This article was written on April 2, 2020, about three months into the global COVID-19 pandemic. In the United States, most state governors have issued stay-at-home orders. Everyone except essential workers is urged to stay home and only venture forth to procure necessities, maintaining a distance of at least six feet from others. Soon, we will be asked to wear face masks. Some people already are.
First, I would like to express my most sincere gratitude for those who must go to work, often placing themselves in danger: those in the medical professions, grocery store employees, delivery drivers, etc. You are heroes!
If you are now home-bound, you are probably experiencing a variety of paradigm shifts in your life. For example:
- With so many activities cancelled, you have a lot of time on your hands.
- You daily routine has changed. In particular, you now have much less structure in your daily life.
- You are experiencing a greatly reduced level of human contact. On the other hand, you now have nearly full-time contact with your spouse and family, which can present its own challenges.
- You are forced to alter your habits of procuring food and other items you need. You may be having more items delivered.
There could be other disruptions that are relevant to your particular situation.
If you are now staying at home as much as possible, how well are you dealing with it?
In some ways, your experience of being off work, at home, and surrounded by few other people can serve as a preview for what it’s like to be retired. This could be a valuable wake-up call if you haven’t thought much about what you will do when you retire.
This comparison works well in some regards and not so well in others.
What constitutes a well-balanced retirement?
I often state that a well-balanced life in retirement consists of a mix of activities that provide physical activity, mental stimulation, socialization, and fulfillment.
In the current scenario, your possibilities for physical activity are limited, whereas when you retire under normal circumstances you will have many more options. If you live in a suburban or rural environment, you can likely still walk or bike around your neighborhood or go hiking. But gyms are closed and other facilities such as golf courses and tennis courts probably are, too.
All of this downtime allows you plenty of time for mental stimulation. You can read, take online courses, and watch quality programming, for instance.
Fulfillment is different for each of us. If you enjoy creative pursuits, such as writing, art, music, crafts, quilting, or woodworking, you now have more time for those interests. But other activities, such as traveling, volunteering, and other forms of community service are curtailed in these times.
Socialization suffers the most. While electronic options for communication such as Skype, Facetime, Zoom, and social media are helpful with staying in touch, these aren’t quite as rewarding as spending time with people in person.
When you retire, you will probably find that you see fewer people each day because you are no longer surrounded by work colleagues. While you have a job (one that requires going to a workplace, not working from home), much of your socialization happens automatically. After you retire, you have to take a more proactive approach to socializing.
What will you do with all this free time?
The other parallel between the current self-isolation situation and retirement is that you have total control of your time. Before you retire, you have working hours, even if they are flexible. You have appointments throughout the day. Then you fit all of your other activities such as shopping, chores, group meetings, and recreation around your work hours.
When you are confined to home and your calendar is nearly empty, it’s a lot like being retired. It’s easy to loaf all day and binge-watch Netflix. Some of that is okay, but in the big picture I believe that you still need some structure and time management in your life. For many of us, being totally in control of our schedules is a new experience.
Someday, this pandemic will be behind us. Life will return to normal, but I think it will be a new normal. Hopefully, there will be some positive societal and governmental changes. But I think our lives will change too, and it can be change for the better.
The experience of having your life disrupted on such a large scale can lead you to reprioritize what’s really important in your life.
While I miss my scheduled activities (in my case, band practices), social occasions, and eating out, I am enjoying having an empty calendar for the time being. I’m tackling a couple projects that have been on my “to do someday” list for years, like ripping all of my old vinyl records to digital. I can spend more time writing.
Some of my friends have expressed relief at not being on the go all the time. They now have more time to breathe and relax, and they like it.
This situation gives you an opportunity to evaluate what things you miss and don’t miss. If you imagine your life as a white board, some of it has been wiped clean. What will you put back? What will you leave off? What will you add? Maybe you’ll leave more white space.
This is an excellent opportunity to reevaluate and redesign your life. And if you are not retired yet, this is excellent practice for designing your retirement.
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