During a spring visit to my Mom’s, I watched as she floated about the kitchen gleefully preparing lunch. Her topic of choice was retirement, which at the time was only 90 days away. Her excitement was contagious. “I’m going to wake up whenever I want,” she announces in a singsong voice as she whips out a collection of pots and pans. Her retired boyfriend responds with enthusiastic “Amens” like a church congregation on Sunday morning. The two of them giggle, laugh, and high-five as they tout all the wonderful things they have planned once they are both retired. It was so exciting that even I added lots of head nods and giggles to the exchange in spite of the fact that for me retirement is over 20 years away.
As I watched the two of them dance around the kitchen, my thoughts flashed back to the years where I watched my Mom race to work in the morning and then race into the house immediately after work to make a home cooked meal. In my teens I watched her work full-time during the day while earning her bachelor’s degree at night. But in 90 days, there’d be no more of this type of daily grind. I too got lost in my Mom’s well-earned euphoria.
However, as the two continued to share their travel plans reality hit me. “I don’t have a pension, I have a 401k,” I thought to myself. Therefore, my retirement dreams are contingent on how well I manage my 401k, my savings, and my earning potential. My thoughts started to race and I simply zoned out.
I thought about recent financial storms and the trail of unexpected bills that soon followed. In that moment retirement felt like a pipe dream. I’m pretty sure the look on my face (part panic and part confusion) combined with my extended silence is what stopped my mom and her boyfriend in their tracks.
The words “I’m never going to be able to retire,” slip through my lips along with a dramatic sigh. I hadn’t meant to say anything. I was supposed to nod and smile and cheer. However, my filter failed me.
It wasn’t the retiring part that troubled me. It was the living in retirement part that took me from cheerleader to deer in highlights. A year earlier, my Mom shared her retirement plan with me along with every high and low that helped to shape what was on that piece of paper. I was in one of those low periods and feeling overwhelmed.
However, that lunchtime conversation helped me to change my thinking. My mom’s retirement vision includes – traveling, home improvement, and dusting off a few creative ideas that she never had time to try. This has taught me that retirement is less about “not working” and more about creating a life that truly makes you happy. I stopped fretting over the many ups and downs affecting my finances 401(k) included. These days my focus is on two goals- create a life that I love and put myself in a position to maintain this life after retirement.
My mother called me a few weeks later and somewhere between talking paint colors and completing her retirement papers my mom says, “you know you are light years ahead of where I was when I was your age so don’t be so hard on yourself. Stay the course,” she calmly explains and quickly returns to paint chips.
May 31st was my Mother’s last day of work. And for me June 1st wasn’t just another workday. I no longer felt overwhelmed because my focus wasn’t on “a high” or “a low”. Instead, it was about the combination of choices and the changes I’m making every day that will make all the difference 20 years from now. I’m inspired by my Mom’s retirement because it’s proof that staying the course in spite of the ups and downs is so worth it.