Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Observations On Retirement

January 27, 2007

Admittedly, it is too early to say what is going on with me. I just left the 40 hour work world three months ago. It was accompanied by a major move to a new community so it is difficult to understand what is causing what. Nevertheless, here are a few observations about my new life.

Self-employment versus retirement. I don’t know if I am self-employed or retired. Retirement is moving from one form of work to another form of work, entirely of one’s own choosing. Work is defined as persistent effort toward meaningful goals. By that definition I am retired.

I am self-employed because I continue to write my column, give speeches and I am launching a consultation practice focused on helping farm and ranch families resolve family business conflicts. I am also trying to promote my new book, "To Have and To Hold," by arranging book signings, publicity, etc.

It feels like I am retired. Most of my activities are sporadic, unstructured or entirely at my discretion. I am in the beginning stages so I am not nearly as busy as I used to be. Nor stressed. My health has improved. So has my sleep. It feels good to unwind but it also makes me feel uneasy.

How ambitious am I supposed to be? Do I power my way to my goals or do I let things unfold in due time? How open am I to doing new things versus filling a defined role or need?

In the Northern Plains, I was a "big deal". People knew who I was and I knew who I was. That identity has been stripped away. In the St. Louis area, I am a "nobody" - no big deal. Nobody knows me and no one cares. No one seeks me out. I know who I am and what I am capable of - starting over in a new environment sure seems daunting and unnecessary.

I am sure this is a phase and, with time, the role of work and its place in my life things will become clearer.

Family time gets priority. On the other hand, family life has gotten a whole lot better. We didn’t have time pressures at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We were around our children and grandchildren. These relationships will only get better as we become more available and more connected to each of their lives. We enjoyed the time immensely. We also loved our new found freedom.

We enjoy living close to a son, daughter-in-law and grandson. It is fantastic to be around family and to do things with them. They seem to enjoy being around us.

Togetherness - a blessing or a curse. There are more opportunities for Darlene and I to be together and do things together. There are also more opportunities to clash as we work through more joint decisions on a 24/7 basis.

Being apart made for a more distinct division of labor. Now we are working out a new balance - tilted toward more togetherness but still respecting each other’s autonomy and personal needs.

Fortunately we are both busy enough to not be in each other’s hair. She is a little nervous about my new demands on her life. She likes the togetherness but there is an encroachment into what used to be her turf and time. Gradually new routines and a new lifestyle are being worked out - slowly but surely.

One computer is not enough for two computer literate people. The adaptation will be a second computer.

More fun. I am taking a beginning Russian class at the community college while Darlene is taking an advanced class in conversational Russian and a landscaping class. We watch more late night movies together. We’re figuring out how to do all the fun stuff together. We will attend guided museum tours together. We will visit family in Arizona this spring.

Daily life. Here are some changes in the rhythm of life we’ve noticed:

- Time has slowed down. The rushed feeling has disappeared.

- What used to be inconsequential looms in importance. Going shopping, running errands, taking care of repairs, working on home improvements, going to the library - they all seem like major events.

- Work expands to the time allotted to it. Not as much gets done until it has to be done.

- Food is too accessible for me.

- We will have minimal social involvement until we mix, network and cultivate relationships.

- Relationships are more important.

- 3/4th of my wardrobe never sees the light of day. There is nothing to dress up for.

- TV news is grim, talk radio is jarring.

My new life. It has been a good decision. Much better than I imagined it to be. We are not looking back but ahead.