Readers share great advice for enjoying retirement | Suzy Fleming Leonard

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When it comes to the unknown, it’s best to ask the experts rather than worry needlessly.

A couple of weeks ago, during a brief bout of ennui, I posed this question in my column: Is retirement all it’s cracked up to be? I’ve got a ways to go before I’m there, but it’s getting closer, and I was afraid that retirement, like adulthood, would have lots of hidden pitfalls.

Lucky for me, there are plenty happy retirees around to offer advice.

Bill Macheras retired from Brevard Public Schools in 2020. It was his second career after working in retail management. 

“To be honest, I haven’t looked back,” he wrote in an email.

“What I love the most is the ability to have the freedom to do what we want, go when we want, and enjoy life to the fullest,” he wrote. He and his wife still work part-time. “But, with two kids living out of state (both with grandkids) we now are able to travel when it conveniences us.”

Here’s the part of his email that really stuck with me: “I know in my heart as I sit one day talking to my 4 grandkids, as they get older, when asking about my life, yes, some mention of my “work” life will come up. However, growing up in Cocoa, playing a sport, going to college, meeting my wife, etc, will be the majority of that conversation.” 

Polly Molnar emailed fresh off a long vacation to say: “Retirement is anything you make it. Keep learning & exploring. More time to volunteer, visit family, friends & new places. Pray for good health! Earn those wrinkles and age spots.”

Thank you, Polly. I shall now treat those wrinkles and age spots as badges of honor, though I may still hide them under a bit of concealer.

Nancy Palsulich wrote to say she retired early to support her ailing, now deceased, husband.

“While I missed my work (which I loved) I knew I made the right choice,” she wrote. “What I discovered was that retirement was incredibly liberating if you let it be. For one thing, I realized I had nothing to prove. Yay! What a great feeling. How nice to be able to try things without feeling you have to compete with anyone, even yourself.” 

As a retiree, she has written and published a novel, taken up botanical photography and dabbled in jewelry design and painting. 

“What have I learned? That life is a gift. Everyday above ground is a good day. That faith in something larger than yourself makes every day better. That just being open brings more good things your way.”

She also offered this advice: “Stop a moment in the rush. Breathe. Smell the air. Drive 5 miles under the speed limit. Take a moment to call that friend you’ve been too busy to talk to. And smile. Just smiling can change your whole day.” 

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Cathy Johnson, who retired four years ago after a 38-year teaching career, also wrote in with some great advice.

“Learn something new. Do something that you never had time to do before. I learned Pickleball, dropped my cholesterol by 21 points, and gained a whole new social group. Last week was my first time volunteering for the Special Olympics. Next up, ukulele lessons.”

She also recommends staying busy. “Have something to look forward to in your day. I closely watched many great women at my school retire. The ones who were the happiest were the ones who stayed busy and had some structure to their lives.”

I loved this email from Carol Philpot-Jensen, who is a Florida Institute of Technology professor emeritus and had a private clinical psychology practice.

“Yes, Suzy, retirement is EVEN MORE than it’s cracked up to be!!!” she wrote. 

She has used her retirement to revisit hobbies and interests from childhood, like oil painting, piano and writing, things she didn’t have time for when she was working. 

Yes, she loved her career, but she describes retirement as the most exciting and rewarding time of her life.

“So don’t despair. The best is yet to come!”

During 31 years of working, Eugenia Millard said she hated setting an alarm, choking down toast and coffee and rushing to the subway.

“Early morning madness was never my thing!! However, in my retirement I have never whimpered at any early morning commitments. It’s life — I accept it — and at 82 I’m proud when I need to set the alarm for an  early appointment and I manage it all without a glitch.”  

She’s never bored, spending time doing ancestry research, shopping, swimming and writing short stories. 

“So, I find retirement wonderful. I have the freedom to make it as busy or as quiet as I need. Ultimately, you, too, will realize that your career will occupy a corner of your mind in retirement and you may reminisce when necessary. It works out fine.”

J. Elmore wrote that there are plusses and minuses to retirement.

“I like the extra time to do anything I want to do. I can read or shop or clean when I want to. The bad is no paycheck.”

Yeah, J. That no paycheck thing has me a little worried, but I’m working on it. Let’s hope the stock market doesn’t let me down.

I got one unsigned email from someone who was laid off in March 2020 after COVID-19 hit.

“I was scared, but my wife reminded me I was turning 62 in a few months and suggested I just retire early and then get a part time job later if I wanted! Ha two and a half years later and I have NO interest in working another day for someone else! … You will find that you will get into a routine that may or may not include a nap after lunch.”

Napping after lunch is definitely in my retirement plans.

Julie Pflum Davis retired unexpectedly after her husband was killed by a texting driver.

“Was it difficult? You bet it was, but what I did in the past two years I am very proud of because I used my time wisely.”

She’s always wanted to write a book, and now she’s written two, “This Widow’s Walk” and “This Widower’s Walk”, which she co-authored with Clem Etrick..

“After moving to Florida in 2010, I met a wonderful man, helped him write about his journey of taking care of his wife who had early dementia at age 56 and died at 68,” she wrote.

She and Clem started a grief support group in their Viera community, Indian River Colony Club. They’ve also written a grief handbook and become accredited hospice volunteers.

“We have made so many friends here and have so many fun things we can participate doing golf, bridge, singing groups, something for everyone. … I can only say LIFE IS GOOD here. Older age is challenging but we are facing these battles too. With God’s help we are enjoying our retirement having fun, learning new things and giving back to our community.”

These emails definitely relieved some of the anxiety I was feeling about retiring.

If the good Lord and my boss are willing, y’all will be subjected to my musings for a few more years. But now, for the first time since I was a teenager itching for a driver’s license and a later curfew, I find myself wishing I was a tad bit older. 

I’ll get there eventually. And emails like this one from my former co-worker Mark DeCotis just make the anticipation greater:

“Do it Suzy! Retirement rules. You’ve busted your (rear) for all these years. You’ve earned it.”

Suzy Fleming Leonard is a features journalist with more than three decades of experience. Reach her at sleonard@floridatoday.com. Find her on Facebook: @SuzyFlemingLeonard or on Instagram: @SuzyLeonard

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