Five Lessons from Un-Retirement

Dr. Cory S. Fawcett, retired surgeon, book author, and blogger, has stayed plenty busy. I don’t think he could un-retired unless he actually slows down at some point.

His wife, on the other hand, after many years managing the household, has returned to a steady gig that, while unpaid, requires her regular, in-person presence. The requirements of this new position have thrown their routine, or lack thereof, for a bit of a loop.

What’s different? The couple that spent more than half of the year traveling in pre-pandemic times is much more grounded these days.

Dr. Fawcett explains how their lives have been impacted, for better and for worse. This Friday Feature was originally published on Financial Success MD.

 

 

I have been fully retired from medicine for four and a half years, although I prefer the word ‘repurposed’ over retired since I found a new mission in life. But I feel like I am retired, since I can do my new mission from anywhere in the world and on any time schedule.

My wife ‘retired’ from corporate accounting in 1993 when I moved from being a resident to an attending physician. She became a stay-at-home mom and did volunteer work. That meant when I repurposed in February of 2017, we were both free from all job obligations. After bowing out of all other obligations that would tie us down, we were free to travel the world. And we did just that, being gone more than 50% of the time.

Recently, the bookkeeper at our church needed to take an extended leave of absence. So my wife, who had been overseeing the finances at our church, as a volunteer, stepped up to fill her shoes while she was gone. That meant my wife was a working girl again, as an unpaid volunteer bookkeeper.

Going back to having a job in the family gave me a contrasting look at what being retired has really meant for us. It’s a good example of “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” Following are five lessons I am learning from this un-retirement experience.

 

1: Alarms are more painful than I remembered.

 

When you do not have a regular job, you do not need to set an alarm to wake up in the morning. It has been so nice to wake up when my body wants to instead of when I have to. If something happens to make me stay up late, I can just sleep in longer the next morning to make up for it. Not so if that is a workday.

The alarm has been used very infrequently for the last four and a half years. I forgot how annoying that sound can be early in the morning. I have grown to appreciate waking when my body tells me it is time to get up. That is one of my favorite parts of being retired.

 

2: Travel restrictions are put in place.

 

I have especially loved the ability to come and go as we please. If the smoke gets bad in the valley from the nearby forest fires, we can hop in the motorhome and go someplace without smoke to enjoy the great outdoors.

When we got the call that my father-in-law had taken a turn for the worse and was not expected to survive the night, we were able to pack a suitcase and be on the road in less than an hour. Although, I did need to send an email to cancel a speaking appearance I was making the following weekend as we stayed to help with the funeral arrangements.

Now that my wife has a job obligation, we can’t just pick up and leave. We can’t go to a mountain lake to get out of the heat for a week. We have taken on an obligation to be here to keep the finances at the church running smoothly. Those bills need to get paid, deposits need to be made, and the church employees enjoy getting their paychecks on time.

 

3: My wife comes home from work energized from being productive.

 

I delayed retiring until I had a productive project to keep me occupied to prevent the risk of sitting home bored. I realized I needed a purpose after leaving my busy practice. I see that need played out every day when my wife comes home from work and wants to talk about her day. Hearing the excitement in her voice tells me she is happy to be productive again.

It is true that she has things to do at home which are productive. She helps edit my blogs and she keeps the books for our real estate business. But these things do not create the real sense of purpose for her that the bookkeeping job at the church does.

With her job at the church, people are depending on her. It makes her feel like what she does really matters. At home, if we don’t get a blog article out this week, it’s not that big of a deal. (Although we have never missed one).

If she doesn’t do the books for the apartments until next month, it’s no big deal. But if people do not get their paycheck, lives are impacted. When people depend on our efforts it gives us a purpose.

Don’t make a move into retirement until you find something to create purpose in your life.

 

 

4: We lost some togetherness time.

 

One of the things I enjoy the most about being retired is that my wife and I are together all the time. For some couples, they view their apart time as a bonus, but I enjoy having her around all the time. I have been spoiled over the last few years.

Now there is part of the week when she is gone. It is OK as I have plenty of work to do. Currently, besides Financial Success MD keeping me productive, we are redecorating our house. As I write this, we are painting the entire interior in preparation for the arrival of our new carpeting.

But it is just not the same as having her home with me all the time. We can’t just hop on our tandem bike and go for a ride. She must go to work and by the time she gets home, it is too hot to go for a ride. We now plan our days around her work schedule.

 

 

5: Projects are disrupted.

 

I mentioned we are redecorating the house. Part of that gets put on hold when she goes to work, even though we have a hard deadline to meet. The carpet will be arriving whether we get the painting done or not. So since we don’t want to spill paint on our new carpet, we must complete the painting before the new carpet arrives.

We have lost the ability to tackle a project and work on it until it is completed. We must pause while she goes to work. Yes, I can keep painting when she is gone, but it is a lot more fun doing it together.

Before I was retired, I didn’t realize how much my job influenced our life. I think my job just became the status quo. My family knew I would be at work and on call much of the week and we planned around it. After being retired from a “real” job for a few years, I have developed a new status quo, and I like the new way better.

Retirement has been an upgrade to my lifestyle. I can clearly see the difference now that my wife is working. It has also been a reversal of roles. I’m now the stay-at-home husband while my wife goes off to work. I can now get a glimpse of what it was like for her all those years as a stay home mom. Although I don’t have two kids at home with me, I do have my seven-month-old grandson for a few hours on some of the days my wife is at work.

All in all, I like my retired life better. The freedom it gives is hard to express. It’s something one needs to experience first-hand to gain the full appreciation of the benefits. It is a lot like becoming debt free. I really can’t adequately explain what being debt free feels like to someone who is in debt. It’s just something you must experience yourself.

I’m not upset that my wife has returned to work for a couple of months. It’s fun to see her excited about helping out. It simply gave me a new appreciation of what it means to be financially independent and free. I love that my writings will help some of you reach that goal as well. Here is a glimpse of what our first four years of retirement has been like.

 



 

Have you “unretired” or returned to a career after an extended sabbatical? What were the pros and cons of going from a life of leisure back to work?

3 thoughts on “Five Lessons from Un-Retirement”

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  2. One spouse having some travel, time and location constraints doesn’t have to impose those same limits on the fully retired spouse. While my wife and I do share a lot of activities we also have separate pursuits. If she became tied up with a job-like obligation for a couple of months that would be a signal to me to make fishing trips to the Gulf with guy friends or some other pursuits with my buddies. And if she has an alarm set that doesn’t mean I have to get up too. We frequently make road trips and sometimes even overseas trips separately even though we’ve been best friends for the 43 years we’ve been married. If one of us gets tied down with volunteer work the other almost automatically schedules some fun activities with separate friends.

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  3. My husband is still working, but I recently added a few hours per week of volunteering & coaching kids. Not only is it energizing and feels good (your point 3), but it is also tons of extra human interactions when I am out- it just feels normal to have so many back and forths, which you can miss when you are out of the work world.

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