January 12, 2016
Retirement Just Might Be Boring
Over the long Christmas holiday, I got a sneak preview of what retirement could be like. Frankly, it was a little boring.
I fully appreciate that most workers don’t have the perk provided by my employer, Boston College, which gives us generous time off between Christmas and New Year’s. By cashing in a few unused vacation days prior to Christmas, I was able to string together 16 glorious days off.
It felt like a lifetime.
After cleaning off my desk, running long-neglected errands, reading a book about the sinking of the Lusitania, wrapping gifts, stocking the pantry, going to a holiday party, exercising at the gym, seeing most of the 2015 Oscar contenders at local cinemas, and getting together with friends, I still struggled to fill my days. It’s even more challenging when the winter cold descends.
I’m developing a better understanding of why some people continue working well into their 60s, even 70s. Research covered in our prior blog posts shows that older workers are more likely to delay their retirement if they have more education. That’s because their jobs are often interesting. I’m a good example – blogging usually doesn’t feel like work. This is much different than trying to continue in increasingly difficult physical work, such as waitressing or working on an assembly line.
At age 58, my growing anxiety about retirement is in stark contrast to my husband’s anticipation that his rapidly approaching retirement – he’s 62 – will be nirvana. After three decades pouring his heart and soul into teaching high school biology in inner-city Boston, he relishes the prospect of a stress-free retirement collecting his pension. I’ve encouraged him to think about how he will be spending his winter days in retirement when activity becomes more important than the relaxation he craves in his time off now.
There are other considerations. My husband’s adult children may one day produce grandchildren, and I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things from friends who are becoming grandparents. What’s not to like? But I know retirees who are building their lives around their grandchildren, a lifestyle that strikes me as unrealistic for many modern families. And it strikes me as exhausting if taken to extremes.
People also look forward to traveling and exploring when they’re liberated from work obligations. But ennui overcame me during the Christmas holiday, despite the fact we spent a week of it visiting my mother in Orlando. A couple of summers ago, my husband and I went on a fantastic, two-week road trip from Los Angeles, through Arizona and New Mexico and up to Jackson, Wyoming and Montana. We explored, hiked, white-water rafted, ate Western fare like elk with boysenberry sauce and scrambled eggs with green chilies. But if we’re retired and spend $6,000 on a two-week vacation, what are we going to do the other 50 weeks of the year? Certainly not another extravagant vacation – retirees need to watch their pennies.
As retirement comes more into focus, I try to think harder and more concretely about what it will be like. For example, how much money do we spend now, and how much will we really need to retire in the lifestyle to which we’re accustomed?
And what am I going to do with all that free time? It’s an important question that can’t be answered overnight. I’m glad I still have a few years to figure it out.