The Pre-Retirement Emotions

Over the course of my 33 1/2 year career, retirement always seemed so far off. Even though I took pre-retirement seminars in my 30s and 40s to get a sense of long-range thinking and planning, retirement was really not on my radar… until I turned 50.

It was the awareness of “a half century of existence” that triggered a huge mind shift and a process of reflection on how I wanted to spend the next half century (provided genetics permitted me to follow in the footsteps of my long-living relatives and ancestors).

There were many factors and sleepless nights that went into the decision of when it was time for me to sign off for the last time (… far too many to list in a blog post). However, without really thinking or looking too hard, it was almost like witnessing the parting of the Red Sea. It soon became obvious to me that June 2021 was the right time.

In January, I notified my manager and my colleagues of my plans, and then began the process of completing the stack of forms to formalize the decision. Once the forms were submitted and I received confirmation that everything was in order, that was the moment when I realized I had pulled the metaphoric pin on the metaphoric grenade. The countdown was on!

I don’t know if it was just me, but from there, it wasn’t a gradual trajectory from January to June. Once that decision was carved in stone, a surprising roller coaster of emotions ensued.

I was already prepared for the idea that, much like in the completion of a major project, there is joy, pride and satisfaction in a job well done.

There was also a form of grieving over the imminent change in the routine and the loss of the familiar faces with whom I collaborated for years. I reminded myself to be present and in the moment and to be appreciative for every remaining hour with what had become my extended family of colleagues.

Some days, I truly wished that this chapter of my life wouldn’t end, as I’d knew I’d be dealing with the inevitable sadness and “ugly crying” at some point along the way.

I also lived with a feeling of exhaustion. Buying, selling and moving at the beginning of the pandemic, followed by a list of overwhelming emergency home repairs left behind by the previous owners was a big drain on my energy levels.

Yet on some mornings, I woke up already wishing I was retired, prematurely instilled with the motivation to tackle some of the many projects yet to be completed around our country property.

Similarly, there were times when some of the story characters cohabitating in my subconscious were busy dictating character notes or storylines for future scripts. I took quick notes from those moments of inspiration and tried to shoo away the characters saying, “Just a few more weeks, OK? I’m not finished with work yet.”

There were some days when the weather was less than ideal that I often thought to myself that this would be a perfect day to put on some gentle tunes, make a cup of tea, and park myself on the couch with a good book, the cat snoring on my lap, and just “be” rather than “do”. I reassured myself, “those healing days will be here before we know it” as I dutifully plowed through the work day.

Some days went by at a snail’s pace while others went by so very quickly.

I believe it was the series of “the last time I…” that made the finish line feel closer: the last time I take this mandatory training course; the last time I have to do this report; the last time I have to change my password.

The strangest emotion I felt was disbelief. Because I worked in a very reactive environment, deadlines and due dates often shifted when something unexpectedly hit the fan. After three decades of that reality, I mistakenly established an association in my mind that my retirement date was also potentially subject to a delay or deferral (even though it was completely within my control). As a result, I didn’t dare count my retirement chickens until they were hatched.

When June finally arrived and we were well into the single-digit countdown days, the anticipation was building and emotions were surfacing.

For my retirement party, given the pandemic restrictions, I would have been happy with a few words at a team meeting, but my colleagues went ahead and organized a virtual event that was truly a heartwarming and a perfectly delightful send off.

The ugly cry came later when reading the email wishes from colleagues, present and past. There was a bit of a sense of “It’s a Wonderful Life” in reverse when reading their descriptions of how a gesture on my part caused a positive ripple effect in their lives. With tears streaming down my face, I was left speechless, which doesn’t happen often.

Interestingly enough, five minutes before signing off for the last time, I turned on the “Out-of-office auto reply” function in Outlook, with a message saying “I have retired… please contact… instead”. To my surprise, my emotions didn’t spill over in that moment. In fact, there wasn’t much fanfare in that step.

When it was time to go, I sent my final email to my team mates expressing my thanks for the wonderful virtual party. Again, surprisingly, no gush of emotion at that point. That was when I realized that I had already gone through the full range of pre-retirement emotions over the last six months and that the roller-coaster ride was over. I guess that I was pretty much cried out. Who knew?

Just at that moment, Ivy the Wonder Cat head-bumped her way into my home office, meowing. I turned to her and asked if it was time to go for a walk. She ran downstairs and parked herself by the pet gate, impatiently waiting for me to put the leash on her.

Once outside, we took a stroll around the property. After a few minutes, she sat down in the freshly mowed grass, to enjoy the sights, the sunny day, the perfect temperature and the gentle breeze. In realizing that I wasn’t on the clock anymore (having to return from lunch at a certain time, or to be back at a specific time for a meeting), I decided to sit down next to her and to enjoy the idyllic moment with her.

I was already starting my journey into just “being”.

We both sat there quietly, staring into the countryside, enjoying the tranquility of the moment and the calm that follows the conclusion of a busy but most enjoyable career for which I will always be most grateful.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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The Language of Rural Life

Over the course of our first year following our move from the city to the country, it became apparent that I was lacking one asset: vocabulary.

For someone who loves words, who writes a weekly blog post and who aspires to become a screenwriter in retirement, who basically eats, sleeps and dreams about writing, how can that be?

The reality is that I grew up in the suburbs of Ottawa. And by suburbs, I mean outlying parts of the city, but leaning more toward the city than the country.

Up until last year, I hadn’t been fully aware of the differences, intricacies and nuances of language simply by moving from an urban to a rural postal code. As a result, the gaps in my lexicon have left my interlocutors with squints and raised eyebrows.

The first glaring problem was my inadequate ability to distinguish between conveyances.

For example, if I was ever arriving home a little late from an errand in a neighbouring village, I might say, “Sorry, I was stuck behind a slow-moving truck on the highway.” My partner realized that I used “truck” for just about any vehicle that didn’t qualify as a car, as I later used the term to also describe every type of construction vehicle that ran across our lawn when we built our garage.

Upon realizing that “truck” was pretty vague to someone born and raised in the country, I adopted the expression “agricultural vehicle” as a seemingly more accurate catch-all term for farm vehicles. At least that would distinguish the conveyance from let’s say, a pick-up truck, a dump truck or a tractor trailer hauling “stuff” (which I should also more accurately describe as goods, crops, livestock or building supplies, as appropriate). Continue reading

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Ivy’s Outdoor Adventures

Last fall, in an effort to try to help keep Ivy the Wonder Cat’s weight under control, as an experiment, I purchased a harness and leash and to see if going out for a walk would be of interest to her. As described in the blog post “Taking the Cat for a Walk”, she surprised me as she really enjoyed it.

Over the winter months, not surprisingly, the walks got shorter and I completely respected that. I never forced the issue with her especially since getting 4 booties on her paws would likely leave me with scratch marks all over my body.

Funny enough, in bad weather, she would still meow to go out for a walk, but because she seemingly didn’t believe me when I told her that the weather outside was frightful, I would put the harness and leash on her anyway, as if we were going for a walk, as per her command. When she looked outside, saw the weather and made a u-turn back into the house, the decision was hers that this wasn’t a good day for a walk and then the meowing stopped.

But after the snow melted, our mud puddle yard dried out and the days got longer, the visits outside became longer and more frequent. In her ritual to announce that it was time for a walk, she would stand by the pet gate and meow a few times, and when I’d join her, she would walk me to where I hang my coat. She is a smart one!

Now, in late spring, the walks are definitely part of our routine. She expects them now.

Her reaction to the harness is strangely irregular. Some days, the sight of it has her running to the pet gate with great enthusiasm. Most days she stands perfectly still and even sticks her head willingly into the right loop. Other days, she puts up a huge fuss, attempting to bite me. When that happens, I learned that I just have to create a diversion to get her attention on something else, and try again one minute later. Continue reading

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Conquering the Kitchen Iceberg

When we first looked at the house, we thought that the water dispenser and ice maker feature of the refrigerator was a really fun touch.

Obviously, we didn’t buy the house on that feature alone, but once the house was ours, we started looking forward to it. Neither of us had a water and ice dispenser before, and always associated such devices to something you’d see in a hotel.

Even though we were well into the lockdown and knew we wouldn’t be inviting anyone over anytime soon, we looked forward to the eventual time when we would be entertaining, and the convenience a filtered water and ice dispenser would be for drink preparation.

When we moved in, unfortunately, it was apparent that we would not be using the feature just yet as the “replace filter” message was displayed on the dispenser. Finding the right filter was added to our growing to-do list. Plus, we were surprised to find the ice maker hardware was sitting in a kitchen cabinet. We weren’t sure why, but given that we already had our hands full with unpacking the contents of our merged households, we parked that task for another day.

A few months later, my partner located the needed water filter online, and much to our delight, it was available through Amazon. A few weeks later, between unpacking, feline demands for attention and office emergencies, I actually had some free time to read the instructions and make some time to replace the water filter.

The instructions suggested that to remove the old cartridge, I needed to pull on the cap covering the filter. Cap? What cap?

Our filter was actually exposed with no decorative cap covering it, which, when properly installed, the decorative cap actually serves as a pull tab to slide the old filter out like a drawer in under two seconds.

Without a cap, I seemingly needed three hands to push the eject button while gently removing the cartridge with two screwdrivers. With all of the strategizing, grunting, pushing, pulling and regrouping it felt like I was recreating a scene from the show “Call the Midwife”. Continue reading

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What I Know For Sure About Writing

When I attended retirement planning seminars over the course of my career, the psychologists who provided guidance on how to mentally prepare for the transition always seemed to ask the same question: What do you want to do in retirement?

To me, the answer has always been a no-brainer: writing.

My first glimmers of self-awareness about writing came in high school and university. Of all of the assignments in a students’ life, I enjoyed writing essays and compositions the most – and the longer the better – despite the groans from my fellow classmates.

When I stepped into the career world, by some strange stroke of luck, I often ended up in work teams where my colleagues were more than happy to let me raise my hand and volunteer to write lengthy reports, business cases, user manuals and web content while others would probably rather raise their hand and volunteer for root canals.

Writing tasks made me so happy because they presented learning opportunities in an area for which I held a keen interest in becoming better and better.

I enjoyed writing for my managers and executives, as it presented a unique learning opportunity to learn and adapt to their respective writing styles. With the knowledge that I wasn’t writing for me, I was writing for them, I never took personally any comments about what I produced. In fact, after working on a few memos, I truly relished getting to a point where I could receive a request, get a few key points about what is intended in the message, and go back to my desk to draft, edit and return a product that was exactly what they wanted and in their own voice. There was no greater compliment to me than when they said “André, this is like I wrote it myself!” Continue reading

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How Music Can Change One’s Mood in a Split Second

This past week, as I was out for the once-per-week, masked, sanitized, and respectfully socially-distanced grocery store run, I had one of those moments that have become all too familiar.

As I turned my king-sized grocery cart around a corner, I was disappointed to see someone going in the wrong direction, completely contrary to the arrows on the ground. I asked myself, after 13 months of Covid-19, have we not gotten the choreography down yet?

But before the cranky old man within me had a chance to fully surface and irritate me for the rest of the grocery run, the grocery store’s speaker system launched into the first notes of Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun”.

As I started humming along (hey, if there’s only 25 people allowed in the store at one time, I can softly hum with a smile under my mask) my mood instantly changed and the non-compliant grocery shopper was already deleted from my consciousness.

When you review the lyrics, it’s not like “Soak Up the Sun” is one of the cheeriest songs ever written, but the chorus, the music and its associated music video convey to me a certain lightness and free-spiritedness that have often helped me let go of some of the little irritants in life.

Have you ever noticed how songs seem to have that power over us, to – please forgive the cliché – turn a frown upside down? And have you ever been in a situation where you are driving around, enjoying a string of one good song after another, and actually hoping for red lights to slow down your commute to enjoy the tunes?

Much like with “Soak Up the Sun”, it doesn’t always have to be about uplifting lyrics, sometimes it can be all about the music itself and a skillful arrangement that just strikes the right notes to raise ones spirits or even better, to energize. Continue reading

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My Mixed Emotions Over a New iPad

You would think that I would have been over the moon with delight about purchasing a new iPad. I wasn’t. In fact, I was annoyed at having to accept defeat.

My previous iPad was purchased in 2012, and throughout its nine years with me, it has been the source of countless hours of information, education and entertainment. It has also been an indispensable work tool in the development and maintenance of the blog that you are reading now.

With my iPad, I’ve sent hundreds of emails, listened to hours of music and read several books. I’ve binge watched shows on it when I wasn’t feeling well. I’ve passed time with it in airports (long before Covid-19 came along).

To me, the iPad was probably one of the best inventions ever, combining so many devices in one, enabling me to travel lighter, especially when I commuted to work by bus. My bad back appreciated this device many times over.

You would think that I could accept that a nine year run with any technological tool is an amazing feat these days, but there is a bit of a stubborn streak within me that just couldn’t bring myself to make that admission. Continue reading

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50 Things I Did Not Miss During the Pandemic

There is no doubt that the pandemic meant huge adjustments for everyone. Everything we do was impacted in one way or another, whether that meant work, school, hobbies, shopping, cooking or cleaning.

Seeing friends and loved ones face-to-face became a risky activity. As a result, our celebrations and traditions either changed or got deferred.

Throughout the pandemic, there was a tragic loss of life and businesses suffered tragic losses as well.

While I think everyone could come up with a long list of the things that they missed during the pandemic, there might be a bit of a bright side when thinking of the things we did not miss, during the stay-at-home advisories.

Here are my top 50:

1. Commuting;
2. Driving in snow;
3. Driving in rain;
4. Driving in freezing rain;
5. The fear of driving in freezing rain;
6. Driving around potholes;
7. Driving around random road construction;
8. Driving in peak construction season when it seems that every east-west artery is under some form of road repair;
9. Navigating through traffic jams;
10. The fear of having the car break down unexpectedly and becoming the cause a traffic jam;
11. Navigating through poor road conditions when the plow hasn’t cleared the snow yet;
12. Navigating through poor road conditions even though the plow “cleared the snow”;
13. Navigating around car accidents;
14. Navigating around bad drivers;
15. Spotting a driver with their eyes on their cell phone rather than the road; Continue reading

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From the “Look It Up” Generation

It never ceases to amaze me how people use social media, to the profound exasperation of others.

Let’s just use a hypothetical example for illustration purposes: Someone posts on Instagram a picture of a flower from their garden and in the caption they say, “These are the tulips from my garden! #tulips”. Shortly thereafter, someone posts a question “What kind of flower is that?”

While I can certainly forgive an occasional lack of observation, as I have certainly experienced moments in life when I missed a metaphoric flashing neon sign right in front of me. But I usually chalk that up to rare moments of being very rushed or very tired.

It’s when someone asks a question, when the answer is right in front of them (and sometimes even hashtagged) that the cranky old man in me surfaces.

Personally, in the never ending quest of not wanting to look like an idiot, before asking a question, I usually read the caption and previous posts to be sure that my question has not already been asked and answered.

To me, it is also a matter of being considerate to the person who posted it, not demanding time of them (when they could already be super busy) to answer a question that has already been answered.

However, the practice of posting questions that have been answered is not just an occasional thing. I see it ALL THE TIME all over social media.

Similarly, I find it odd that people go to Facebook to ask questions to a wide group like “Does anyone know if Restaurant ABC…?” (insert any number of questions relating to the food they serve, special dietary needs, delivery services, restaurant hours, etc).

Most restaurants offer a variety of communication vehicles like phone number, email address, Facebook page, Instagram page, web site, online menu, etc. If that is the case, why is the question going to a forum of third parties, and not to the restaurant itself through one of the many online resources the restaurant took the time, effort and expense to make available?

I would definitely cut someone some slack, when information is either not online, hard to find or requires clarification or elaboration. I have no issue there whatsoever. But I struggle to imagine a business that does not have an online presence (especially in the post Covid-19 world), or at the very minimum, a telephone number, for such questions.

To me, it makes absolutely no sense. But then again, I was raised in a “look it up!” household.

I learned early on that when asking out loud what a word meant would almost be like casting a spell on the TV show “Bewitched”, as a dictionary would magically appear next to me within a few seconds, accompanied by the advice “look it up”. Or if I had a more elaborate question about how something worked… poof!… a volume of the encyclopedia would appear, accompanied by the same advice.

Of course, there were some questions that my parents lovingly handled themselves that related more to the complexities of human nature that might not be well served by a single book, and for that I am so grateful.

But for everything else, the “look it up” advice seemed to be the gateway to a life skill that I think make me a pretty resourceful individual.

On top of that, in the house I grew up in, there was no shortage of books but yet, I still had library card and a library three blocks away for those times I had a question I couldn’t answer from our own resources. It didn’t take much encouragement to get me to satisfy my natural curiosity with that kind of research material a few blocks away.

But today, it is absolutely astounding what someone can find online at one’s fingertips, not just from encyclopedic knowledge on just about everything, but demonstration videos, historical pieces, and opinion pieces on what seems like every subject in the universe.

We truly are in a fortunate position for the amount of information available to us. Granted, there is sometimes too much information or (not-too-surprisingly) conflicting information, and it takes a bit of research, analysis and deduction to sort all that out.

I can appreciate how for some, this might feel like homework, I truly do. But if someone cannot do this for a simple question, how will they function in the world (in a job, leading a family, or maintaining a household) if their basic research skills suck.

A Google search does not require hopping in the shower, drying your hair, getting dressed, getting your bike out of the shed, hopping on the bike, riding to the library, locking your bike, consulting the “subject” card catalogue and then scavenging the shelves to find the right book to provide the answer you are looking for.

It is so easy, yet for some, it seems like a giant leap of effort.

My friends and readers can rest assured that I am always delighted to receive feedback and questions, and I have not been in a position of repeatedly answering what was already posted.

But it is when I am scrolling through social media and rolling my eyes to the point of feeling dizzy, when the answer to questions is right in front of the readers, that it makes me want to turn it off.

I think it is safe to assume that I am not alone, having seen an April Fools post this past week about the creation of a Facebook group for questions and answers of this nature, to which many fellow readers took great joy and sarcasm in providing examples of other frivolous group pages that should be offered.

It seems to me that in this day and age, with the Internet offering limitless resources of information like never before, accessible more easily than ever before, what happened to the wonderful art of looking it up to answer to one’s natural curiosity?

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Carpeting or Hardwood Flooring?

cat modeling carpetingIn my last home, how many sleepless nights did I spend worrying about the big question: hardwood flooring versus wall-to-wall carpeting?

Too many!

There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer, nor does there seem to be a reliable guide for reassuring a homeowner of the correct answer before one sinks several thousand dollars into an option that one needs to live with for years to come.

And of course the question of resale invariably comes up. Will the option I choose be the one that will encourage buyers or have them running away screaming, leaving me with a house that won’t sell in a slow market? … No pressure!

When I moved into my last place, which was before meeting my life partner and in the year I refer to as 2001 BC (“before cat”), the decision was entirely mine to make.

My usual approach to striking a happy medium when faced with an analysis paralysis of options might be to do a little of both. Mind you, the monotony of carpeting throughout was already broken up by outdated gold vinyl flooring in the kitchens, bathrooms and entry hall. Would adding a third flooring material be a bad thing?

If I recall correctly, I believe I was traumatized by a home renovation show on TV around that time, when a designer referred to a home that used multiple flooring options as a Frankenstein style of decorating. I think that was enough to scare me off that idea, no matter how tastefully I tried to plan it out.

In the first five years I lived there, I don’t think any visitor was spared from being polled for their thoughts on carpeting versus hardwood. Continue reading

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