Restoring Your Soul After Retirement by Jeanie Croope

I packed the last of the things left in my office into an already too-full box. A poster of Big Bird that had been on my office wall (where I would put it up at home was and remains a mystery), photos tacked to the bulletin board from PBS conferences, my personal reference books and a few odds and ends — a bobblehead of Doc Martin, a baseball signed by Ken Burns and Negro Baseball League legend Buck O’Neill, and a stuffed Abby Cadabby from Sesame Street. (She holds court now in my home art room!)

It wasn’t the first box I hauled to the car but it was the last.

I had made my goodbyes to colleagues, some of whom I’d known for the past 32 years. No, longer — I started working at our public broadcasting station as a volunteer, then a student. How quickly that time had flown by.

But I was tired. And I hadn’t been well for several months.

Our work environment was extremely stressful and had been that way for the two years leading into my retirement. There had been changes in command, office and departmental reshuffling, new supervisors, changing long developed habits. Most of our staff was operating in an environment that combined caution, fear, exhaustion and low morale.

I lived by the postcard of “The Moscow Rules” that had been given to me from a friend who had visited the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. I kept it tucked in the back page of my daily calendar and I lived by the ten rules rigorously. These rules included, among others:

  • Assume Nothing
  • Go with the flow; blend in
  • Lull them into a sense of complacency
  • Don’t look back; you are never completely alone
  • Don’t harass the opposition
  • Pick the time and place for action.

It is a terrible way to live one third of the day, especially given that another third is spent in sleep, waiting to awake and do it all over again.

The tenth of the Moscow Rules is “Keep your options open.” And it was this one that I had clung to. When I turned 62, the best option was to retire.

I preface this article with that background story because when you know it is time to refresh and restore your soul, you have to consider what you’ve been working with and what you need to be able to make those changes without feeling guilty for taking that very important time to simply “be.”

I knew from the beginning that I didn’t like the word “retire.”It sounds so final – so “sit in your chair and watch TV” boring.

I had worked in a highly socialized and public environment and I was worried about missing that. I knew that I had loads of interests and hobbies and I had a lengthy laundry list of things I wanted to do or accomplish. But I wasn’t quite sure how to begin. How would it feel to not get up every morning, dress for work, feed the cat, drive past the lottery billboard that sent me daydreaming for the last five minutes of my journey to work and not feel terribly guilty about it.

So I did the next best thing. I ran away by myself, heading to my summer cottage, shockingly still and peaceful in September after the summer people have removed their docks and gone home for the season.

I took long walks in the late summer air and read books while digging my feet into the cooler sand. I awoke to the cawing of gulls and big black birds, watched the nightly flotilla of ducks on the lake and took trips into town for the weekly market, quieter without the summer people jostling for space around the best of the September harvest. I savored the sunsets, ravishing with colors of hot pink, royal blue, brilliant orange, changing minute by minute until the sky was an inky black. I set no clock, eating when I was hungry, sleeping when I was tired. I unplugged, calling home but staying clear of the internet.

I visited people I had known who retired in Michigan’s north country and as I spoke to each one I collected a list of tips about handling my new life.

“Make at least one date a week with a friend for socialization.”
“Make lists to start with to keep you on track.”
“Look at classes or workshops to learn a new skill.”

All logical things. But they felt more important coming from those who had lived active lives in the workforce and now were living active lives in their new role. They were the not-so-retiring retirees.

A recently retired friend from home joined me for several days of art. We painted, created, took walks, drank wine, and talked for hours.

Bit by bit my battered soul had begun to heal.

Everyone refreshes, renews and restores in their own way. Some stay busy, never having a moment to spare. Others walk with nature, and still more find their refreshment in travel, a sport or a hobby. And many of us do it combining our passions for action and stillness.

It’s been nearly four years since I walked out that door. Since then I have been remarkably healthy for one with a chronic condition that was severe enough to motivate a major life change. It tells me a lot about what stress can do to damage your body, much less your soul.

I’ve followed much of the advice shared with me by those who had gone before, maintaining ongoing friendships and get-togethers with former colleagues, volunteering and focusing on my watercolors, showing remarkable improvement with practice.

And I still keep the Moscow Rules on the bulletin board at my desk. Many of them hold true for life, like “assume nothing” and “never go against your gut.”

But the one that I think of most, the one I still live by is “Keep Your Options Open.” After all, refreshment comes in many forms — and it’s always good to be ready for whatever comes next.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

26 Replies to “Restoring Your Soul After Retirement by Jeanie Croope”

  1. Wonderful post, Jeanie! And so wise. Each of us has our own timetable for and lifestyle in retirement. But your way was so right — to take time to reflect and just be, to talk with those who had retired before you and to take that in with an understanding of what might work for you. I’m so glad that it has!

  2. Jeanie, this is such a “perfect” post — an important topic, a personal angle and beautifully written! I had a multi-faceted entrepreneurial career and gradually phased out difference aspects of it. The second to the last of these to go was one I had thoroughly enjoyed for many years. Thought it had become more stressful in the last year or two, I had planned to keep at it for another two years. But, as in your case, big changes were coming; so I decided it was time. The last one to go was writing related to that industry. I’m still freelance writing on other subjects, so I’m not retired, just retired from part of my “cottage industry”!

    1. Thanks, Jean. And congratulations on reconfiguring your life and tasks. Things just happen in life that bring changes, as you said. But I can tell you are anything but retiring — just doing what you love a little differently, and I think that’s terrific!

  3. I think “Next Avenue,” the public media blog for living life when you’re older, should pick this up. It speaks to what’s on the minds of many people.

    Love to read what you write, Jeanie!

    1. What a wonderful compliment! Never thought of that! Thank you, Maryanne!

    1. Silver Willow, I think if you have lots of interests — and it can be anything from hiking the world to reading more books to making your community a better place — you’ll find it is a most delightful time of your life!

  4. Wonderful article jeanie! I didn’t realize that’s what you did for a living. That would be a very stressful and definitely not fun way to spend 1/3 of your day.

    1. Thank you, Jann! Well, I’ll agree with you on the last couple of years, but the first 30 were really loads of fun with events, great colleagues, and a product I truly believe in. But the last two — a little scary for us all!

  5. I really do enjoy reading your blogs, Jeanie. They are always thoughtful and well constructed.
    Retirement can be a bit of a shock. Honestly, though, I can’t remember anyone ever telling me that they wish they could go back to work. Retirement is a time to do the things you enjoy doing. That can be starting a whole new career or travelling and taking life easier. It is important, I think, to stay engaged in life and remain relevant.
    If it weren’t for the few aches and pains and feeling that I have less stamina, I would say it is the best time of life.

    1. What a lovely thing to say, Barbara, thank you! You bring up the other point on retirement — the aches and pains. Not so bad (yet!) but that downside of the curve can be a little intimidating! You’re also right about being engaged — that does indeed help one stay relevant!

  6. This was wonderful, Jeanie! Doc Martin bobblehead–such fun… loved that series!! But seriously, I had a notion that working for PBS was probably not easy, but I had no idea how stressful it actually was until knowing you… and especially that last bit of time you were there. No wonder you needing some healing time after all that! Keeping your options open sounds like the best recipe for “retirement”–a word I don’t like either. We need a new word… LOL! :))) Thank you, as always, for sharing from your heart ((HUGS))

    1. Thank, Tracy. To be fair, it was very good for most of those years. A wonderful family both at our local station, where I worked and in the national PBS system. There are the stresses of any job that requires public and community fundraising in terms of making goals and such or big events with deadlines but that is pretty common for many organizations. But yes, those last two years were really tough, both professionally and personally with not being well. That word “retirement” can be a very sticky wicket and a trap but it can also be the happiest word in the world!

  7. I so enjoy your blogging, Jeanie. You impart your experiences and wisdom with great skill in both content and structure. It’s nice to share this facet of retirement with you – reading your blog and interacting via comments. I’m so glad to follow you. My work was very stressful also, and I fully understand how stress can impact the whole person, emotionally, physically, spiritually. My #1 daughter works in a similar environment as you did, always having to be conscious of fundraising, setting and meeting (or exceeding) goals. Now that her husband has graduated, I’m hoping she feels her load lighten. It’s hard being the breadwinner, I’ve been there.
    Have a great weekend.

    1. What a lovely compliment, Rita. I’m delighted we follow EACH OTHER! Yes, you know the stress thing and it’s very difficult to both be effective and cheerful when there is a good deal of stress. It sounds like everyone — you, me, hopefully your daughter — are seeing better times!

  8. The Moscow Rules are a brilliant list of rules to follow when one is in a workplace that no longer allows one to grow and blossom. They also sum up beautifully just why you had to retire. Our workplaces become such a part of us, a second home, or even sometimes a place that feels more like home that home, but when home(work) is no longer a place where we contribute and produce in a healthy way, it is time to move on if we have the opportunity to do so. I’m so glad your health has been restored and that you are truly living life these days.

    1. Thank you, Sally. You’re right about workplaces becoming a second home and sometimes you just have to leave home. Thanks for the good words.

  9. I love this post! I am so happy that you were able to leave the workforce. Your long-time blog readers can all tell the difference in your mental and physical health. It’s clear how happy and health you are since retiring. And your life is still very full! I have found that my aunts and uncles you have retired are still super busy – they are just filling their lives (mostly) with things they WANT to do instead of have to do. I’m glad that this transition has gone as well as it has! And the Moscow Rules are very interesting – I feel like I was embodying those rules at my last 2 jobs that had unhealthy work environments. I am so glad I now work at a company with a healthy work environment. I will hit 2 years at my new job in mid-July and I have not looked at a job posting since starting, which is a wonderful feeling!

    1. Thanks, Lisa. I remember that you had periods where work wasn’t so good and I think more than a few of us lived by the Moscow Rules, even if we’d never heard of them before. I know you are so content now and that makes me happy, too!

  10. This post raises every sort of response in me. First and foremost, I’m glad you’re out of that environment, healthy, and loving life. And I’m glad you explained the “Moscow Rules.” I couldn’t quite figure out from your other blog where those came from, but now it all makes sense. On the days when I feel especially gloomy and nervous about my own situation, I might just pull those out and remind myself that at least the past twenty-seven years haven’t meant living by those rules! They do recall a time when I felt imprisoned by the need to live in such a way, and I’m glad to be out of it.

    I’ll never be able to retire. All I can do is hope my own health holds out so that I can keep working. But, still — while it would be great to have a pension, or a 401K, or enough savings to feel comfortable, I don’t regret a thing. At least, not yet!

    1. Those rules are good to have at hand. I was lucky for the first 30 years, so that’s great. The last two, not so much, but at least as a group of mostly people I loved, we hung in there (those who weren’t laid off) and grew a strong bond! The retirement issue financially is always a tough one and I was extremely fortunate, something for which I remain very grateful indeed!

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