The Retirement Puzzle

By Frances McGowin

Retirement is a gift I have earned and intend to enjoy!

I have looked forward to retirement for 20 years. Now that I'm here, it has proven to be somewhat of a challenge as well as a blessing. 

In the last seven years, one of my closest friends, plus other friends, my beloved mother and father, almost all of my aunts and uncles, and my friends’ parents whom I grew up with have died into everlasting life. Seven of my dogs and two of my horses have crossed the rainbow bridge. A multitude of my chickens have been killed by predators and crossed the road and made it to the other side.  I have had my share of losses.

I moved from a farm with lots of green space, animals, and responsibilities in central Alabama to a subdivision in Fairhope. I found myself in unchartered waters, sometimes drowning.

“Wherever you go, there you are” is one of my favorite quotes. It’s not the scenery that makes life wonderful, it’s me that makes my life wonderful. I found myself staring at a blank canvas on which I could create the life I now choose to live. My time was all mine.

And this is where my education in retirement begins with my first challenge: getting out of bed each morning every day and finding something to do. I no longer had any responsibilities that demanded my time besides feeding my dogs and getting to doctor’s appointments. I felt myself getting lazy… and lonely. 

When I chose Fairhope to be my new home, it was with much thoughtfulness. It is an arts community with many learning opportunities- writing and painting were important to me. I started painting again after twenty years on sabbatical and much to my surprise, my paintings were nothing like what I saw in my head. I started writing but found Netflix far more interesting.

I started taking a multitude of lessons to figure out what to do with my time: golf, pickleball, writing, art, gardening, and card activities. In the beginning, I still felt unmotivated. It’s hard to walk onto a pickleball court and ask to play, especially when you have no skills. Golf is the same, I would have to join a group that had been together for many years when I still had difficulty connecting the golf club with the ball. Art groups were by invitation only. So instead of forging forward, I expanded my TV apps and got HBO Max and Disney+.

Life in Fairhope had to be created from scratch, just like any program or business model that I had created in my past life. I began to envision all of the pieces to this grand puzzle of retirement and started putting them together, piece by piece. Insecurities (and Netflix) be gone! 

There are so many wonderful people here in Fairhope who are bright, fun-loving, kind, and so interesting! So many opportunities to achieve my heart’s every desire to live here in Fairhope! I just had to get through the first steps and start the momentum for those doors to open.

So, my advice for loving retirement (so far) is this:

  1. Get off the couch, turn off the TV, and start making an effort; whatever it is that you always wanted to do or do better but thought it was too late, just go for it!
  1. Take classes and meet people who are starting or continuing their adventures with sports, cards, cooking, dancing, writing, painting, etc. Get your momentum going.
  1. Join a church, a club(s), and groups with similar interests as yours- some will work out and some will not. Be grateful for the ones that do and keep exploring. Get involved.
  1. Be yourself without reservation about what others will think. It is so easy to make good friends that way. Birds of a feather… will flock to you.
  1. Volunteer somewhere doing something that has meaning to you. Be appreciated.
  1. Give yourself moments of reflection and sadness about all that is gone. Sometimes you just need a good cry. It’s OK.
  1. Appreciate special moments and recognize contentment. Don’t let your personal opinions or insecurities stop you from making friends, participating in something new, or being happy. 

Note: Adventures in Retirement is a series that will explore retirement through Frances’ experiences in Fairhope and surrounding areas. 

Jan 18, 2023
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