My husband and I took a mid-week, overnight trip, about a two-hour drive away from our home. It was a last minute decision to explore another part of Vancouver Island. We had a great two days away and really enjoyed ourselves. During the drive home, my husband mentioned that he just couldn’t shake the feeling of guilt in being able to simply drive off into the sunshine…on a weekday. He felt there was something else that he should be doing (reality check: there really wasn’t).
Good old guilt! It can become so ingrained in us that it continues to whisper “you should, you should, you should” or “you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t” even when those messages are not pertinent.
I began to think about guilt and how it has manifested itself in my own life over different periods of time. What is “retirement guilt” and just how big of a phenomenon is it? I Googled the words and found pages and pages (and pages) of entries. This potential aspect of retirement was definitely not mentioned in the glossy Freedom 55 brochures!
Guilt can be defined simply as: “A feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime or wrongdoing, …whether real or imagined” (http://dictionary.reference.com) Or as one definition, offered by the Urban Dictionary states, “An unfortunate side effect that results from being overly exposed to morality” (http://www.urbandictionary.com)…definitely an interesting point of view!
With real or imagined wrongdoings ranging from: shirking responsibilities, not doing something meaningful, leaving the workforce too early, not earning a paycheque, spending too much money, not measuring up, missing something, saying ‘no’ (when others believe you now have all of the time in the world to say ‘yes’)…a retiree could totally drive him/herself insane.
But is guilt also a gift? In the right dosages, does it help propel us forward, get unsexy tasks done, reflect more deeply, get off of the couch and be better people? Without guilt would our houses be messier, our emails unanswered, our chequebooks unbalanced, our dogs all have much shorter walks and would we simply eat all of the Boston Cream donuts that we desire?
Being no stranger to guilt (I’m Catholic), I am surprised that I haven’t yet been overcome by guilt since retiring (really, it’s so unlike me). Perhaps it is my retirement honeymoon phase, and a tsunami wave of guilt is lurking around the corner waiting to catch me unaware.
I believe, at least partly, that yoga has been a contributing factor to easing initial retirement guilt for me. I can hear the many mantras of my yoga teachers now:
- Practice mindfulness
- Put yourself in the present moment
- Leave the past behind
- Practice non-judgment
- …And….don’t forget to breathe!
Certainly, there are more detailed, complex strategies in which to deal with guilt, but the above seems like a good start and not a bad list to live by.
Thinking back to Richard at the steering wheel, I wonder if the guilt that he was feeling, wasn’t actually gratitude. As retirement is a privilege denied to so many, humbly accepting the gift of retirement can be surprisingly overwhelming.
It is the above mindset of turning guilt into gratitude that was my biggest take-away in reading through the pages of Google entries on retirement guilt. Other frequently mentioned suggestions (all heavily paraphrased or ad-libbed below) include:
- Acknowledge your shoulds–check them against reality–then let them pass
- Know your fears and deal with them head-on (e.g. if money is a big fear zone, set and regularly review a realistic budget, track expenses and make adjustments where necessary)
- Take stalk of what you can control and what you can’t
- Readjust your expectations
- Practice forgiveness (of yourself and others)
- Make amends (again with yourself and others)…and move on!
Got guilt? What are your strategies for letting go?