This thing called retirement


Elizabeth Lee: Making the transition from work to retirement.

By Elizabeth Lee

So what’s this thing called retirement all about?  I am 68 and I retired almost a year ago from my position as a grantwriter for the largest social service agency in Santa Barbara County.  Before that, I was a community mediator and director of an alternative dispute resolution program in a rural northern California county, and before that the director of a Head Start delegate agency in San Diego. I had my first summer job when I was 16. Lots of shorter jobs and volunteering in between 16 and 68 – whew! I was soooo ready to go! If I had had to write another grant proposal, I would have dissolved into a (rather resentful) puddle of green slime.

The day came! I was feted and congratulated! I basked in mornings without having to pry myself out of bed and rush to work. I still appreciate not having to rush everywhere (forget those screaming drives to the YMCA at noontime, and screaming drives back to the office!).

Then I came face to face with Medicare.  It was going to cost me $435 per month for one of the medications I was taking!  So I foolishly decided to take myself off it without letting my doctor know.  Whammo – I dropped almost overnight into the abyss of depression.  With treatment, therapy and a new source of the medicine at an affordable price, I am back on my feet again.

ELee abstract landscape

“Abstract Landscape” by Elizabeth Lee.

But still, how do I define myself now that my working identity is gone?  I’m not quite ready for giant steps, but I have been taking art classes.  First I took abstract painting.  It was fun and freeing.  Okay, I did produce some works that I was happy to paint over – like one that looked for all the world like a depiction of Pepto Bismol in the digestive system.  And I had to teach my dear husband not to look quizzical or scratch his head when I brought my pictures home from “school.”  I told him, “Just say wow.” He obeyed.  And I began doing things I actually liked!

Now I am taking collage/mixed media.  It requires much more thinking, and I spend quite a bit of time sleuthing for materials.  I creep around the house opening drawers and explore the far reaches of our overstuffed garage.  The one thing I have refused to do is go out and buy something to use – I rely on found materials, including those from nature.  So our most recent assignment was to create an assemblage centering on the theme of birds. Pretty, pretty birdies.  I found myself rebelling like an adolescent.  And one day I walked into the bathroom, where I spied upon the windowsill my little rubber duckies (in a row, of course).  Feeling mischievous, I decided to hang the duckies from the top of the cigar box with which we had been provided, each from a tiny noose.  Voila! The title of the art piece is “Dead Ducks.”  I hope its viewers are rewarded with a chuckle.

ELee dead ducks

“Dead Ducks” by Elizabeth Lee.

The art classes are definitely helping me to find my new identity, but there is a lot more exploration to be done.  So far, retirement has been a hell of a zig zag path.  It’s a big transition, after all, and one full of opportunity – but I am still learning how and what to make of it.


Elizabeth Lee is embarking upon retirement after a lifetime of working in the nonprofit sector with children, adults in conflict, family violence issues, and raising money for programs for youth and the elderly.  After almost 40 years in California, she still identifies with her roots on the East Coast, in New Jersey, upstate New York and New England.  She is married to frequent VOA contributor Al Rodriguez.

Editor’s note: It takes a special woman to put up with the shenanigans of my best friend, Al Rodriguez. With her sass and multitude of charms, Elizabeth is that very special woman. So happy to visit them in Santa Barbara from time to time and to welcome her as a first-time VOA contributor.

Tomorrow: Gosia Wozniacka, The memory keeper

9 thoughts on “This thing called retirement

  1. Elizabeth, great article. I would bet that most people who retire from a very active and productive career explore a number of activities before finding a good fit. My experience was that eventually I really appreciated the fact that there were no daily demands on my time. I could wake up and start my day at 5:30 a.m., or maybe 9:30 a.m. I could work in the yard, go for a bike, or visit a friend, all in no particular order.

  2. Elizabeth – I am almost 61 and both excited and terrified of retirement. On the one hand, what a luxury, but on the other … well, whatever will I do with myself?!? I love that you are pushing yourself to learn new things and you inspire me to consider the opportunities now that lie before me just four years from now! I love the dead duck piece, by the way … you seem to have a sense of humor!!

  3. I applaud your diving into art classes. And Al for replying “Wow” as instructed. Art classes in school were difficult for me – I can’t imagine trying again as an adult. Cheers to you on your life work achievement and here’s to new beginnings!

  4. People think it’s easy to have a lot of leisure. The ironic thing is it isn’t . You need structure to feel fulfilled I guess. But looks like you are doing great. Your abstract landscape makes me want to take art lessons.

  5. Elizabeth, my dear friend. I appreciate your perspective. After all, I live with a recent retiree. And in my observations, I agree. It is a zig zag path. Take your time with your commitments. Fill your time with what you are passionate about. But continue to aim high and not sell yourself short.

  6. I’m with Lynn. I long for retirement, but the older I get I wonder if it’s right for me. I’m thinking semi-retired is the way to go. When my SS maxes out (which is hopefully before I reach my expiration date) I think I’ll try to find a way to work part time, keep the benefits, and keep the social network that I enjoy where I’m at, which is a great company. I like your abstract painting, Elizabeth!

  7. I LOVE “Dead Ducks!”
    “Keep on swimming,” as Dory says. You’ll find the a new current/a new normal. Cheers to that!

  8. Absolutely the best of luck to you, Elizabeth! Retirement is one thing, but right now what I fear most is life without my daughters in a couple ten years or so! What will I do then??? I suppose empty nesting will be a good practice round for retirement, eh?

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