Retired Is a State of Mind — Six Ways to Know If You’re There Yet

How to know when you're retired. You're on a  trail alongside Bon Tempe Lake in Marin county, California. Photo by Barbara Newhall

On the trail around Bon Tempe Lake: That barely visible orange speck at the upper right is my hiking buddy. No doubt  I wasted some time taking photos, and she got way ahead of me. Photo by Barbara Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Retired is a state of mind. Not a state of paycheck, or work schedule, or commute, or how much time you spend at the office.

I work full time. Forty hours a week, these days. Sixty maybe. But some time ago, I realized that, 60-hour work week or not, I’m retired.

There’s a lot to do to promote Wrestling with God, now that it’s finally published. Yes, I work at home. I’m at my desk in seconds. Down a quick flight of stairs, make a left turn and, boom, I’m in my writing room. But I work hard in that room. I have deadline and quality assurance standards to meet. A blog readership to engage. Bookstores to contact regarding author events. And a balky computer to cajole.

Nonetheless, I’m thinking maybe I’m actually retired. Here’s why:

Retired and enjoying himself, Jon Newhall works on the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle as it appears in the San Francisco Chronicle. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Jon works on the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle as it appears in the San Francisco Chronicle the following Saturday. That way he can look up the answers right away. Photo by Barbara Newhall

1. Ambition Jettisoned

Retired means that you’re not ambitious any more. You’ve managed to lose your ambition. Wasn’t easy losing it, but you managed to quit thinking of everything you do in terms of where it’s going to get you on the professional ladder, vis-a-vis your colleagues and competitors. You don’t have to do this or that or anything else to achieve your lifetime goals. You’ve already achieved them, and if you haven’t achieved them, you’ve jettisoned them and you’re totally good with that.’

2. Food on the Table

Jon and I have managed to squirrel away enough money to make it to age 90, 100 even, without hitting up the kids for grocery money.

Which means that I don’t have to do anything anymore. Like generations of retirees before me, I am truly and amazingly free of the preoccupation that has dogged human beings since the beginning of time (and the time clock): survival.

Ironically, embracing that freedom can be tough for the very people who have lucked out and attained that comfy place in life. After decades of hard work, nose to the grindstone, it’s isn’t easy to give up your favorite obsessions — efficiency, big goals, status, and (my all-time favorite) the to-do list.

3. Retired and in Good Company

Retired means that you now know who your people are — maybe it’s the second husband and his kids. Or the high school sweetheart you rediscovered when you were both widowed. Maybe it’s the group of friends that has stuck by you over the years. In my case it’s Jon, this guy I met in 1971

4. Retired: That Pesky Biological Clock . . .

Best of all, your biological clock is not ticking any more. You either had those kids or you didn’t. And if you did, they’ve flown the coop and they can pay their own way now, pretty much.

5.  The Art of Wasting Time

Retired means that you have reacquainted yourself with the art of wasting time, a skill you lost right around the time you entered adulthood. This means that when your husband, hard at work on the New York Times crossword puzzle (the Sunday one), throws out a word: “Five letters beginning with SPR, ‘Big name in lean dieting,’” you stop in your tracks.

Instead of telling him you’re too busy, you’ve got to load the dishwasher and after that you’ve got to email your publisher (and you do have to do those things), you pause and take a guess, “Sprat?’

“Yes!” he says. Then he adds, “Good one,” because, like you, he has mellowed out over the years and he doesn’t mind throwing a compliment your way.

Retired means taking a day off to walk around Bon Tempe Lake in Marin county with your hiking buddy. It means lavishing a whole hour on trailside peanut butter and jelly sandwich lunches. And if the hike ends too early, stopping back in town at Peets to indulge in Freddos and another hour of conversation.

6. Where You’re At

Retired means you know where you belong on the planet, and that is, right here, right now, in your own skin and not in anyone else’s.

I’m done with this post. It’s time to get on the phone with some bookstores and, after that, talk to my publicist about snagging some interviews.

Just because I’m retired doesn’t mean I don’t have work to do.

At, you can find out more about that book I’ve been working so hard to promote. Or, read about the super ambitious hike I never took at “Walk Around Lake Michigan? She Did It, Now I Don’t Have To.”  


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