I love being retired; I just hate talking about it at parties.
A few weeks ago at a big 50th anniversary shindig for my in-laws, one of my favorite guests, Sam, came over to say hi.
“I’m going to tell you what I told you 16 years ago at your wedding. I wish you had a sister that I could introduce to my son!”
He then went on to say that he heard I had retired. “What am I doing wrong that I’m 72 and still working?” he joked.
Last week in Molokai, at one of the many neighborhood dinners we were invited to, Diane, who works as a real-estate agent, asked us “what do you guys do that you can just take off on a Hawaiian vacation with your friends at a moment’s notice?”
I told her “nothing.” I think she thought I was joking. Later during the evening, my husband admitted that, yes, we really did do nothing—we were both retired.
Well then Diane wanted to know, “what do you guys DO then, now that you are retired?
Another retiree, Georgie (age 70) jumped in. “You don’t have to answer that!” she said. I thought that was a very appealing option.
Because the truth is, I find myself uncomfortable discussing my retired life at cocktail parties—especially with people that are working; even though I know that in both these instances, they work because they want to, not because they have to. Even before I retired, I knew the cocktail party chatter would come to an abrupt halt when called upon to list my retirement activities; especially with people that actually love their work.
“I blog, read, bike, garden, and sew. “ As I say it, I anticipate the glazed look in their eyes, “that seems very nice,” they say. I guess a simple fact comes to the surface at cocktail parties. It’s much more fun to be retired than it is to talk about it.
I Say "Retired;" You Hear Dead
Ya know, I've never had the right type of "job" for a cocktail party. I've been a student of some sort (B.S./M.A./Ph.D) for going on eight years and "student" tends to be a conversation killer. If I get past "student" and they ask my field and realize they have no idea what it is it usually ends there. Most of my friends (and their friends) and my boyfriend (and his friends) are 10+ years older than me so "student" sounds just a little too young to be in the room I guess...
Posted by: jennifer youngblood | July 12, 2008 at 05:03 PM
Hey, I've been to those cocktail parties! I think I'm often the one asking about your retirement as most of your friends have known of your plans for a while. I don't recall it stopping the conversation but it does sometimes make for an uncomfortable pause, especially after someone says something like, wow, I wish I could retire, too. I guess retirement is a bad word in our protestant work ethic psyche. It implies you're no longer a worthy contributing member of society, you're lazy and without industry, you're shiftless and directionless. But you certainly are none of those things, Syd, so what should you say? Tell them you're still working, working at being happy. God knows that's a full time job.
Posted by: bongo | July 12, 2008 at 05:35 PM
Not retired yet but I'm always dumbstruck when people say they'd get bored if they didn't work (at a job). What I do to earn a living is just a small part of who I am. I can't wait to let the other parts take over when I retire.
Posted by: Judy | July 13, 2008 at 07:05 AM
You should tell people that you're taking time off after working 20 years in a demanding field...which is true. In general, people can respect the two decades of work and they can understand how stressful it may have been as a CFO. This implies that you'll eventually determine your next course of action, but since your immediate goal is to relax and rejuvenate, it makes sense that your time is spent doing leisurely activities such as traveling, reading, etc. Hopefully, one day you can tell people that you're now working in something like a theater group. This is a weird question, but has the market downturn made you nervous at all?
Posted by: J | July 13, 2008 at 08:34 AM
I can't wait :). I think they're just jealous. I've got another week long meeting, the 6th in 5 weeks, 3 of which required travel for me, the other 2 travel for people on my team and others (which means I have to spend time out at night because these meetings go on after hours).
I don't even think I have time to go to a cocktail party now and all this work is making me sick (truly... I hope I'm better by tomorrow).
I love your posts, you should write a book. Then you can tell them you're an author.
Posted by: Cheryl | July 13, 2008 at 07:26 PM
Wow, lot's of great comments from you all here:
Jennifer: You bring up a good point, it's not a problem that's specific to retirees, it is often difficult to condense your "worth" to the world at a cocktail party when you can't answer the question with a job title!
Bongo: You are right, I really have no problem discussing retired life with those of my friends that I see pretty regularly. They know what's going on and I'm not required to condense it into a 2 minute sound bite. But definitely those cocktail parties where I am just getting to know someone, or filling someone in after not seeing them for years--that's a little tougher to deal with.
Judy: I agree, what you do for a living is just a smidgen of who you "are." You really get a chance to find out more about that when your job isn't taking up so much of your time. But then you don't have a snappy answer to the cocktail party question that fills in for job-title-equals-who-I-am question! I gotta work on that one . . .
J: I really love your answer. I could say something like "I just left my 22 year career in finance to find out what else life holds for me." Pretty good sound bite, isn't it? You helped! (Yes, the market is making me uneasy--I think I will write a post about that soon--it's a longer answer, I think.)
Cheryl: I thought you had gone missing--sounds like you've had your nose to the grindstone! That would be enough to make me sick! I LOVE the book idea the best. I would love to think of something to write about that would actually take up a whole book. Now that would be a project I could really sink my teeth into!
Thanks to all of you for the great comments!
Posted by: Retired Syd | July 13, 2008 at 08:58 PM
What to say. Mmm that is a good one. I sort of like the reply: I'm a finanical advisor to a private fund. You just leave out the fact the private person is you.
Hell invent any title you want and have some fun. You don't have a day job you could always call yourself a Problogger. *grin*
Posted by: Canadian Dream | July 14, 2008 at 09:05 AM
I like that too, something like "I manage money for a young retired Silicon Valley couple."
Posted by: Retired Syd | July 14, 2008 at 09:49 AM
I guess I'm feeling that queeziness about talking about retirement in lots of social situations. At what point will my colleagues feel anger about my leaving - which will undoubtedly mean more work for some of them - rather than excitement? When will eyes start to roll when I talk about my pending retirement? All this already - and I haven't even retired yet.
Posted by: Sylvia B | July 23, 2008 at 05:52 AM