Reflections on Retirement
It’s hard to believe that 17 months have passed since I retired from veterinary medicine. I’m still trying to figure out where the time has gone.
I really didn’t know what to expect once I retired. I did a little research on the topic, and many of articles that I read highlighted three primary issues that retirees face soon after they stop working:
- Lack of a daily schedule.
- Decreased social interaction
- Loss of a “sense of purpose”
Although many people would probably find the lack of a schedule to be liberating, I’m definitely the kind of person who feels most comfortable with a set routine. I live by my Apple calendar on my iMac and iPhone. There’s always a Post-It Note on my desk with the latest list of tasks that require immediate attention. I’m constantly fiddling with my reminder app on my phone and iMac. You get the picture.
During the first few weeks of retirement, not having a set routine threw me off balance. However, a loose schedule slowly emerged from this anarchy. My partner Mark is not retired. He continues to have to wake up at 5:30 a.m., in order to get to his workplace in New Jersey by 8:00 a.m. When that alarm goes off every morning, my day begins along with his. There’s no way around this. I’ve been an insomniac for years, and I remain the world’s lightest sleeper. If I’m dozing and someone in North America coughs, I wake up. Rather than fight it, I’ve come to embrace it, and my daily schedule has emerged from it. To wit: the alarm goes off at 5:20 a.m. We listen to classical music on WQXR-FM for the next ten minutes. At 5:30, Jeff Spurgeon, the host of the station’s morning show, reads the weather report in his reassuring voice. We get out of bed. Mark takes a shower, irons his shirt, and gets ready for work. I make the bed, feed Mittens and Glitter (our adorable cats), clean the litter box, and make breakfast for Mark. We both leave the apartment at 6:30 a.m. and start walking south. After two blocks, we bid each other goodbye; he heads to work, and I go to the gym. This is how every weekday starts.
I’m at the gym from 6:30 to 8:00 every weekday. I do thirty minutes of cardio (the elliptical machine) while listening to an audiobook or podcast, and then I do an hour of various Nautilus machines. This has kept me fairly fit, thankfully. (Mark and I go to the gym together on Saturday and Sunday morning, so I’m going to the gym pretty much seven days a week. I’m still not sure if that’s great, or if it’s nuts.) I come home, shave and shower and then, using an app on my iPhone, I meditate for fifteen minutes. I read my e-mails, perhaps pay a few bills, and read the headlines. If the weather is bad, I may go to a morning matinee or a museum. If it’s nice out, then I’ll usually choose a park – Bryant Park if I want to people-watch, Tompkins Square Park if I want peace and quiet, Madison Square Park if I prefer to be closer to home – and go sit there and read, until lunchtime rolls around. My biggest indulgence is lunch. I find an eatery located not far from whichever park I’m in, have a quiet lunch, and then go back to the park until around 3:30. I then head home, perhaps detouring through a clothing store or a bookstore. More often than not, I’ll grab a little nap, and then Mark comes home around 6:30 and we have dinner and hang out. That’s a typical day. Of course, there’s a fair amount of variation for events like doctor or dental appointments, food shopping, errands, etc., but there is a definite structure and framework. So that’s my “schedule”. Granted, it’s an obscenely leisurely schedule, but it’s a routine, and routines keep me contented. This aspect of retirement, which I thought would be the most significant, has turned out to be the one most easily remedied.
The second issue, “decreased social interaction”, is something I hadn’t really considered when I retired, but this was the issue that hit me the hardest early in retirement. When I was working, nearly every minute was spent communicating with others in some fashion. My day was usually filled with veterinary appointments. If I wasn’t talking to a client directly in the exam room, then I was likely talking to a client on the telephone, usually calling with bloodwork or biopsy results. If I wasn’t chatting with a client, then I was most likely in the treatment room, gabbing with my staff while performing procedures or surgeries. Practically my entire day was spent talking. Upon retirement, all of this communication abruptly stopped. I suddenly found myself not speaking to anyone for hours. Most days, I would go from 6:30 a.m to 6:30 p.m. barely speaking to anyone. A typical day might have me saying, “Can I have one ticket for the 10 o’clock show”, and then perhaps two hours later, “I’ll have a Cobb salad and an iced tea”, and that would be it. Period. This was a major lifestyle change. After about two months, though, I’ve come to enjoy it. When I was working and doing all that chatting, there was literally no time to relax, to reflect, to recharge. Now, in retirement, I get to contemplate, to consider, to connect with myself. To hear my own thoughts, and to be alone with them, unrushed, unpressured, is rejuvenating. A quieter day, where I can direct my focus more inwardly, has been very good for my mental health.
The third item on the list – the loss of a “sense of purpose” – was the issue that affected me the least, initially. Ironically, this sense of purpose, which led me to pursue veterinary medicine in the first place, ended up being a major contributor to my wanting to retire, because along with that sense of purpose comes great responsibility, accompanied by very significant stress. My patients were not homeless strays. Every pet had an owner attached to it, and caring for both the patient and the client began to weigh heavily on me. It was this break from the sense of purpose that was the most welcoming aspect of retirement. After 29 years of caring for patients and catering to clients, I could finally take a break from being a doctor. It was a huge relief.
For a while.
Taking care of animals isn’t just what I did. It is who I am. A large part of my personal identity Is intertwined with my profession as a veterinarian. Even though I’ll always retain the title “Dr. Plotnick”, I don’t really feel like myself unless I’m actively working with animals in some way.
This life of leisure – reading, traveling, relaxing – has been fabulous, and at times, I feel like I could live this way forever. Well, “forever” seems to have had a shelf life of about 17 months.
So, how am I going to contribute to to animal health and welfare, without the stresses inherent in working in a veterinary practice?