For me, yesterday’s tour of gardens on Vashon Island went beyond views of beautiful plants, homes, and garden art; it also brought the flowering of new insights.
Two of the three of us who traveled to Vashon together have been retired for two years and thirteen years, respectively, and the third expects to retire at the end of this week. The ferry ride and our poor navigation skills (which brought us to a lighthouse instead of a garden), gave us plenty of opportunity to muse about where we were in our current stages of life, and offered me the first clue that what we do/think about/hope for in retired life is not a single experience; it also has its phases, and our aspirations in each phase may change.
It all started with a conversation about productivity. The friend who’s on the cusp of retirement, who’s been meeting deadlines and completing projects on the job for years, wondered if she would feel productive when she stopped working. On the other hand, I feel overly productive (just not in the house or garden), but the veteran retiree told us she had redefined “productivity.” She and her husband travel and blog about their travels, and unlike me, who won’t sit down with a book until bedtime, she sets aside a daylight hour to read. But this didn’t happen in her first year. No. That year she continued volunteering for any number of programs and projects and kept busy all the time. She didn’t even allow herself a feeling of accomplishment after weeding the garden, an act that always makes me feel like a martyr.
Curious about how the experts define productivity and aging, I looked up the research, only to read the familiar uninspired notions of continued paid employment or unpaid employment, such as caring for grandchildren, as examples of productivity after 65.
Finally I came upon an idea expressed in Aging Well, which helped me better understand retirement as a journey instead of a single, amorphous experience. The article referred to the “developmental stages of later life and meaningful work.” “Third Age Liberation/Creative Expression (aged 55 to 75)” is the name of the period I’m living through now and it fits me well. I’ve been liberated from responding to the requirements of a job description and bosses, and I now have time to devote to my current interests in writing and music, interests ignored all the years I was striving to be more productive at work. I’m also feeling liberated to redefine “productive” more than once. I may even start by reading a chapter or two during the day of the mystery I just picked up at the library.