Co-written with Zachary Berman, rising fifth grader.
My Grandson was bored. All the other adults and children were busy.
He asked, “How do you know when to retire?”
I replied,”Well, first, you might want to be old enough -- maybe more than 10 years old.” (He laughed). “Then there are financial considerations. When you have enough money to live for the rest of your life it might be a good time to retire.”
He thought and then added, “You also need to plan for the unexpected. Maybe you and I should write about retirement.”
I nodded, but explained that, “Neither you nor I are an expert on the finances of retirement. But there is one part of being retired that we are both experts at -- making friends.” He nodded in agreement. “After all, you just changed schools this year and seem to be doing quite well in that regard. Why don’t we write about that?”
I began, “The way I make friends is simple. I talk with everyone I meet. I find people fascinating: the person next to me on the bus, the guard at the swimming pool, the mother and child at the checkout line.” However true this might be for me, not everyone feels that way. Others need structured activities to form connections. Regardless, in order to find friends, there are five questions one needs to answer:
- How have you made friends in the past?
- What qualities do you appreciate, and what qualities do you have to offer?
- Is their profession, in the past or present, of importance?
- Will who their other friends are, or who their family is, impact your friendship?
- Now that you have the time, what are the hobbies or activities that you want to do? How much time will they actually take? Do you want to play golf, bridge, or some other game? If so, how many times a week? Many of the leisure activities that you love you will need to find others for companionship and to play with. How will you do that?
- What is missing in your friendship circle currently that you need? Is it a shoulder to cry on, a quick-thinker, a problem-solver, or just someone who makes you laugh? Or is it just someone you enjoy spending time with? Think of what you need from others that you won’t be getting enough of once you leave work.
My Grandson considered this, then asked “Well, what happens with your work friends? Do they stay your friends when you retire or do you have to make new ones?”
I responded, “Well, it is the same as going to a new school. The people are different and don’t know you. You probably keep one or two of your very special old friends, but you need to make new friends, too, because the old ones aren’t around. The new kids, for example, don’t know you’re smart. So you have to find a way to prove yourself. Or maybe, you were very popular and used to a lot of praise and adoration; who will give that to you? For grownups, it’s pretty much the same thing. Maybe there was always a colleague they had drinks with; who will be that person for them after they retire? Maybe the other people looked up to them because of their title or their expertise. How will they get that respect now? You already know from your old friends that while they’re special, that one friend can’t fulfill all your needs. That’s why a network of friendships can help to enrich your life in meaningful ways.”
He understood ,then said, “You can hang out with me all the time, Mama Ruth!”
I smiled. “That’s very sweet, but you’re going to grow up and be very busy with studying and your own friends.Grownups find that their toddler grandchildren grow up, and their kids are off to their jobs. Some of the other people they know may be busy traveling, working, or doing other things that please them. They get to go and try new things, go new places, and along the way, meet new friends.”
“In school we have clubs and after-school activities. Where do grownups go and what do they do?”
“Some people join organization, like the church, the synagogue, the mosque or other places of worship. No matter where they are, or what activities they choose, it's the new friends that will enrich life. Everyone needs to create a plan for making new friends any time they move physically, or come to a new stage of life. It might be through politics or volunteering. But friendships won't happen by magic. You need to make the effort to not only be in groups but to engage with the individuals in these groups.That means talking to others, suggesting ideas, and being open to discussions.”
He seemed happy with my answer. I then asked him, “What advice would you give people, especially because you just experienced such a big change by switching schools? How do you make friends?”
Here is the advice from a ten year old.
- Even the smallest interaction can lead to a friendship. “Like I asked a kid, ‘Is this your jacket?’ We got talking…”
- You need to like the same things. Participate in groups that share your interests: chess, robotics, sports….it doesn’t matter what, but you both need to care about it.
- You need to spend time together. Get to know each other, and put time and effort into fostering lasting relationships. People can tell when you care and when you’re interested.
Although my Grandson is perhaps 60 years off from retirement, he is learning to adapt to new circumstances in his life. Like my Grandson, you have already experienced change in your life and have had to build new support systems. You have the skills to be retired. Use them.