For The First Time: One Woman’s Journey from Career to Retirement
Table of Contents
Chapter Three – Two Months Left and I’m Finally Getting Ready to Go
Chapter Four – Teetering on the Brink
Chapter Five – Into The Abyss
Chapter Six – Navigating Stormy Waters
Chapter Seven – Starting to Experience it All: The First Six Months
Chapter Eight – Meanding Through the Rest of the First Year of the Rest of Life
Chapter Ten – Year Three: Becoming Rooted
Chapter Eleven – Creating the Future: A Neverending Story
One of my colleagues is retiring the end of this month. Her willingness to share information about the process – the paperwork, the forms to complete, the timelines – has been of great benefit. One of the key things she warned me about is that it takes close to 6 months to get all of the paperwork in order, and so I should put a red mark on my calendar for when that letter needed to be submitted. In the end I sent that letter with the same kind of thinking that I used when I jumped off a crane attached to a bungee chord some years earlier; you can’t procrastinate forever and sometimes … YOU JUST HAVE TO TAKE THE LEAP AND TRUST THAT YOU’LL ENJOY THE FLIGHT.
In my first weeks and months (and I wonder if it will be years) of retirement I have certainly had to look more than one dragon in the eye.
When I was first thinking about writing this book, I talked with one of the women in my aquafit class at the gym who had retired a few years ago and mentioned that I thought there would be many identity issues upon retirement. Her response to my comment was a resounding “yes”. This wasn’t exactly reassuring to me because now I knew for sure it would be an issue but I didn’t know how to address it.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, my identity was rooted in being somebody’s daughter. Then I was defined as being somebody’s wife (but, as a feminist, and given my personal in-and-out-of-wifehood history, I can’t hang myself on that particular hook anyhow). Somebody’s mother, a teacher, somebody’s grandmother, somebody’s friend … and on the list can go.
So, from my perspective today I’m looking out into the abyss of retirement. I don’t have answers, but I do have so many questions floating across the horizon. Still and all, I don’t see why abyss can’t have a positive meaning too. Just because something is an unfathomable void doesn’t mean that there aren’t wonderful things hidden in it, even if the unknown scares us.
Dragons Fueled by Resentment
I’m bursting with excitement about retiring in four months. Thoughts of the future fill my mind and spirit in much the same way that I felt when I was pregnant with my first child and focused on what was coming. Of course, then there’s that time after your first baby is born when you speak with joyful delight and enthusiasm about sleeping habits and spitting up; conversations that to your friends – even your good friends – soon become tedious … at least for them. Today, more than I have for a long time, I feel a lightness in my step and in my heart as I dream about being able to choose, each day, what new adventure I will undertake. And yet, the issue of resentment has come up in conversations with a number of friends in the past week, which doesn’t surprise me because I think that I’ve seen it on the faces of some of my colleagues as well. I asked one of my good friends if she’d feel resentful when I was retired and she still had to work; being a good friend she answered honestly: “Some!.” I’ve lost track of how many times this week one of my colleagues has made reference to the fact that soon I’ll be “free”, that the challenges we’re still working through each day in the office will soon not be my worry. The words come with smiles, but there’s also an edge to the comments that concerns me. Then there’s the inner dragon. It does, indeed, get harder each week to stay really engaged in the work. Doing strategic planning for projects that I can dream up, but won’t work on, is a double-edged sword. Part of me is disengaging each day; another part of me is struggling to maintain the same level of care and commitment to my work that I’ve always had.
|SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT:
How will you stay fully involved in your work until you retire?
What will you say (or do) when you feel that colleagues are treating you as if you’d already “left the building”?
How will you navitage your own excitement about starting a new phase of life given that many of the people that you love aren’t free to do the same? Or, as we say at work, how will you mitigate resentment?
Can I Be Happy Without a Plan?
May something good happen to you today that you didn’t plan.
That’s what I saw written on a sign in front of a building as my daughter, grand-daughter and I walked along the street a few days ago. It was one of those ‘ah ha’ moments for me. Something about that sign kept drawing me back. It wasn’t the wish for something good to happen today; that kind of sentiment is generic and pretty much always there. It was the ‘that the you didn’t plan’ part that really caught my eye … and my heart. Have you ever heard the saying “life is what happens while we’re making plans”? In my case it would be more like life is what happens in spite of the plans that I didn’t quite make.
Sure, I knew when I was young that you were supposed to have a plan. As early as primary school we kept being asked what we’d be when we grew up. One of the first books I remember reading was Nurse Nancy, in which the line “Nancy was a nurse, so Nancy knew” was repeated over and over again. The book also came with bandages in the back cover which was most impressive to a 5 year old. So for a while I wanted to be a nurse. By Grade 7, I remember that my answer was that I’d like to be a nuclear physicist – a radical notion for a girl in 1959. I didn’t have any idea what that was but it seemed that nobody else really knew either and it was the kind of response that didn’t generate any follow-up questions which suited me just fine. I guess there was a feminist already lurking inside of me somewhere! In Grade 9 my response was “a high-class madam” which also ended the conversation quickly. By the time I finished my doctorate, I had been a student at 6 universities in 3 countries on 2 continents. Yup, you guessed, not much of a plan to get me from start to finish.
I didn’t really plan a family either, at least not in a very thorough way. Sure, I guess I always thought that someday I’d have children but beyond that generic thought I didn’t spend much time speculating about when or how many (although 6 was a number that kept popping to mind). One summer we house-sat for a couple with a young child and suddenly that seemed like a really good idea. Just a bit over a year later my first son was born. I did think that one child wasn’t quite enough and since I’d already given up the spontaneity that you have only before you have children I couldn’t see any reason to wait to have a second; 13 months and 5 days later my daughter was born. A few years later, not feeling quite “done” yet, a third child – second son – joined the family. It was more a stirring in the heart than a planning I think.
So, no careeer plan and no family plan.
Here I am now, 60 years old, and retired. I thought I was being so wise to think a lot about retirement before leaving work, actually attempting something remotely like planning. What I’ve discovered over the past year is that planning has gotten much better press than it deserves. It’s far too akin to control I think and, in the same way, leaves you believing that your plan has something to do with how things turn out. It’s that old expectation stuff again; you plan, you anticipate, life happens, you struggle. Or not.
Meanwhile, there’s something so freeing in just being happy with what I didn’t plan. Takes a lot of pressure off, doesn’t it?
May something good happen to you today that you didn’t plan.