Retirement is a major life event that deserves to be marked and noticed. It compares to initiations into adulthood or marriage, both of which are actively celebrated. At work, we honor careers that are ending, but retirement should be inaugurated with its own special activity.
Whatever the chosen activities, a good retirement initiation involves reflecting backward to interpret what has gone before, looking inward to better understand yourself, and preparing for what might be ahead.
Looking back, you might construct an inventory of life’s major accomplishments and disappointments, recognizing both strengths and weaknesses, things done well, and those that might have been done better. You want to reconcile yourself with all that has happened.
Looking inward, you want to see yourself truthfully and identify elements of yourself that endured through time. You will be well positioned to move forward if you can see how life’s events played against your fundamental character and brought you to the present.
Looking forward involves preparation, even if only in attitude. A good initiation almost inevitably repositions you toward the future and makes you ready for new challenges.
There may be many ways to mark retirement, yet the following three seem always appropriate:
- A retreat, where you withdraw from daily life to spend time in contemplation, perhaps at a religious facility or at a secular camp. The retreat may be organized around a topic, or it may be open. It may be individual or in community, silent or social. Better yet, you may do a series of retreats combined with spiritual direction from a trained person.
- An educational program, where you prepare for something new, like flying, photography, or literature. The idea is to augment existing strengths with new skills for new ventures.
- A trip, where you, either alone or with a companion or spouse, head out on an extended journey, maybe a pilgrimage. It might be a road trip to the west (or east, north, or south), or a safari in Africa, or an extended sojourn in South America. Ideally it involves adventure.
A year after I retired, I took a trip out west for 33 days. My wife, Barbara, was still working and couldn’t go, so I took our dog, Anna. She was 10 years old at the time and a perfect traveling companion, especially since I camped most of the time. We took my truck and traveled across the plains, through Wyoming and into Montana where we visited a friend near Missoula, then onward to Spokane, Washington and the Columbia River area, then south through the Hells Canyon region, the Wallowa Mountains, and southeastern Oregon, then south and west into Reno, Nevada to visit another friend, then westward across California to a town near Monterey Bay, then back eastward across Nevada, southern Utah, and into northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon. Then we headed across New Mexico and the South to home.
It was a magical trip. We suffered cold nights at high elevations in a tent; we hiked to an unreconstructed ghost town near the Continental Divide in southwestern Montana; we sat for hours in the dry country of southeastern Oregon watching geese at Antelope Reservoir; we rambled around parts of the rim of Hells Canyon; we saw several National Parks; and we celebrated old friendships. Anna displayed her steadfast loyalty through it all.
For me, having been trained in forestry yet having worked mostly in an office, the trip reestablished an elemental connection with nature. We were alone in many campsites, available to the weather—wind and rain—as well as the night sounds of animals and the huge skies of clear, open country. My attitudes toward nature were awakened from that long slumber at a desk, and I realized in new ways that the trappings of daily life were nonessential accoutrements to what was real. I grew confident about life, that I knew I had really lived and done some significant things, even though they were not extraordinary. Near the end I was ready to go home and think about what I might yet do in retirement.
What about you? How would you like to mark your retirement?