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By Jan Williams
I recently contributed an article to the Winter 2014 issue of SWE Magazine describing my journey toward the “tipping point” in my career, when I realized that the notion of retirement had transformed from vague possibility to near-term reality. I mentioned that a medical crisis and a two-week vacation filled with sun and sea had lent perspective that allowed me to think seriously about retirement on a personal level. I didn’t elaborate much on how those events led me to think more about retirement as a reality.
It’s actually a little embarrassing to admit, but it took the replacement of body part to make me slow down enough to experience what retirement might be like. In the early days following my hip replacement surgery, I was forced to consider my every move before acting. These important medical precautions created a purposeful demeanor in me that I hadn’t experienced before. As I healed and the medical restrictions were lifted, I realized there were benefits to being more deliberate and measured in my daily decisions. I felt calmer, mentally stronger, and less under pressure than I had in a long time. Each day brought a series of decisions made from a position of thoughtfulness, rather than from manic reaction or routine. I took my time getting up. I listened to the news, read a book or magazine, did the crossword puzzle, or just looked at the waterfall in my backyard while munching on tea and toast. I went to the gym at some point nearly every day. Swimming, weights, exercises from physical therapy – whatever felt right. I napped when I felt like it. I experimented with bike riding to Starbucks – I relish riding with a destination in mind, and I love my lattes.
Then, five weeks after my surgery, my husband and I left for a two-week vacation in a private rental home on the Caribbean coast, along with our neighbors. It had been quite a long time since I had taken a consecutive two weeks off for vacation. I always believed I’d be missing too much at work if I did so. This time, though, it was pure bliss. One thing that the surgery didn’t stop me from doing was swimming, and we did plenty – in the ocean, in natural depressions called cenotes, in lagoons, and in canals made by the ancient Mayans. We also took in the cultural treasures left by the Mayans, read books, and even visited a school owned and operated by friends of ours.
The combination of being forced to slow down, learning to enjoy a more relaxed pace, and remembering that there are so many awe-inspiring things to see and do in this world, convinced me that I would have no trouble whatsoever finding things to do in my golden years — which seems to be the biggest fear for some people contemplating retirement for the first time. That revelation got the ball rolling in my mind and heart to embrace the home stretch.