A friend of mine claims he's failing retirement.
He was busy during his career, traveling the world, negotiating deals to acquire and sell locomotives -- if you can believe that -- and he also worked sales and marketing gigs for that big-eared crazy dude Ross Perot. He put in 60- and 70-hour weeks, spent way too much time away from home, and endured frequent high pressure situations. But he also was amply compensated, was able to choose his time to cut loose, and now enjoys the rewards of his concentrated labor an accommodating pension and retirement on the beach.
He complains that he can't slow down. He serves on several boards, has created and sustains a non-profit organization that promotes bicycling in South Carolina, and is busier, he says, than he's ever been. He's joking when he says he's failing retirement, but he figured this time of life would be all about kicking back, playing several rounds of golf per week, reading a good book or two and spending more quality time with spouse and family.
For many, that's the vision. For many more the reality is too much like my friend's, who's unwilling (or unable), to just take it easy.
Those who have planned for this time and have chosen Shepherdstown as the place where life ultimately makes more sense than a 12-hour daily round trip on a train, can experience their golden time exploring and appreciating this truly amazing part of the country at their own pace. In Shepherdstown alone, I'm still amazed at three coffee shops in a two-block stretch, the charming downtown, gorgeous architecture, two yoga studios, plenty of delightful restaurants, and an engaged and well-read populace (thanks to all that time on the train, I guess, and a wonderful local library).
Those who plan carefully for retirement tend to fall into two main categories: those aiming for life on the beach with summertime cooling off periods in the mountains; and full-time mountain dwellers with short summertime trips to the beach, despite the heat. Both scenarios work, but I can't imagine a more captivating option than Shepherdstown at the core with mountains or beach as getaways.
It's always nice to have it all.
I've had a glimpse over the last month or so of what retirement might look like and I've tried to treasure each moment. You really do do what you want to do when you want to do it. You meet for coffee. You tend a garden. You read a good book. You sit quietly and watch the world go by. In my case, you immerse yourself in all things Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) and you marvel at what a tremendous place Shepherdstown is, with great culture, a dynamic music scene, easy access to big city benefits, a wide range of remarkable recreational amenities and smart, friendly people.
A couple of months into this, though, I'm discovering that the slowdown, to be honest, is not all it's cracked up to be. Initially it's great, like vacation with no responsibilities and the chance to independently determine your days and weeks with no pressure.
What could be better? Right? Well, like my friend, when you're accustomed to life on a freeway, the backroads at 45 mph are an okay, lovely, peaceful and pleasant respite for a while. It's like driving from here to Roanoke on I-81 or choosing to take the stunningly scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. The world goes by quickly on I-81, the view is passable with distant mountain views, and you're there before you know it. The Blue Ridge Parkway, on the other hand, offers 50-mile vistas around nearly every turn and there's plenty of flora and fauna to behold. After a while, though, you just want the deer to make a decision and you realize that if you've seen one mountain laurel you've seen them all.
I have enjoyed this career pause and the coffees with friends and the time to just take it all in. I have especially enjoyed being able to sit in on CATF rehearsals, meet cast and company members, and get to know that remarkable program better. I have caught a couple fish, biked into town a few times, and even extended several morning workouts to mid-morning.
But I feel the time to re-engage is near. I'm failing temporary retirement because I'm bored. It turns out it's important to have a place in a community, a position with which to identify and a reason to engage. Perhaps that's why those comfortably retired sometimes can't let go. When you lose a sense of yourself, even if that's the self that rides trains -- or sells them you've lost some energy, which is the first step toward losing your edge. Staying engaged, staying sharp, picking up your pace, keeping head up and shoulders back in a community is important, perhaps even critical.
A full month of summer remains the first summer I have taken off since I was 16, of which I am reminded whenever I see a patch of peonies. My first job was a summer job when I was 17, tending immense gardens of peonies in the blazing summer sun, working my first full 40-hour weeks. Since that time it's been non-stop, and weeks with way more than 40-hour. I envied teachers who apparently had summers off which I learned was not the case at all once I married a teacher and discovered that teaching and learning never stops, not even for the summer.
So it's been nice. It's been good to see all sides of life. It's been good to experience something different and it's been great to experience all of it here in an eclectic, warm and welcoming town like Shepherdstown.