I turned 30 and moved into a retirement community for 2 years. Here’s what I learned
On March 13, 2020, I was flying from New York to Florida to visit my parents for the weekend, carry-on suitcase in tow and excited to escape the cold for a few days. The pandemic hit and a weekend turned into two years.
Like many in the corporate world, my company went remote indefinitely. I couldn’t reason with paying New York City rent until I knew for sure we’d be returning to the office. So, I stayed. I had just turned 30 years old and was back living with my parents in their retirement community — yes, a literal retirement community. This ruffled some feathers since I was clearly under 55, the minimum age requirement for residents, but there were just as many people who were excited to see a young person hanging around. I slowly started making friends with people almost triple my age.
At first it was fun, like living on a cruise ship. I went to bingo on Mondays and Tuesdays. Thursdays were burger night at the clubhouse. On Fridays, there was live music and dancing. You could vote for the president, get vaccinated and see an Elvis impersonator all without leaving the neighborhood.
But after a few months, an identity crisis ensued as I found myself surrounded by golf carts, water aerobics, shuffleboard games and estate sale shopping. I attended board meetings where hot-button topics included purchasing new patio furniture for the community pool. On multiple occasions, I witnessed ambulances rushing to the houses of our elderly neighbors. (Don’t worry — they are all OK.)
The time has come for me to return to New York, but not before reflecting on life lessons learned from two years of being the youngest person in the room. Some of them are serious, some less so, but I think all of them are valuable.
5 p.m. is too early to eat dinner
I’m just going to say it: The early bird special is not all it’s cracked up to be.
When the world first shut down, my parents and I would joke that after breakfast we should just stay sitting at the table until lunch because there was nowhere else to go.
We got on a 5 p.m. dinner schedule and while early bird dinners out included half-off appetizers and no crowds, when 8 p.m. rolled around, I’d be standing in the refrigerator light kicking myself for not taking home the leftovers.
Of course, now when friends suggest a 7:30 p.m. dinner reservation, I enter into a slight state of panic. How will I wait that long to eat?!
Doctors are your friend
Living in a retirement community made it clear to me how much the habits we create now matter later in life.
Reminders of our health are everywhere. Doctors often come to the clubhouse and perform preventative scans at discounted rates. We recently got a piece of mail offering a free lunch to attend a “benefits of cremation” seminar — a grim reminder that our days are numbered.
Hot tip: AARP Magazine is an abundance of riches when it comes to health education and preventative practices. Don’t wait until you’re 80 to read about things you should be doing at 30.
I’ve visited more doctor’s offices in the last two years than I ever made time for pre-pandemic and I’m glad I did. It’s easy to let regular checkups take a backseat now that our schedules are filling up again, but I’m vowing to continue to prioritize my health so that, God willing, when I’m 80, I’ll be the first one on the dance floor.
Don’t wait to be retired to do all the things retired people do
I now fully understand the saying that “youth is wasted on the young.” If you’re a millennial like me, your Friday night probably does not consist of bingo, a Tom Collins and the electric slide. Yet this is an exact snapshot of my life. And, well, it’s awesome.
The retirees I met know how to have fun — even if it sometimes gets them in trouble. In our community, people can get “written up” by other residents for misbehaving. Believe it or not, it happens often for reasons such as dancing too provocatively at the clubhouse or honking your golf cart horn too early in the morning!
The mentality of working hard now to enjoy life later is something I fundamentally disagree with. I think now is when we’re supposed to enjoy life. Even as I return to the office and get settled into a new routine, it’s important to me to carve out time for pure and simple fun — and maybe a game of bingo every now and then.
You don’t have to have it all together to feel like you have it all
Before the pandemic, I equated who I was with what I do and where I lived. It’s easy to build your life around those things. But my life is so much more than that.
I got to experience so many precious moments I wouldn’t have been able to if I didn’t move back home — but only when I stopped to take them in. Family dinners, watching my parents dance in the kitchen, chatting about life while on an evening walk, playing board games, cooking with my mom, taking a ride with my dad in his classic car with the windows down listening to Springsteen, or just pausing to breathe in fresh air and gaze at the palm tree branches swaying in the wind. I’ll never regret slowing down to be present in moments like these and I’m grateful for all of it.
Of course, I have a million questions about what’s ahead. The other day I was looking at a turbulence forecast before a flight and thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could forecast turbulence in our lives? Imagine if we could see when things were going to get rocky and when they’d smooth out again.”
But I’ve come to realize that the absence of knowing is the presence of faith. It made me think of this quote by Rachel Remen: “Perhaps the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.”
I do not need to have all the answers to move forward — just a grateful heart, a good spirit and, hopefully, continued hip mobility for decades to come.