Is Retirement the Life for Me?

April 16, 2022

If you started singing the theme song from Green Acres when you saw that title, you may (1) way too impacted by afternoon tv in the 1970s, and (2) also be considering this question.

August 31 was my last official day at work in my job as a school superintendent. For almost eight months, I have had no official job. Like I wrote a while back, the last time I had this kind of free time was back when I dropped out of college to be a street musician. But even then, I “had to” go to work in the evenings to make enough money to eat and pay rent. (Also, as the picture above proves, my street musician life provided me with critical skills for my teaching and high school principal jobs – like performing for Sixties Week.) Still, it was a lot of free time, and it was an outstanding period in my life. Now, for just the second time in my life, I have that kind of free time again.

I am devoting this blog post to reflecting on and evaluating my level of happiness with my newly-found free time in this new phase of my life.

A big motivator behind my decision to retire was to do what was best for a long and healthy life with my friends and loved ones. While I loved my job as a school superintendent, it could be crazy at times. A big part of my job was to get yelled at. That yelling could come from angry residents, dissatisfied union leaders, or any number of constituents. And though it was not constant, it was increasing in frequency. Public schools are bearing the brunt of the same anger that is plaguing (and harming) national politics. When I encountered that yelling, my job was to imitate Kevin Bacon in Animal House, responding with the equivalent of “Thank you sir, may I have another,” and to do so with a smile. I did that quite well for a long time, but it took its toll.

But there were other reasons. I commuted 41 miles each way for eleven years. My work week, including commute time, ranged from 65 to 80 hours a week. I was away from home at least two evenings every week, and often up to four. (High school principals are out even more!) My weight had gone up a little, and for the first time in my life, my doctor had some concerns about what the stress was doing to me. And, eleven years is a long time to be in one job. I was also a successful high school principal for eleven years, and at the end of both of those tenures, I just felt it was time to go, even though I loved the job.

All of that being said, I loved my job as superintendent. I worked with a fantastic board, and benefitted from their wisdom, care for students and employees, and humor. My colleagues were an amazing team of leaders with whom I was proud to work side by side. I was inspired by the employees and students that I served, and I was overwhelmed by the generosity and support of the vast majority of parents and community leaders. In spite of being ready to leave, it was hard to leave all of those positives.

So, it’s time for me to reflect on how it’s going, and whether or not it feels right and whether what I’m doing now is going to help me achieve my goals of happiness and a long life with friends and loved ones.

The bottom line: Not working has been awesome. I am busy, Jill is happy with the changes she’s seen, and I know I’m healthier. My newly-found free time, just like it did back in my street musician days, truly helps me to center myself and find balance.

My only concern is that I do miss the human interaction. When I worked, I was rarely by myself. As I often said about my job, I made a living running or being in meetings. I was always talking with people, and most of the time, I loved it. Now, there is down time and quiet time. There’s a lot of good in that, and yet, I am still thinking about how to achieve that balance of the right amount of human interaction.

In order to further investigate whether this new lifestyle of mine is going to help me live longer, I will break it down using the Blue Zones research of Dan Buettner. Blue Zones looks at the lifestyles of communities where people live longer, healthier, and happier lives than other areas of the world. Based on their research, Buettner makes nine recommendations for all of us to strive for in our lives:

  1. Move naturally throughout the day
  2. Know your sense of purpose
  3. Downshift every day to relieve stress
  4. 80% Rule: stop eating when you are 80% full
  5. Plant Slant: Make beans, whole grains, veggies, and fruit the center of your diet
  6. Red Wine in Moderation: Enjoy wine and alcohol moderately with friends and/or food
  7. Belong: Be part of a faith-based community or organization
  8. Loved Ones First: Have close friends and strong family connections
  9. Right Tribe: Cultivate close friends and strong social networks

It’s good stuff, right? Very commonsensical, and not at all extreme or crazy. Over the next few months, I’ll break this down into two or three blog posts that discuss how I’m doing in each of those areas, and how it compared to when I was working full time. For this post, I’ll just hit the first one – move naturally throughout the day.

Blue Zones Lesson #1: Move Naturally Throughout the Day: GIANT CHANGE! And all of it good. I’m driving (and sitting) way less. I’m walking a golf course twice a week. I’m walking in my own neighborhood. I’m moving around the house. Whenever I’m home at lunch while Jill is working, I’m busy in the kitchen making her lunch. My steps per day on weekdays have gone from 4,000 to a range of 9,000 to 20,000. When you meet for a living, you sit and sit and sit. It’s a killer. Between walking around the house, swimming several times a week, playing golf, and Pelotoning/biking, I’m moving so much more than I have in a long, long time, and it feels right. So I’m 1/1 in the Blue Zones research so far.

For those of you who say you hate me when I discuss how good this has been, one of the questions I am asking myself is whether I could have done a better job of this while I was working. I’ll address that in these future posts. There’s more to come, and I look forward to this process.

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  1. Bob says:

    Thank you Mike. I’m sure your articles should help me decide what to do as I move into retirement.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Bob! I look forward to hearing what you think.

  2. Bill Sampson says:

    Some perspective. I have NO data whatsoever to back up this claim but I would speculate that there are billions of your fellow humans on this planet who envy the fact that you have a choice on retirement. Those same people envy me also although I have one foot (only) out the door.

    I’m not the first person to observe, by the way, that at both ends of the economic spectrum there is a lot of free time.

    From what I read of what you’ve been doing the last eight months you are doing great and are deserving of your readers’ praise. That’s mine.

    You didn’t exactly request suggestions for what to do with your time, but, I’ll make one anyway. Re-join the Optimist Club of Malibu.

    No matter what, best wishes.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      I don’t know the numbers either, but I’m sure it’s a big number. But it’s also a big number who make that choice to retire. I feel blessed in many ways in my life. Also, that’s the worst Optimist Club invitation ever.

  3. Pam says:

    After retirement #1 in 2004 and retirement #2 in 2014 and approaching 78, I thank you for the Blue Zones. I’m thinking it’s never too late to step up to Zone goals.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Pam – it is NEVER too late. I’m with you. Thanks.

  4. Seth Finn says:

    My take away from this post is something I’ve learned so many times, and yet, I can’t ever hear it too much. So much of life is about perspective. My guess is you couldn’t have written almost any of this 8 months ago, it’s too hard to see when you’re in the thick of it. I see someone working their you know what off trying to figure it out, trying to make life work better. Good for you, and it’s inspiring for me.

    And, I’d love to retire, all I need is one good lottery ticket!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Interesting point, Seth. Eight months ago, I just wouldn’t have had the time to do the writing. So in that sense, you are right. I think I had some of these ideas in mind, but the newfound time allows for a lot more clarification. I did mention this, but one of my returning themes will be “If I knew then …” In other words, could I have structured my time better while I was working. Thanks as always for reading.

  5. Love this Brother! thanks for sharing!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Bill! You can learn from this. One day, you’ll be able to retire from your job that requires you to go fishing all over the Northwest, and talk fishing with people around the country.

  6. Kevin Skelly says:

    Really good wisdom here. Sitting is the new smoking.

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