Busy Is the New Retirement

Tampa into the sunset (Photo courtesy of Gemma Nemenzo)

What a difference two decades make! When I started my column, “Slant,” in Filipinas magazine in the mid-'90s, I was in a totally different realm. My children were very young, and I was a single parent trying to negotiate our place here in our adopted country. We were a few years into being immigrants and there were still a lot of things I had to learn and get used to.

Those were taxing times physically, emotionally and mentally, and between working full-time, raising the kids and doing all the things that make up a regular day here in America, I was straddling two worlds: Half of me was still longing for home while the other half was stubbornly carving a new life in a strange environment so different from what I was used to.

The one good thing was that my goals were clear and unequivocal—earn a living, be a good parent and allow the kids to grow into their fullness. There was no time to dwell on what ifs, no energy left for self-pity and doubt. I just had to plod on.

Writing the column and occasional articles for the magazine was my release, my “me” time where I could reflect and indulge my inner thoughts. And write I did, on anything and everything that a Filipino immigrant in America could relate to and appreciate.

Before I knew it—or at least this is how it feels now from the prism of decades past—the kids had grown up and launched in their respective fields (I should stop referring to them as kids, they're far from that now), my hair needed to be colored and the jars of anti-aging thingies in my dresser started piling up.

So here I am now, an empty nester and almost fully retired. The chauffeuring to school and after-school activities ended almost ten years ago; working an eight-hour day is hardly a pleasant memory now. Physically, the weariness of having to do too much in a day has given way to the guilty pleasure of not having to do anything on someone else's timetable. I've reclaimed time as my own and how utterly sweet it is.

But then the problem of what to do next comes up. The perennial question—what do I want to do when I grow up—is ironically relevant again.

Like most boomers, I view retirement differently from my parents' or even my elder siblings' generations. The new retirement means stepping down from having to earn a living and moving up to doing what one really wants to do. It means coming full circle to the dreams of one's idealistic years before being waylaid by the realities of life.

Not for us the typical image of a retiree basking idly in the Florida sun and whiling the day away with martinis and poolside card games (don't get me wrong, such a life can be so much fun if you can afford it). Nor are we the cranky old people who just sit around doing nothing other than waiting for death to claim them.

There are 41 million people in the U.S. who are 65 and older—14 percent of the total population. That's a big demographic that will only get bigger. Already the boomers are changing the concept of aging, the trajectory of research and development in the area of health and wellness, and re-directing government policies and social mores. Most importantly, this age group is elevating the idea of retirement as getting a new lease on life.

As a newbie in this demographic, I'm gratified that I have good company and what a dynamic, earth-shaking, irreverent and interesting company it is! So far, I haven't met anyone who has complained about being bored in retirement; in fact, it's the other way around—each one is busier now than when they were gainfully employed. And everyone, save for those who have serious health issues, seems happier.

As for me, still a neophyte in this retirement game, I'm in the process of determining how this next phase of my life will look like, ever conscious of the reality that I no longer have the luxury of screwing up because each new day that passes is one less day on earth. It's a sobering thought, this one. It brings me to my knees each morning as I give thanks for the blessing of being alive. It allows me a deeper appreciation of things that I took for granted when I was younger, and it makes me tread carefully, well aware of the obstacle courses that make life dangerous and challenging.

So now I'm in the cusp of my new reality and a world of options lie before me. Should I stay or should I go home? Should I continue the solitary work of writing/editing or should I break into a new field?

Should I try moving to a new state or a new country to experience a new life or should I just stay put and explore the many unexplored facets of the San Francisco Bay Area, which is—really—still new territory for me despite having lived here for 26 years?

Those of you who are in a similar situation right now or who have passed this cusp and found their happiness, please share with me your thoughts and your experiences. It always takes a village to define a direction.

Meanwhile, like my feat more than two decades ago when I upped and left a comfortable but incomplete life, I once again took a leap of faith recently and remarried. Color it crazy. Or color it lovely. For me it's making real what one of my favorite poets, Dylan Thomas, so eloquently stated:

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Gemma Nemenzo can also be reached at gemma [at] positivelyfilipino[dot]com or on Facebook.

Gemma Nemenzo

Editor, Positively Filipino