire from the U for a few years yet. We just don’t want to get caught short on the important things like health insurance and a regular source of income. You know, the things that allow us to carry on.

But that wellness piece – the plan-purpose-play advice – how many mature people have to be reminded of that? How many people end their time as an employee somewhere and move on to nothing?

And then I began to wonder if my own perspective on this is, in part, due to already working at home and managing my own schedule. Being a writer has given me the opportunity to arrange my time without anyone else hovering over me. Mick has been able to manage much of his time as he sees fit to get teaching, research, meetings, and other tasks done within any given day – one of the perks of academia. So, between the two of us, we have an awful lot of experience mapping out the next thing, whatever it is. 

That doesn’t mean we can’t be surprised by what this next phase brings. Surprises can be a great thing with the way they keep us nimble with our lives or they can be devastating as in when they bring loss. But that can happen at any point in life, which brings me right back to my puzzlement over these reminders to plan, have purpose, and play. It seems to me those three things should be an ongoing part of everyone’s life no matter how old they are. We are on this earth for several decades, if we’re lucky, and to think we are going to waste any of those years doing nothing, being passive creatures, would be missing the whole point of being alive.

I’m an advocate for everyone to make some plans for security, have a purpose, and find time to play. That, right there, is the work-life balance that is the subject of a bazillion self-help books. Bonus: if you have the habit of those three “p”s already, a little thing like retirement is no big deal. It’s just the next thing you get to shape to suit your life. 

Now, back to that rain. I think it’s going to move a lot of muck and mud around this spring. Time to consider whether Wellies might be a good investment.

8 Comments

  1. Oh, oh. Randy is several years from retirement and we have not done nearly as much as you and Mick. Sure, we’ve attended a retirement seminar, meet annually with a financial advisor. But I still feel rather unprepared. I cannot wait to turn 65 in a few years so that I have affordable health coverage. Paying $1,600/month in premiums now is killing us financially. And we have always been really careful with our finances.

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    1. We are really fortunate to have access to a lot of information through the University but I’ve learned that all kinds of places offer seminars about Medicare and optional health care plans to anyone who’s interested. There’s also a lot of information online at SocialSecurity.gov that can help you. The health care piece was one of our biggest concerns. Everybody has questions. My biggest take away from this year of investigating, asking questions, and going to meetings is that you cannot have too much information. Goes for life in general, right?

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  2. Depression and a low paying job can tend to leave one unable to plan more than a few months ahead. Years seem overwhelming. The big thing is knowing my healthcare is taken care of from now on thanks to the VA. – As long as it remains around. That takes a lot of the burden off.
    It also doesn’t help to live in a “What, Me Worry?” state. That thinks coal is still a viable thing. 🙂

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