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I spill things and break things. I’m not uncoordinated, I’m clumsy. Joan wifesplains: “It’s because you’re impatient, hurrying as if your services are in demand.” (They’re not.)
I complain to Joan in my head and sometimes aloud when I have to keep my elbows in while we’re at the kitchen counter. When preparing food or coffee, I’m Italian in the handwaving sense, so I’m especially dangerous to dishes in a constricted space. If you’re the visualizing sort, you can imagine me preparing an Aeropress brew—easy to knock over, as I’ll explain below, in an even more constricted space. I have to become more deliberate, or caffeinated beverages will take flight, and broken dishes will be fruitful and multiply.
Our daughter and her family have a newborn, a tiny bundle who punches well above her weight when it comes to a contribution to delight and trying to recall what is meant by “a night’s sleep.” Joan and I wanted to participate in the delight and help in a small way to alleviate the lack of sleep. We decided to spend (as of Aug 1, 2022) a year-plus in their city of Portland to make life a tad easier for them. We’ve moved from a 1650-square-foot house to an apartment one-fourth the size.
The neighborhood we left for our stay in Portland is a few streets occupied more and more by the recently retired. We and several of our neighbors moved here with small children and have remained here past when these children can pass with the “young adult” label. In other words, we’ve all been here a while and have had to adjust to many life changes.
The most sustained emotion of being a new parent is that to your child, you’re their whole world.1 No one can take your place. The most sustained feeling of a person newly retired is that you’re no one’s world. You’re easily replaced. New parents deal with the stress of the responsibility for the completely dependent. The newly retired deal with the stress that on them no one is dependent.
The late Jay Haley, starting in the fifties, was one of the founders of family therapy and wrote what I regard as the best book on the subject. His Uncommon Therapy was an analysis of the work of Milton Erickson, a psychiatrist, and hypnotherapist, who had significant influence in the pioneering field of family therapy. Less well known than his hypnosis-influenced therapies was his theory, the subject of Haley’s book, that most emotional problems stem from the inability to progress to the next stage of life. A striking example, the most common age for an initial schizophrenic break occurs in young men when they leave for college. For women, it’s when they experience the empty nest.2
It’s hard to perceive new parents and the newly retired in the same light. New parents must fit 48 hours of effort into a 24-hour day. The newly retired must stretch a casual few hours of effort to the same 24 hours.3 But who knew? People aren’t lazy. They prefer that they matter over life in a hammock holding a gin and tonic. Both the over-worked and under-worked deal with the stress of unprecedented change.
How to prepare for retirement
Financial advisors, self-serving as it sounds, suggest people start preparing for retirement–AKA as no one wants to pay you for anything anymore–at a young age. Index funds, blah blah blah. I suggest people start emotionally preparing for retirement at a young age.
I’m lucky twice. First, I dealt with numerous changes throughout my life: every few years, new neighborhoods, new schools, and new friends. With that as a comfortable habit or perhaps compulsion, as an adult, new colleges (six), new cities, new friends, new girlfriends, new jobs, new homes, new children (though, just the one marriage). Second, when I was 27, the day after I was awarded my master of science degree—irony follows—I discovered I was enormously ignorant of science (more about that another time), and I’ve been motivated since to educate myself. My self-concept as ignorant remains and will remain unchanged, but it pushes me every day.4 In both cases, whether in a life-changing circumstance or in pursuit of knowledge, I’m in a persistent state of a need to learn.
Recall my articles on habitability–work from what you know. But habitability can be a too soft couch you can’t get off, or it can be a scaffold for new pursuits. Which it is will decide how you deal with change. Those who lead a life of stability, of few changes, of few adaptations, may enjoy the feeling of control that stability gives but will have a more difficult time when a change happens to them via illness, divorce, death of a mate, or a move to Portland to help with a grandchild.
Dog lovers will recognize this.
If the statistics changed from when I worked with schizophrenics, My Damn Brother will correct me.
If you miss your work when on vacation, that will be a clue you’ll struggle in retirement.
Those who view me as an arrogant know-it-all have it backward. I’m an arrogant ignoramus.