Psych Service: Start of a new retirement is much like first day of your freshman year

Lisa Garmezy

Editor’s Note: Dr. Garmezy is retiring but we hope that in the future she will continue to contribute columns to the Badge & Gun.

  Leaving HPD on your own terms, our office teaches. You shouldn’t have to leave because you’re stressed out, or worse, got pushed out. Right.

Changes in the pension system have sparked a mass exodus from the Department. As the proverb says, “Man plans and God laughs.”

I’m leaving too, although not because of the pension issue. It’s a carefully considered decision, made with some difficulty. Although I will miss HPD, I have part-time work lined up, my retired husband wants to travel, and I have spent more than enough time on the Houston freeways. Still, I don’t have my ducks in a row to the extent my colleagues might suggest.

Beyond the Bottom Line

    We remind employees considering retirement to be emotionally ready as well as financially ready to leave. Employees are encouraged to develop hobbies and interests that will help manage stress while working, and keep us busy and connected to others after the daily grind ends. Volunteering for a favorite cause and strengthening ties to friends and family help people prepare for the next chapter in life.

Since few people play full-time, you may continue to work part-time or find less stressful work. I have a friend in management who swears he’ll bag groceries at Central Market. Retirement classes always want you to know what you’re going to do when the alarm clock stops ringing.

However, I don’t have a beautifully designed plan and I suspect that the retirees who are leaving earlier than expected don’t either. So with due respect for my colleagues’ coaching, I’m proposing a different approach.

Off to Class

We’re freshmen. Like 18-year-olds going off to college, we may lack a clear plan, but that allows us to stay open to opportunities we never envisioned.

A college freshman doesn’t need a four-year blueprint. He just needs to take the basics—a little English, a little math, a little bit of something that interests him. Most degree programs let you work in an elective or two.

Let’s borrow that advice. Taking the basics might translate to signing up for some activity that we’re accustomed to, such as volunteering at church or working a  shift or two a week. Allocate time to a familiar activity, without over committing.

At the same time, first-year college students – and I would suggest retirees as well, need to leave their comfort zones. We will be in very different circumstances with exciting new challenges. Like freshmen, we can learn as we go and take some time to transition. Let’s not freak out if we haven’t, um, chosen a major. That can wait till sophomore year.

As we tell the kids, keep in touch with old friends but get out and meet new people. Do not expect the new friends to care about your high school, that is, City of Houston accomplishments. It’s a fresh start.

Following standard advice to new students, let’s avoid becoming sedentary, maintain our fitness, and enjoy our celebrations responsibly.

Reflecting on Change

Some officers will quit feeling nothing but sweet relief. You have colleagues who leave HPD burned out, vowing never to put on a uniform again.

For others, retirement might feel a little uncomfortable, particularly when the timing is unexpected. Handing in your badge can feel like turning in a part of your identity, leaving you fumbling for an answer to “What do you do?” We may miss the safety of structure and routine. We will certainly miss the friends who have worked with and supported us.

Work, for many of us, has been so darned interesting and fulfilling that it is difficult to conceive of leisure time being equally rewarding. Maybe we need to feel appreciated and will miss those (rare) moments when our efforts are recognized. It will be strange not to go to work, whether we need the money or not.

This enormous change can bring bittersweet emotions, including apprehension about the future. To reflect that, put a mellow or inspirational song on the retirement party playlist, along with the Paycheck and Margaritaville tunes. Green Day might work: “Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road – Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go . . .”

We are, in a sense, packing our stuff and leaving home. One door is closing and others are opening. Like freshmen, we can move on even if the paths forward aren’t clearly marked.

To my fellow retirees, congratulations, and thank you for your contributions to keeping this awesome, vibrant, growing city on a relatively even keel during crazy times. May your activities, your families and friends, and that little piece of property in the country bring you lasting happiness.

We have earned a lighter schedule, if I do say so myself, and wonderful possibilities lie ahead.