Since retiring I am free to set my own schedule. Obligations on the work front are distant memories. Most current ‘obligations’ fit into a category of ‘optional’.
However, moving into a head space where I no longer feel that it is necessary to agree to requests has been more of a retirement challenge than anticipated. Old habits are hard to break.
For years I tried to meet or exceed work expectations. In retrospect I understand that this approach exacted a huge price. Sometimes I had little personal life. I missed many family events that will never be recaptured. My health was compromised by lack of sleep and lack of regular exercise. Although I tried to eat healthy meals, my nutrition was often compromised by too many restaurant meals along with frequent catered office lunches that gradually increased my weight by 10 pounds. I fell into a pattern where work and career obligations came first. Meetings, travel, speaking commitments trumped other needs. Like the gerbil on the treadmill, I did not realize how exhausted I was from trying to meet expectations and obligations.
Learning to put yourself first
The road to putting myself first has been an exercise in learning about meeting my needs. It has taken over a year to do this successfully — most of the time.
Putting myself first started with recognizing that retirement meant that I was free of being ruled by the opinions of others. What a relief — especially after working in a demanding role where opinions of others usually served as barometers of success. Organizational needs forced choices that put personal needs in second place.
But moving beyond ‘obligation’ to putting myself first took more soul-searching. There were voices in my mind that created obligations and a sense of duty. I remembered growing up with a widowed and practical mother who often made me afraid of falling short of her high expectations. It was hard to feel that I had done enough to receive her positive feedback.
Only as I reflected on how those childhood experiences shaped my adult responses did I learn to respect my own needs. Listening to my inner voice has helped me to move beyond those expectations. Finally I am free to hear my wisdom.
Is it selfish to put yourself first?
Some may see putting yourself first as selfish. I don’t. After years of ‘doing’ for others, it is now time to ‘do’ for myself. This is how I live my life fully so that I can be there for others.
Surely taking care of physical health is not a selfish action. By sleeping when I’m tired, by exercising 3 – 5 times a week and by eating nutritious food, I’ve lost weight and I feel much younger. Cooking is fun again and meals are adventures. Going to the gym gives benefits beyond exercise as exercise buddies turn into friends and the gym restaurant becomes a place for socializing.
Good health also depends on getting mental, spiritual and emotional needs met. Since retiring, I’ve realized the importance of solitude and relish the two days a week that my husband spends at his office as well as the time I spend alone at our cottage. I’ve also learned that I can ask for and get support from friends and family when I need it. I am not involved with a religious community but rely on my social network, meditation, yoga, and commitments to voluntary activities to meet spiritual needs.
Retirement has been life-changing. As I started to understand my needs and pulled myself away from obligations, I found a new freedom. As I put myself first, I also put fun activities first. I learned to say ‘NO’ — especially to activities and obligations that were energy drains. I also stopped seeing people who are energy drains and who exhaust me.
Moving from obligation to freedom has meant making conscious choices about how I spend each day. As I put myself first, I am happier with my life. I feel fulfilled, healthy and grateful for every day. Leaving behind the career obligations and learning not to encumber myself with new obligations gives me new vigor. I realize that I have found retirement freedom.
- Retirement Transitions – Stages of Retirement (postworksavvy.com)