This piece was originally posted in January of 2019 on the now-defunct blog, The Rusty Walker
“So, what are you doing these days now that you are retired?” This is a question that I get asked regularly.
“It’s complicated,” is my first response, followed up by, “actually, I’m not retired. I’ve downshifted.”
In a car, you downshift to slow the vehicle without having to brake. The term came into use a decade or more ago to describe people who have deliberately decided to slow the pace of their life. Sometimes they are younger people who have worked crazy hours at some start-up, earned a fortune–but not a satisfying life–before the age of 40 and decided to sell it all for a tidy sum. Nice idea, but that’s not me, as much as I might wish.
If you search for the term online you might come up with this definition, “[to] change a financially rewarding but stressful career or lifestyle for a less pressured and less highly paid but more fulfilling one.” That’s closer to what I’m doing.
I decided some years ago that I did not want to retire in the typical fashion, which according to common wisdom seems to mean to pile up a lot of money and then stop working and play. I have no problem with people who want to do that, but I have a different plan.
I’ve also known quite a few people who worked hard for many years at jobs they did not enjoy, pinning a lot of hope and excitement on retirement, only to be faced with severe, unexpected health problems, even death, before they could do it. Their “pile” was left to someone else.
My children are mostly grown and the financial and time demands of raising a family have eased. I’m close to, but still a few years from the age where people can retire (AKA the age you can get Medicare.) I have some “margin” so to speak in life and so a year ago I left my job–which I enjoyed, but which was also very demanding– and decided to make this past year a sabbatical of sorts, a year of rest and a year to learn a new, slower pace of life. In slowing down, my wife and I also adjusted our family budget, living more simply so that our needs would be fewer. My personal mantra became, “I’m not in a hurry.”
In the past year I did a lot of travel–more than usual–and fulfilled some dreams. I visited coffee farms in Colombia, walked 500 miles across Spain, biked 1,000 miles across England. I caught up on some projects at home which had been waiting for a long time, like a new vegetable garden. I started reading the books I had been collecting for years. I began to write a book (and this blog.) I began to get rid of stuff. I learned how to slow down, to refuse to let “hurry” back into my life.
And lately I’ve pondered what to do next, especially how to earn a living and how to work for the next few decades.
In the course of my life I have met many people who worked at something they loved well into their 80’s. (Think of Supreme Court justices, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is still serving at age 85.) Some had to adjust their pace and work fewer hours, but they never stopped doing the thing they love. I believe that if you work at the things in life which you love–which come from your deepest self and which help meet the world’s needs–why would you ever want to stop?
So, I hope to keep doing what I love and what meets the world’s needs, to exercise a creative and entrepreneurial nature, to use my experience in the areas I’m passionate about: publishing, nature, peace and justice, the environment, all informed by my faith. I hope to tinker with new ideas, new dreams, new visions, to co-create with others a world for our children and grandchildren that is more sustainable and is less consumptive. I will continue walk, bike, travel, discover and write, at a slower speed of life. I’ve downshifted for good and I’m not in a hurry anymore.