Reinventing Yourself in Retirement
Originally posted on December 1, 2010
Retiring means reinventing yourself.
For those who haven’t accumulated “enough”, retirement isn’t an option yet. “Enough” is an interesting concept. My Social Security check is nowhere near enough to retire back in Seattle. But, as a growing number of people are beginning to learn, it is more than enough to live a happy, and for some a very comfortable, life abroad. So for most of us, retirement really is quite a viable option.
For many though, it isn’t the money that keeps them from leaving the 9 to 5 existence. Some just love the work they do. I did. As a computer consultant I loved my work. But when my contract at Boeing got “outsourced” (Remember when that was all in vogue?) to India, I checked my bank account, saw that I had “enough”, and decided to leave corporate America for good, and nine years ago I “retired”.
For others reluctant to retire, it is more of a sense of identity. Westerners, and especially Americans, tend to define themselves by what they do for a living. I’m sure you have heard the argument “How could I retire? I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.” What to do with yourself can be a big problem for a retired person. So I agree that this question needs to be answered before one really retires. A retired person needs to forge a new identity since the old way you defined yourself is now gone. We need to reinvent ourselves.
(Note: Reinventing has also become a necessity for those millions who have lost their jobs, and possibly their identities, during this Great Recession. Since all things are impermanent, if you can just hold on, things will be different soon, hopefully for the better. As Shakespeare said, “All these woes shall serve / For sweet discourses in our time to come.”, Romeo and Juliet. ACT III Scene 5. Good luck to you and I hope you have some good stories to tell.)
Back to us retirees.
Some people here in Thailand have found their answer. There is a large contingent of retired people here in Thailand (mostly men) who spend the majority of their days in beer bars, with other retired gentlemen, talking about the news of the day, reminiscing about their former lives, and complaining about their current ones. I recently spoke to one who divides his day between 3 beer joints. At 11am there is a tiny place that serves very cheap beer. After noon he moves on to another that has just opened for the day, and then he hits a third for happy hour and beyond. Many of these gentlemen also spend a considerable part of their time and energy trying to deal with “romantic” relationships they have developed, some with women young enough to be their granddaughters – daunting, and a little scary, on both the emotional and physical level. I would find that kind of existence rather difficult to take and if I had to live like that would would seriously contemplate rushing back to Seattle and going back to work.
Luckily, for most of us there is an alternative.
When I finally retired and moved to Thailand “for good” I knew I needed to answer the “Now what am I going to do?” question. I got an idea to write a retirement column for the Chiang Mai City Life magazine, which I later turned into an eBook “Retired Life in Thailand“. Then I thought about using my teaching experience to write a series of English textbooks “Professional English for Thailand“. That has all been fun for a while but I will soon retire from writing my retirement column and textbook writing time is over.
So now I am looking to reinvent myself again.
I’ve taken up the piano and am writing this blog, writing a column for a popular Thai language blog, Women Learning Thai – and some men too , and I am now thinking of growing mushrooms. But am still wondering who I am going to be during this next phase of my life. Wish me luck as I do for you.
Below is a column I wrote for the Chiang Mai City Life magazine describing some activities that might lead to your new identities.
Too Busy to Keep Working
I come across lots of articles written for those of us who are retired or getting ready to retire. Most of them warn that once we quit work we will have to find something to do with the rest of our lives, or go bonkers, or worse. Here are some things to do if, like me, you have decided that working for a salary was something for a past lifetime.
How does your garden grow?
There is probably no better place to develop a green thumb than right here. In Thailand things just seem to sprout out of the ground on their own. You can take up flower gardening or grow your own fruits and vegetables. Even if you live in a condo you can make your balcony bloom or grow flowers in a window box. My wife is the garden architect in our family but my claim to fame is the compost pile. My compost pile is larger than the New York apartment I grew up in. The least that will happen if you garden is that your carbon footprint will be reduced, something you can brag about even if the birds or bugs get all your tomatoes before you do. Start by visiting the nurseries at the Kham Thiang flower market behind the Tesco Lotus on the Superhighway.
Be careful that your visa allows you to do this, or do it quietly, but find a way to become beneficial to those around you, whether they are orphaned children or orphaned animals. For volunteer ideas check out expat clubs (listed in our Useful Info section).
Go on a quest
My latest quest is finding the world’s best fried bananas. You could look for the world’s most delicious squid salad, or largest rain tree, or the best farmers’ market or most beautiful coral reef. Last year we escaped the Chiang Mai hot season smog by leaving town and looking for every Khmer-style ruin from here to Buriram. My favourite was the monkey temple in Lopburi.
Do something different
When you do something you have never done before you must approach it with an empty mind, the way a child would when he or she is learning something new. It will rejuvenate you better than a trip to a resort spa. You can do things as varied as raising orchids, collecting butterflies, going bird watching, breeding flower horn fish, learning Thai massage or training to be an elephant mahout. If you don’t mind becoming seriously psychologically disturbed then take up golf. If you aren’t afraid of losing your sanity completely, and lots of money along with it, then build a house.
Become an expert in something
A friend of mine learned about and then wrote a book on hill tribe embroidery designs. Another friend is making a photographic family tree of his wife’s huge extended family. We recently started taking care of endangered mountain tortoises. We saw a man bring a tortoise to the market for sale as food. To save the animal we bought it from him. Now we have more than twenty and work with the zoo to help return them to the wild. Three of our wards have laid eggs and we are expecting soon.
Strangely, I find that now that I am retired I am busier than ever. Where did I ever find the time to go to work?
Remember when we were young and we spent so much energy “finding ourselves”? Well, it looks like we are going to have to do it all over again. I’m really looking forward to what I will be next.