Navigating the transition into retirement years

Jane Barcott is guest columnist for May 23, 2014.

For most of us, retirement will be somewhere between those commercials with the silver-haired couple strolling the beach, contemplating how to spend their millions, and those eating cat food in a tar-paper shack.

There's no retirement training, yet most of us will experience it and we could use a guide to navigate this transition.

Here's what I have learned so far.

Maintenance is everything.

There are a few of us who can run marathons and I applaud them. However, aging is like a owning 12-year-old car: Patch one thing and something else breaks down. It is a constant test of resilience. It takes consistent effort to maintain my physical well being so that the rest of the day is enjoyable.

Gratitude is next.

One of the joys of aging is the sheer beauty of ordinary things: a baby learning to walk, the light through the trees at sunset, the smell of coffee in the morning.

This is a time when we can let our guard down and glory in this fine world around us. It is the ability to be touched that keeps us alive.

Humility comes with age, too. I have always been reluctant to ask for help, but now I cannot avoid it. I am dependent on the willingness of others. My neighbors change my air filters; my friends take me to appointments.

I wish I knew this when I was younger. It has made me more conscious of extending a helping hand, of offering assistance before it is asked. It is easier now to appreciate others for who they are, not what they are.

I consider failing a retirement benefit.

In the rush to get through school, raise a family and have a career, failure had consequences best avoided. I have always wanted to play the piano, despite a lifetime bereft of musical talent. This was the time to experiment. I poured my heart, time and money into two years of piano lessons and ... I was straight-up awful!

If I had to read music, keep time and use the foot pedal, the piece inevitably unraveled like a cheap sweater.

It is painful to realize that time and effort don't always yield results, but I am so happy I tried. I still walk by the piano and want to give it a swift kick.

I have since taken up painting, which suits me better.

I was not blessed with a close family, so I especially value friendships.

Young and old, Charlestonians are particularly welcoming. I would encourage each generation to interact with another. The young bring energy and hope; the elders have patience and no longer need to prove anything.

I am flattered when my young friends invite me to their parties and appreciate the vitality of my peers. We love to laugh!

None of us will make it through our later years unscathed.

Loss is part of the bigger picture of life and serves to remind us to appreciate our daily blessings.

By all means, take care of your financial planning, but money is only part of retirement. How you choose to use this time matters.

Jane Barcott lives in West Ashley with a very bossy dachshund.