What Do Cooking & Retirement Have in Common?

Jul 14, 2020 by Mary R. Donahue, Ph.D

One of the unexpected benefits of spending so much time at home as a result of the Corona virus pandemic is that I am spending much more time in my kitchen. For years I have saved recipes to try – “one day when I have more time”.  I have recipe folders categorized by titles such as appetizers, entrees, salads etc.  The recipes in them are sort of an extravagance of riches.  My dilemma became where to begin; and which recipes did I want to try first?  


As I thought about it, I realized that in a way this is similar to what we feel when confronted by thoughts of retirement. When we think about retiring, we go through many, many thoughts and feelings and suddenly we don’t know where to begin.  Although, retirement has much greater ramifications than what recipe to try first, the process is really the same and it begins with the question, “where do I start?”


In my cooking project, I prioritized the recipes and created a list. When initially facing retirement, you should do the same thing. I confess there are times I feel guilty about enjoying the time in my kitchen as much as I am. I find myself looking over my shoulder thinking I should really be doing something more productive and meaningful, not that I know what that might be since we’re all quarantined at home. 


This again brought me to realize the analogies between quarantining and retirement. As I have semi-retired from my practice, one of the more difficult things for me was accepting that I didn’t have to keep to a schedule imposed by my work. Alex and I address this issue in much greater detail in Your Next Chapter. What we heard from our readers is that many experienced similar feelings and were questioning whether or not what they were feeling was true of others. Many wondered if this is normal or if there is something wrong with me?


I relate it to following one of my saved recipes. I go through a gamut of questions such as “am I doing it correctly?” “Will it turn out all right?” “Will I like it, etc?”  In the kitchen, I finally just let myself enjoy what I was doing without questioning every step. More often than not I was pleased with the final product, but if I didn’t like it, I didn’t beat myself up.  I decided if I wanted to try it again with some modifications, or if it was something I was going to let go of and just move on to another recipe.


The important piece (whether it be retirement planning or cooking) is to know what things you are able to change once implemented, and what things you cannot change. For example, in some cases, if I don’t like a particular spice in a recipe, I omit it or substitute something else and it turns out fine. On the other hand, leaving out something essential will inevitably change the  result dramatically. The key is to know the difference. For example, I can’t bake bread without using yeast, but I can use a variety of flours and seasonings if I so choose, depending on what I am trying to create. The same is true of retirement planning. There are some key “ingredients” that must be addressed, but there are also subtle variations to each person’s plan depending on their wants and needs. 


Whether or not you have planned for your retirement, the actuality of retirement results in many adjustments. Some are anticipated and some are not.  No matter how prepared you are, transitions usually take time to absorb. You may feel you are on an emotional rollercoaster, but know that it will get better. 


Being provided with the ingredients in any given recipe has become my starting point. I have become bolder with making changes based on my taste and or the tastes of whomever I am serving.  So too, as you move into your retirement years, you need to identify what you need to have in your plan that you cannot change, and what you might like to try to include in the plan for Your Next Chapter.