AS I PREPARED TO retire at the relatively young age of 55, it was important to me not to become isolated, not to lose touch with the world beyond my home. My husband continues to work, leaving me on my own for much of the day. I consider myself a social person. All my jobs have involved working with employees and customers, from my first job as a delicatessen cashier through to running my own landscape maintenance company with 25 employees and hundreds of accounts.
My father retired at the same age. He moved to the Florida Keys, where he became socially isolated, spending much of his time alone. He once told me that he hadn’t spoken to anyone in days. And so, as I began a three-year transition into retirement, I wanted to ensure that I maintained touch with the outside world. Those transition years allowed me to ease into retirement and to build on my hobbies and interests.
Prior to retirement, I had thought that, after so many years in the so-called rat race, I would yearn to move to the countryside to lead a more peaceful existence. But after some thought, it occurred to me that, much like my father in the Florida Keys, I would become socially isolated. I like where I live now, able to travel easily into Washington, DC, to visit friends or wander among the monuments and museums.
For many years, I have regularly bicycled. In my home state of Maryland, there’s some of the best cycling in the country. Because of the demands of my job, there was never as much time as I wanted for riding. But on the weekends, I would seek out group rides. That enabled me not only to do a sport I enjoyed, but also to meet new people and develop friendships. Nowadays, in addition to group rides, I occasionally meet up in the early morning hours with fellow cyclists at local coffee shops. This gets me out of the house during the week and lets me stay in touch with those still in the work world.
Volunteering within my community has also allowed me to meet neighbors and remain socially active. It’s gratifying to give back to the neighborhood where I have lived for more than 30 years. During the spring, summer and fall, I coordinate beautification activities within the neighborhood. This is also time that I can spend with my husband, who often joins me in these volunteer activities. Now, as I walk around the neighborhood, I am recognized by others and inevitably a conversation ensues.
The winter months can be difficult. The cold weather makes one want to withdraw and hibernate until spring arrives. It is during these months that I travel. For the time being, much of my traveling is done solo. When I get to my destination, however, I am usually staying with family or joining friends who then travel with me.
I remain involved in the company I built with my twin brother and recently sold. I help with various tasks during the year, and occasionally join employee and manager meetings. This lets me stay in touch with workers who have been part of my life for two decades. The various tasks keep my brain active, something that research suggests can fend off dementia and Alzheimer’s.
I am now 18 months into fulltime retirement. I sense that perhaps I went too far initially—and overscheduled myself. I plan on curtailing my cycling this year, after pedaling more than 11,000 miles last year. I discovered that my aging body didn’t respond well to all those miles. In addition, last year, I helped at an immigrant advocacy organization. I spent many hours volunteering but have decided that, while I enjoyed the work, it was also too much. I can always go back if I find I have idle time that needs filling up. The last thing I want is to be sitting in the armchair every day, flipping through channels.