Sometimes I think the temptations of retirement are all smoke and mirrors…a temptation that is more daydream than daylight. I only say that because I am still a few years from that magical date, and each step I take to get closer feels like two steps backwards.

Retirement means different things to different people. The joy of not having to punch a time clock, sleeping in late, free mornings to walk and exercise and free afternoons to meet friends for lunch or book reads, are all within the realm of possibility. You finally have time to write that novel, travel to exotic places, learn to cook like the Iron Chef, and perfect your gardening or golfing techniques.

Alas, most of the above is also more daydream than daylight. We often have to take part time jobs to make ends meet, we have more aches and pains than ever before, our kids are often too busy for us, and our funds are more than limited. To make matters worse, we have tripled the amount of things we want to do, leaving us attempting some and completing none.

I often think life is one giant slinky twisting and turning and stretching out both in front and behind us, mixing glimpses of the future and the past until we can’t tell if we’re better off or not. I believe the older we get the more creative we become, running parallel but opposite to the energy level we have. The more we try and stay in shape, the more our shape changes. The more ideas we have the less time we have to execute them. We had more energy when we were younger but less focus. More drive, less direction.

When we were younger, we didn’t have a whole lot of time to do anything but work and raise kids. I bet you can’t count the number of soccer games, choral concerts, teacher/parent conferences, and science projects you were a part of during your “childbearing” years. Every time we tried to put money aside for “retirement” the hot water heater would go or we’d need a second car.

Then there were jobs and jobs and jobs. How many sandwiches have you brought for lunch? How many nights did you stay late? How many meetings did you attend? And how many vacation days did you earn a year? We rarely had time to plan for the weekend, less the future.

Yet pre-, mid-, and post- retirement are the busiest days of our lives. Now that those golden gates loom about seven years ahead of me, it seems I am busier than ever. I want to spend time with my grand-kids, write a blog, remodel my house, go on vacation, go to library readings, get into photography, go to fests and picnics and dinners with family and friends…the list goes on and on. I’m already on burnout time. What will I do when I actually do have more time?

In defense of retirement, it is just rewards for all we’ve been through. Maybe not the kind of reward we expected, but certainly one worth waiting for. Your rules and structures are not as rigid as when you punched that time clock, but you find yourself structuring your mind’s time clock instead. You are free to read more, explore more, and create more. You can make more time to try new recipes, take a class, or visit friends. You can help others and help yourself. Your experience makes you a teacher; your time makes you an asset.

My father-in-law retired when he was 55. A dream, a goal, he had all his life. He moved from Chicago to the North Woods of Wisconsin, and followed his dream of becoming a fishing guide. He found out the hard way that dreams cost money, and had to work quite a few more years to make ends meet. His house was small, his pension smaller. But he was the busiest retired fisherman I ever knew.

I once asked him when he was going to slow down. After all, he was retired. He told me that he’d slow down when he died. In the meantime there was way too much living to do.

That was the best retirement advice I’d ever gotten.

And if his retirement dreams were smoke and mirrors, I will gladly blow smoke and polish mirrors every day until I get there, too.