Gratitude, Reflection, Retirement

Reflections on Retirement – One Year In

This past week, I hit the one-year mark both of being officially retired and of living back in Canada. With a full year behind me, has it been all that I anticipated? Yes and no–in equal measures.

I remember a conversation that I had with one of my daughter-in-laws the day that we arrived back home. It went something like this:

DIL: So…what are you going to do now that you are retired?
Me: Nothing.
DIL: You will probably want to do some consulting.
Me: No.
DIL: Or some other kind of work, or volunteer work.
Me: Nope.
DIL: Take a class, join a ladies’ golf team, learn a craft.
Me: Not really.

I recognize that this was probably a very frustrating conversation for my daughter in law–who is truly one of the nicest young women you will ever meet.

Having retired 24-hours earlier from a rewarding, full-on and intense career, I wanted to relish in the thought that I could now do nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

I wanted to unplug, unwind, and begin to calm my driven personality. I also wanted to go as “blank slate” as possible so that I could be genuinely open to accept or decline new paths as they appeared. Most of all, I wanted to be present for my family and make up for lost time.

When I first announced my retirement, a long-time friend gave me this advice:

“Many opportunities (especially for volunteer/part-time work) will come your way. Don’t jump into any one of them too quickly. Be selective and make sure that it is something that you feel passionate about before you take on a big commitment. Give yourself time.”

I have taken this advice literally.

I did have a half-formed thought to start a blog—which I did six months into my retirement. Fifteen years earlier, when I first moved to Beijing, I started a personal log that I emailed to friends and family. I never maintained that log for long but wished that I had. I now had the opportunity to record my thoughts, as I (once again) transitioned into a new world. I didn’t want to miss this second chance.

I also had a vague, but persistent notion, that whatever passions I did commit to, I wanted to contribute to world peace.

I know, I know!

It sounds so very ‘beauty-pageant-contestant-ish’. It also sounds bigger than Ben Hur. But what I had in mind was more of a series of small, intentional actions that, when done repeatedly, became habit over time. Okay, so I may not have had this piece all worked out. I did know that I wanted to nurture peace within myself, practice understanding and non-judgment, focus on the positive, commit to acts of kindness and be confident that even the simplest steps can tilt our world towards peace. I also knew that I wanted to read more on this topic, and surround myself with people for whom genuine compassion is an instinct.

Before leaving work, we didn’t have many set notions about how our retirement would look, nor what we would spend our time doing. We did believe that we had found our retirement house and that we would now spend time on its renovation. Ironically, that is the one significant piece that did change, as the renovations were a larger commitment, both of time and of cash, than we had originally understood. Also, despite our advance research, we didn’t adequately factor in the full extent of “winter rain” in Oceanside. We’ve been told that it was an unusually wet winter…fingers crossed that this past year was a one-off!

On the flip side, some things that I believed I would never be interested in (like curling, or daily yoga, for example) turned out to be extremely enjoyable, and I will definitely continue with further.

So, in a nutshell, what have I learned about my own retirement so far, and what have been my biggest takeaways?

I believe that the key to retirement is being prepared (obviously financially) but also mentally, emotionally and socially (at least in terms of your support group). The other key is being flexible, and being willing to accept that something you thought was a given for your retirement may not turn out as planned. Allow yourself time to chill and do nothing and also to deepen/renew/discover your passion(s). Also, allow yourself to walk away from something that is going to drain your energy…. or your cash.

As for passions, this blog has helped me to reflect more deeply on my experiences, structure my thoughts, maintain my writing and technological skills, keep in touch with friends/family around the globe and meet new people. It has also sharpened my eye to the beauty around me and has given me cause to stop and enjoy the splendor of the moment, no matter how mundane that moment may have originally appeared.

As for my world peace ambition—how’s that going? I believe that world peace is a lifelong quest, with individual steps and collaborative teamwork being equally important. The essential thing is the commitment, the intentionally of the goal and the gratitude for all that we have. For me, the intentionally and gratitude are definitely present…. I now seek meaningful endeavors to which I can commit.

So, that’s my reflection on my first year of retirement. I am both excited and hopeful as I begin my second year. Once again, time with family is at the top of my agenda.


*The feature image was taken on June 15, 2015, at Horseshoe Bay Ferry in Vancouver, as we waited to board…and begin our new life. Hope and optimism abound!










10 thoughts on “Reflections on Retirement – One Year In”

  1. I can identify with a lot of that, Donna. After years of travel, of work, of children, I also really wanted to stop. And do nothing for a while. A time for internal reflection and for me, some studying of things I’ve never had time to study, a bit of Japanese, a lot of economics, of history, of some more esoteric subjects.

    I believe that friendships, across nations, across classes and nationalities, ages and genders, form a kind of matrix of world peace that covers our beloved planet like a blanket. We can all, and do all, contribute to world peace just by loving each other. And I love the internet for helping us express that.

    We are in some dark days at the moment in the UK, with an MP killed in the street by a neo-nazi, and of course Orlando. It is more imperative than ever, in my humble opinion, to express and manifest love. And positivity. Trying to find common ground with those who would divide us, reminding people that we all care about each other, just sometimes express it in different ways. Its not a bad start to retirement.


    1. Hi Helen – I like your thoughts on friendships across nations forming a matrix of world peace. Your words strike a very powerful image…and leave a very important message.


  2. Hi Donna,

    A beautiful reflection on a year intentionally lived. Often I find we can put off living intentionally until we have the time, rather than making the time to live intentionally. I couldn’t agree more that world peace is both an individual and collaborative effort, and I believe it starts with finding that peaceful and loving place within ourselves. We can’t give what we don’t have, and inner turmoil will always be reflected in our outer world.

    I watched this address by Marianne Williamson directly after reading your post. I think it speaks to what you’re saying, that the work is internal, and if we commit to living from within rather than looking externally for our measures of success or happiness, then the impact we can have on the world will be significant.

    Delighted to see you enjoying this new chapter xx


    1. Hi Nicole – Thanks for sharing Marianne Williamson’s link — it is very powerful. Thank you also for reading and commenting. You are the original inspiration to our Camino walk (that we will be taking next month). We are very excited about it. Please keep in touch. Donna


  3. I enjoyed reading this, it sounds like you were very smart in your thoughts on retirement. The freedom to do nothing, how awesome! I love the freedom to do things at the spur of the moment. I witnessed Richard and you living retirement exactly how it should be. Enjoy year 2.


    1. Thanks, Jo-Anne – You are definitely one of my role-models for retirement. You also strongly model kindness being an instinct.


  4. Hi Donna, one year already?! When work is intense, time slips through our fingers quickly. Time with family should be priority and I think you always had that on the top of your list even when you were super busy working at WAB. Usually it is during the summer that I reflect a lot and set up new challenging goals, but I guess being flexible with whatever is coming up is important. It has been another busy year and I truly hope that I will be able to visit you next year. Last year I was at the border but didn’t go across it because I had no visa, and the first thing I will do back in Beijing will be sorting out the visa. Cheng, Chris and I were talking about skiing in Canada this winter but I think it’s more realistic to talk about the summer plan next year.


    1. Thanks, Huiman. Your room is ready, and Chris’ room is ready too! We look forward to seeing the three of you soon!


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