Last weekend we went to a local street festival to hear one of our favorite swing bands, Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums. We tapped our toes to the music while we watched dancers swinging, and then took a stroll around to see all the artwork.
There was a young guy making balloon animals for the kids. These were nothing like the balloon animals of my youth. They were large, vividly colored, and generally much more elaborate than the little single-balloon doggies of my day.
He filled a balloon with just enough air, squeezed one end to make the other bulge, and then twisted in balloon after balloon. I watched the faces of the kids surrounding him, as his animal started to take shape, curiosity fading to delight as he completed an octopus and handed it to a mesmerized 4-year-old girl.
Retirement is a lot like making balloon animals. First you have to fill the balloon with just enough air. Too much and it pops, just enough and you can twist and squeeze and shape it into whatever form you like. Squeeze one end and the other bulges, squeeze the middle and both ends pop out.
The first year of my retirement, I was really just filling that balloon. I wasn’t exactly sure what the next few decades would look like but I needed the time to decompress from decades spent working at shaping the animals to someone else’s specifications. I was figuring out how I wanted to fill my time, with just enough to remain flexible but not so much that I would grow overwhelmed and pop.
The second year I was ready to be on the go, heading off to Mexico, New York, Hawaii, Las Vegas, and Vermont, as well as weekend getaways in our own back yard. I found that changing venues wakes me up, makes notice things, engages me in the moment.
But as with that balloon, you squeeze all the air from one side and the other side gets out of whack. We’ve been sticking closer to home this year, gearing up for a home-exchange trip to Australia next year—saving those airline miles and enjoying the local scene for awhile before our next big adventure.
Just as we slowed down on the travel, I got the opportunity to write for U.S. News & World Report. Between that blog and my own, I spend a lot more time contemplating, writing, and reading about retirement. Writing is a very solitary activity, and as I spend more time with my computer, the other end of the balloon is getting squished again.
Which is probably part of the reason I was so excited to take on my new little consulting gig. I can spend whole days happily alone in my office reading and writing, but that’s not so balanced. It’s good for me to get out. It’s good for me to use that other side of my brain a little. It’s good to grab another balloon and twist it into my retirement.
At 46, I’ve got decades ahead of me in retirement. I don’t have to decide right now exactly what those decades are going to look like. The great thing about owning my own time is that I can keep shaping and reshaping my life as I change. I’m not sure what animal I will have formed by the end of my retirement, but like that 4-year-old girl, I continue to be mesmerized with each twist and turn as my retirement takes shape.
This is a post from Retirement: A Full-Time Job