Saturday, March 22, 2014

Thinking about Retirement

This post is going to sound as if I'm just complaining my downstairs neighbors.  And to a certain extent, I am. But it's also a reflection on aging well and living a meaningful life during our supposed 'golden years'.

I live in a fairly quiet community.  For the most part, the residents are close to retirement or already retired. And the couple living beneath me are will into their 80s, with children and grandchildren living nearby. Ironically, the condo development across the street is filled with young couples and young families, but having lived in a yuppie condo building in a busy neighborhood in the city, I was craving solitude and silence.

When I first moved into my current condo nearly 7 years ago, my neighbors were super friendly and upbeat. They would do little things for me, like bringing in my trash can from the curb and placing it near my garage door every single week while I was at school or at work. They stopped to chat with me whenever they saw me.  I admired them because they were extremely active, getting up early nearly every morning to go for a 3 mile walk. But then a couple of things started happening that made me think their lives were not so idyllic. I noticed that they were putting their trash in my garbage can, presumably to try to save some money (residents have to pay for garbage stickers vs. pay a monthly fee). They emailed me multiple times to ask me to print out coupons and plane tickets for them because the didn't have a printer. They called me to help troubleshoot and fix their WiFi network, which I found odd, since they have family, including adult grandchildren, living nearby. They asked me to pick up their mail for them every day, while they were on vacation, instead of asking the post office to hold their mail. And they told me that they do laundry for their adult daughter who hasn't been able to hold down a steady job for years because she struggles with anxiety and depression.

Because of my current job, I have a really long commute. So, during the work week, I get up at the crack of dawn to try to avoid traffic. On the weekends, I look forward to sleeping in. But every Saturday morning at 7AM, without fail, my neighbors start slamming doors and making a ton of noise.  It took me a while to figure out that they do their weekly cleaning and errands on Saturday mornings.  In my head, I was thinking, "You're retired. You could do this on any other given day, when no one is home and the stores are less crowded."  But my guess is that they grew accustomed to doing everything on Saturdays during most of their adult life, and now they can't seem to change their schedule.

And as for double standards, the husband is hard of hearing and the wife is extremely sensitive to noise and has a hard time falling asleep at night.  So, often when I get home from work, they have TV set at high volume.  But thankfully, they turn the volume off at 9PM, which is when they apparently decide that it's time to go to bed.  A few weeks ago, I turned my TV on to watch the opening ceremony of the winter Olympics and didn't turn it off until 10:30PM. Mind you, I rarely watch TV, and if I do watch a movie, it's with my headphones on. But the next morning at 6:30AM, the neighbors literally started slamming each and every door in their condo *multiple* times.  I mean, multiple times. Later that week, I used my hair dryer once at 10PM, and presumably the wife, started slamming doors to let me know that she was displeased.  I finally emailed them to 'apologize' for disturbing them and asking them to let me know if I'm being too loud.  To be honest, I was just tired of the passive aggressive behavior.  I guess I expected more mature behavior from them.  It's both disheartening and somewhat depressing to realize that my neighbor is effectively imposing her impossibly rigid schedule on someone who is literally half her age.

A few days ago, when it snowed early in the morning, I noticed that the wife was outside shoveling the snow....even though the predicted high for the day was 40 degrees....and the snow had already started melting.  As I pulled out of my garage, she waved at me, and I waved back.  But inside, I was just shaking my head in amazement.

All of this has prompted me to think about retirement (i.e., how I want to spend my twilight years). Admittedly, elderly people are known for having difficulty sleeping and craving predictability.  But other than a handful of roommates, I've lived by myself for most of my adult years. And I'm in even more danger of falling into a habit or routine and doing things just for the sake of doing them or because I've always done them that way.

I've been asking myself the following questions:

  • Will I be able to maintain a close network of family and friends I'll be able to call upon when I have problems rather than begging acquaintances for help?  
  • Will I be flexible enough to shift my schedule so that it takes advantage of the freedom that I'll have when I no longer need to commute to work? 
  • Will I be able to do things a different way when it makes sense?  Will I try to impose my schedule on other people?  
  • Will I finally focus on doing some of the things that I've been putting off for years?  Or will I engage in meaningless busy work, just to fill the hours and days?

In contrast to my neighbors, my parents (in their late 60s, early 70s), made the decision to move to CA last year, after having lived in the Chicagoland area for 40 plus years.  And after a few rough months where they complained incessantly about everything, they're now happy with their new life. They live next door to my brother's family, they take long walks each day, and they drive my niece to and from school.  They've developed new friendships with neighbors, and they're super involved at church, having started a new ministry to help mentor some of the younger couples and families. In addition to all that, in her early 60s, my mom started learning about day trading as a way to keep her mind active and earn extra income in her 'spare time', and she's become progressively better at it each year. Likewise, in his early 60s, my dad discovered that he had a gift for teaching and public speaking, and for a while, he was a regular teacher and guest preacher at church.

All this to say, I don't know what the future holds for me, but I know that I can start making some decisions now as to what my retirement years will look like.  And although there are many things that my parents have done wrong, they've also been a great example to me of how to live my life with meaning and purpose in the back nine.

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