Planning for the next stage of life, in my case, retirement, is a much steeper learning curve then I had ever anticipated. It’s not just enough to have plans for what you want to do, in my case writing and traveling or maybe writing about traveling, you also need to learn how to pay for it. It’s about quality of life, what we need financially to make that happen and what other important details should be in place for a smooth transition. It doesn’t help that much of these details are government-based and hard to understand (Part A, Part D??? Really?)
Life as a worker bee has a lot of consistencies that I have often taken for granted. Our lives are already scheduled when we work so that at certain times of the weekday, one would be sure to catch me at the college at my work desk. I know when holidays are and when I have days off. Weekends are filled with errands, laundry and hopefully some fun, a good bottle of red wine and rest with the hubby. There’s a steady paycheck that appears in my bank account on the 10th and 25th of every month . In the United States, if one is lucky, their job also comes with benefits including health insurance (but not a guarantee). I feel so fortunate to have good health insurance and other benefits that will go away once I retire and that can cause lots of anxiety too.
There’s a myth we may have all heard or believed in that once we have moved past what I hope was my middle age that life would be less complicated. We raised our kids to be strong, independent adults who have successfully flown the nest. We have hopefully accumulated a little nest egg, have very little debt and are now free to pursue our interests and passions that may have been put aside to raise our little chicks. The world should be our oyster! And while this may be true of some of my Boomer friends it is certainly not true for all of us. Life and circumstance may have had other plans for us.
Still, the foray into this next stage of life is very exciting to me and I feel ready for any of the new experiences that will come with it. I see my group of friends who are mostly retired having the time of their lives. They travel the world, they hike, they ski, they dote on grandchildren. In fact, I find it harder to get together with them now than when our kids were all in school together. They are just so busy. I think I’m ready. But it really does have the feel of flying into the great unknown.
This afternoon for lunch I went to the college’s food court to get the tofu stir fry a local Chinese restaurant sells there on certain days. I always spend a moment to chat with the elder Chinese lady who manages the station as we ask after each other’s day. As I took my order she handed me 3 fortune cookies that had been sealed together. We both laughed and I shared that it must mean luck because 3 was one of those lucky numbers for me. One the way back to my office, I started to think about how much of our lives and journeys we place on luck or fortune or fate or even just hoping for the best outcome. Is it faith or fantasy? Can we have one without the other? There’s that old adage about “the best-laid plans of mice and men” adapted from an 18th-century Scottish poem by Robert Burns who points out that even with good planning, things can take an unexpected turn.
Back in my office, I cracked open those fortune cookies with the little twinge of excitement we all feel when we have one in our hands. These slips of paper had a fortune on one side and lotto numbers on the other. I had to laugh! Fortunes and lotto numbers. Luck, chance and the American Dream. Things we hope for and reach for but are never guaranteed and often look very different from our expectations. In fact, in my experience, they are sometimes better than my expectations or at least the right thing for the moment. All brought to mind by a tiny slip of paper cleverly folded into a crispy cookie!
Everything I need to do to make this next huge step is necessary and important. Whatever happens, we need to have a plan. And maybe a backup plan. And a plan B. And just maybe a plan C, D and perhaps even an E. No matter how good the plan, we must expect that life has its own ideas and we just may not jive. Fortune can be sweet just like that crispy cookie. But maybe like the slip of paper hidden inside, we need to enfold it into a cover of practicality. And agree to expect the unexpected.