I walked out of the supermarket toward my car. It was one of only a handful of vehicles in the parking lot. I thought, “This is definitely one of the perks of retirement: Shopping at 7:30 a.m.

Lately, I’ve been focusing on the concrete “little things” I appreciate about not having to show up for work every day, because the “big things” about retirement remain elusive to me. I’m nearly two years into this chapter of my life, and the only thing I feel certain about is that it’s a journey, not a destination.

The loss of identity is one factor to be reckoned with in retirement. I knew this, but thought it wouldn’t apply to me. I worked in journalism for 12 years, and then was a school librarian for 32 years. During all that time, I also was a freelance writer and author. I always felt I had two professional identities, one of which I figured I’d never retire from.

I haven’t, still don’t intend to, and assume that if I go out lying in bed (rather than being run over by a tractor-trailer), I’ll be scribbling in my journal as the lights fade.

But I should have remembered that I carried my identity as a journalist into the school library with me. For example, I was the advisor for a middle school newspaper for many years. Why wouldn’t I also bring the psychological remnants of library work along with me into retirement?

I only recently realized I didn’t have to read the latest and best-reviewed books, unless I really wanted to, because I no longer had anybody to recommend them to. I could reread old favorites by P.D. James and Ross Macdonald if I wanted, so I did. It was a pleasurable way to spend a few winter afternoons, but advising readers was one of my favorite parts of being a librarian, so I also experienced a few moments of regret remembering the loss of that role.


Reading is just as important to my soul as writing, and it was always a challenge for me to read books “for the job” that I didn’t like. I did have to draw the line at those in which animals die, which happens distressingly often in children’s literature. (We can start at “Old Yeller” and go from there.) Yet, too much choice in deciding what to read next can also be problematic. I want to keep up with the latest from my favorite authors, and so reserve their upcoming titles at the library. But then, I also have several piles of books that I’ve purchased, but don’t read because my reserve items keep showing up. What to do?

I understand that this is what is commonly referred to as a first world problem.

I will maintain that having too many choices in general is both a blessing and curse of retirement. Of course I am grateful to be able to shop at the break of dawn, when so few people are about, rather than at 5 p.m., when the aisles are full of tired and grumpy folk who can’t figure out what they want to make for dinner. Having this choice is a definite boon.

Sometimes, I tire of trying to decide what to do in any given moment. A little Puritan voice in my head exhorts me to make the best use of my time — all the time. Before, I spent a lot of time at work. My free time filled up without much thought on my part.

Now, the garden calls to be weeded, closets moan they need to be reorganized and the refrigerator veggie bin demands cleaning. Which should I do first? Maybe I’ll just start that new book, as it’s from the library and will need to be returned soon. …

Sometimes, I am able to stifle my tiny Puritan voice and just sit down and read without guilt. I tell myself, “I’m retired. I can just enjoy myself for an hour.”


Sometimes — because change is a constant element of the retirement journey.

I had knee replacement surgery in August 2022. I was recovering — not back to walking normally yet — during the time I’d have returned to school, if I hadn’t retired. The hours spent icing my knee gave me time to think about life after retirement. I made a list of books to read, things I thought I’d like to do.

I haven’t read any of those books so far, though I have read at least one book a week. I have yet to manage to crochet a granny square, and I’m not sure I want to continue to pursue that particular goal. I have stuck with my French lessons on the Duolingo app, though — 635 days and counting.

Does any of this matter? I’m not sure. I guess that’s part of the journey, too.

I have had one moment of clarity as I’ve wandered along the path of discovery. I don’t like thinking of myself as a retiree. Maybe retirement was one destination, but I’m still traveling.

So, when I filled out my passport renewal application the other day, I bravely wrote in “writer” as my occupation. Now, I just need to be ready to proclaim it when someone asks me what I “did.”

Excuse me, I can smile, but I’m still doing.

Liz Soares welcomes email at lizzie621@icloud.com.

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