“Whatever you think you are going to do in retirement- travel, paint or write the Great American novel – if you aren’t doing it now, you’re not going to do it then.”

– Author whose name I forget

The article was aimed at people in their fifties and older, who, presumably, had adequate time to figure out their priorities in life. The point the author was making was that if you are not doing something at all right now, if you can’t find any time to fit it in between work, family and social life, then clearly it is not important enough to you to be the center of your life five years from now.

I’ve failed at retirement a couple of times already. That is, I have declined to renew contracts or resigned from a job, then, within a few weeks or less, gotten bored and gone right back to work. Before the last unsuccessful attempt, when I told one of my friends I was going to retire he said he didn’t believe me. When I was annoyed that he would doubt me, he said,

You? Retire? I don’t believe it. What you are telling me is that you are going to turn into a completely different person. I’ve known you most of your life and you have always had two, even, three jobs.

– Jake Flores

Did you learn anything from the pandemic?

Several people I knew died during the pandemic, six of them due to COVID-19 and another two from cancer. Four of my friends had strokes and two ended up in the hospital with heart attacks – and all of them are within a few years of my age.

Up until the pandemic, I had been a workaholic in the not-so-good sense of the word. The Dakota believe that what a person does in the first year after someone close to them dies is the path they’ll be on going forward. So, people are not supposed to make major decisions, quit a job, get remarried, during the first year after a death.

When my husband, Ron, died, I quit drinking for the year. I’d never been a big drinker but I could see how someone could start drinking to ease the pain and it would be a slippery slope. Instead, I worked all of the time. I paid off the medical bills, funeral bills and overdue taxes in two years. Then, I just kept working. That’s not a bad thing. I brought millions of dollars in grant money to communities that needed it, providing hundreds of jobs and better education for thousands of students.

Still, when my daughter, Ronda, won two Espy awards from ESPN, I was sitting in the back on my computer working on a grant. She said to me,

Mom, would your life really be different if you hadn’t spent one hour writing that grant and had paid attention to the acceptance speech instead, the one that I had worked on really hard and where I gave you credit?”

I’ve thought about Ronda’s comment a lot since then, and even more since the pandemic. The people who passed away in the past three years included my very dear friend, Willie Davis, Dr. Martin Bregman, a judo instructor who I’d known since I was 12 years old, Tammie Putnam, a woman I’d worked with at Spirit Lake for many years, Gaylon Klimpel, my friend Evelyn’s husband, who I met on my first full-time job as a professor, back in 1990, Charlie Morin, a school principal, who had approved the very first test in schools of the very first educational game my company ever developed. Two of my best friends, Lanny Clark and Jake Flores, both had strokes.

All of it brought front and center to me something I always knew.

This, what you do every day, is your life

The last few years, I set out to prove Jake wrong. Yes, I still work every day. In fact, I’m writing this after I just quit working at 9 pm on Saturday before New Year’s Eve.

However, I started dropping contracts that weren’t exactly what I wanted to be doing at that moment. Traveling to North Dakota in the winter? Yeah, not doing that any more. Instead, I went to Cabo San Lucas in January and Montego Bay Jamaica in December, with trips to visit Minneapolis (both for work and to visit family), Kauai and Molokai in between.

When Jennifer sends me a text and says, “Hey, do you mind if I bring the girls over to your house today?” I always say, “Sure, no problem.”

When Maria says, “I’m pitching the company in San Diego next week, do you want to come down?” the answer is, “Yes.”

When my friend, Allen, says, “Hey, you want to come out sailing on my boat?” Yes.

A good life is the big things and the small things

Whether retired or not, a good life is made up of a lot of small moments, like when I asked my three-year-old granddaughter, Jo, “Do I look good in this elf hat?” and she very diplomatically stuttered, “Um, you look, uh – ” and when Julia asked her “Do I look good?” she immediately shouted, with relief, “Yes!”

She was right, I should not take up a second career as Santa’s helper , and Julia and I fell into each other laughing so hard.

It’s little moments like seeing my two-year-old granddaughter, Po, touching a starfish for the first time, and then having lunch with Ronda while we discuss the crazy, winding paths our lives have taken.

All of my grandchildren - so far

It’s FINALLY getting a photo with all eight of my grandchildren.

It’s also the bigger things, like going to Jamaica or making the finals of the National Science Foundation VITAL Prize. It’s fixing bugs in the evening and releasing a new game.

Maybe Jake’s right and I will never spend a month just lying on the beach. However, as I’m already “retirement age”, I am making more of my life every day be doing just what I want to be doing at that moment. So, if I ever do retire, I’ll be ready.

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