What will it be?

retirement_road

As I moved through the first day of my retirement, everyone kept asking me what I had done all day, as if my work day had to be supplanted with something. Right?

Our society is fueled by work. We learn a trade as young adults and then we practice that brand of work in order to earn the currency that is traded for it. That currency then is traded for our lives. Literally. We eat, we have a roof to sleep under, we clothe ourselves. So, we must then work some more to sustain the whole thing.

Is it any surprise to anyone, then, that we align our entire identity with the most visible talisman of our worth? The one that sustains and insures that the wheels stay on the track of our existence?

When we stop working, what happens to the whole system then? In the case of retirement (because there are people who intentionally jump ship earlier on purpose), we have traded all that currency as long as is necessary in our society, and hopefully have enough to sustain us throughout. Until we die.

Maybe that’s the rub. We realize that our end is breathing down our necks, a salivating beast that we cannot hope to outrun. Many people avoid retirement at all costs, fearing what lies on the other side of that alarm clock that jangles them awake at the crack of dawn.

Others fill it up with more work. We’ll see how I do.

“The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.”
Vince Lombardi

 

 

 

Retirement 101: Who ARE you?

retirement flip flops

What is your immediate response when someone asks, “Tell me about you”?

Go ahead. Answer that question. Quick! I’ll wait.

I bet the first piece of information you share–and probably the first one you even though of–was your job. You are a teacher, or an attorney, or a DJ, or a retail clerk.

But what happens when that magical, golden moment called “retirement” arrives at the end of your driveway….the one you no longer have to leave at the crack of dawn? Even partially, when you have the ability to leave your primary profession and cut back a bit? Maybe work just enough to keep fun money in your pocket for travel, bird watching, or dance lessons?

Who are you then?

I am about to find out. Join me as I enter this new world, the one where I will find out if I have an identity apart from my work.

See you tomorrow! After all, I don’t have anywhere to go.

Retirement is wonderful. It’s doing nothing without worrying

about getting caught at it. ~Gene Perret

 

 

18 days……

I think our capacity for life increases right along with our waist line as we age. That’s got to be it, right?

If you had told me six months ago that I would be getting up at 4:50 every morning to get to a full-time job 25 miles away from my nice warm bed, I would have had some choice words for you. It had been over 10 years since I had been in a regimented schedule, one that took me away from my morning sanctuary on my outside patio, complete with pot-bellied stove, visiting birds, coffee, and my newspaper.

But life plays tricks on us. That doesn’t seem to stop, either, as we age. I wish I could tell my young friends otherwise; but let’s look at the rainbow side of this equation.

I am finding new reserves of adaptability and calmness in the midst of this new challenge, and I can’t help but think that my acquired wisdom—the knowledge gathered and stored like a squirrel’s stash of nuts for the winter—is supporting me now.

I have always had issues with depression in the morning. Every day. EVERY. DAY. It is a miracle that I ever kept a job of any kind, if it required rising before dawn, moving with purpose, and getting somewhere on time. I think that’s the definition of most jobs, right? Throw in doing all of that as a single parent from the time my daughter was about 4, and then showing up to face a roomful of teenagers who didn’t want to be there, either, and it’s a miracle to me now that I didn’t allow the depression to win.

But, we do what we have to. That was the mantra in our house, one that my now-adult daughter lives by, too. You just do it. You get up and you move. The depression always lifted after an hour or so, something I came to understand and accept. No thinking allowed, simply face it head on, step into it and then come out the other side. Where the sun is shining again and life doesn’t look so dreary and hopeless. (And stay away from the telephone to call in sick; I would never have gone to work at all if I had succumbed to that quotidian instinct!)

A few months ago I found myself in need of temporary work to escort me through the transition to semi-retirement, something I never believed I would be able to do. But, life also surprises us in other ways, too, especially if we trust ourselves and the organization of the universe. When I was offered a financially sound opportunity to move me through that transition, I embraced it, even though it requires that I witness the sunrise each morning from my car. On the Interstate, in bumper-to-bumper traffic. With no time to read the paper before I go.

It is a struggle. But I am pulling from all those years of “just doing it.” In this case, I know there is a specific end in sight—18 days, give or take—which will make the not doing it any more that much more delectable.

We tend to cherish even more that which is taken from us….and then returned.

“Happiness is not the absence of problems,

it’s the ability to deal with them.”

― Steve Maraboli

A two way conversation……

“The good writers touch life often.”

Ray Bradbury

There are a couple of things at work here, the “here” designated as the tension created when I write and no one reads it. Or at least, I have no way of knowing if they do or not, which I guess is the same thing from my perspective.

Do writers engage in their craft to be read (and thus, appreciated) or because they are compelled to write? As in all things, I’m sure the answer varies with the person, but for the most part, the writers I know must write. It seems to be part of our DNA, this constant need to observe and then document the world around us.

For myself, writing sorts out my emotions, forces me to unravel the errant threads of life that don’t fit anywhere, until I can stitch them all in place with my words. Much of what I write is never read by anyone other than me; it would scare too many people.

How do I reconcile that, then, with the fact that it hurts when people don’t read the work I DO put out there? One of my friends, also a writer, asked me that the other night. I don’t have a ready answer, I just know that it tickles me when I look at the stats page the day after I post a blog (alright, the hour after) and I see the number of views has increased. And the best gift you can give me is to comment on what I have written.

Does that make me needy? Narcissistic, as a young friend accused when I tried to explain this aberrant behavior?

Oh, you were waiting for an answer?

I don’t have one. The best I can do is this: I must write. It is a part of who I am. But, my choice of topics to share with an audience has a purpose.

Aging in this country is not pretty, so I decided to offer my experiences, and the lessons taught through those events, with two audiences: younger people who might learn from my own struggle to remain relevant, and those my age for a good laugh at ourselves. My immediate impetus was how many times I found myself exclaiming, “Why didn’t someone tell me about this??”

There have been other topics, too, such as my journey to become complaint-free. (That one was certainly good for a laugh by all ages.)

Have you ever left a succession of voice mails on someone’s machine with no return calls….ever? Publishing one’s words with no feedback is kind of like that.

The sky is falling, the sky is falling!

You’ve heard the term “needy,” right?

It makes my skin crawl now, to think of myself as needy, but I was. Maybe you have been accused of the same characteristic and don’t have a clue what was meant, someone spitting the word out as they walked (ran) away from you. I had suffered a serious blow to my ego as a woman and as a person worthy of love. Because of that devastation, I needed constant validation, I needed love, I needed attention, I needed, I needed……

I know people today who are in constant need, yet they have no idea why people scurry away from them like roaches when a light is turned on at night. So, let’s educate these folks…..since they need someone to do that, I’m sure:

You ALWAYS need something. You seem to be incapable of tackling a project, a situation, or someone else’s need without assistance. You cannot make a decision, something as simple as what to order in a restaurant. And you are exhausting to be around.

I recently asked someone to enlist a neighbor to help take my trash out to the curb each week. With working full-time right now, it is a task that would be best done by someone else. In fact, last week that monstrous bin the city insists we use did NOT get pulled out, so I have two weeks’ worth now. The plastic bags filled with this week’s garbage are now on the ground encircling the bin like supplicants surrounding a wise sage.

So, the person I asked to take care of this for me informed me when I got home from a long day at work, fighting traffic and construction that seems to never end, that a young man in the neighborhood was approached with this proposition. But rather than nail the deal down and make it happen, I was told that I must talk to him to finalize the arrangements. Really?? Now I’m involved after all, when what I needed was YOU to help me.

“How will he get the gate key every week?”

“When do you want him to take the bin out: in the morning or in the evening?”

“How much money do you want to pay him?”

It’s almost as if these people are afraid to make a move without high level clearance. I’ve had bosses like this. They were so fearful of the senior command chain that they drove the rest of us crazy with their indecision and inability to move forward without specific permission to do so.

I have come to understand that needy people are actually seeking  attention. If you are engrossed in a good book or taking care of your own projects, they are no longer your focus. One way of drawing your attention back to them is to put lots of needs in front of you. They also lack any confidence in their own ability to make decisions.

“Should I park here….or there?”

“Which way would you go from here?”

“How does this [enter any conceivable device here] work?”

“What kind of [enter anything here] do you want me to get?”

We all need help on a regular basis. It’s a good thing to be able to understand our limitations, our strengths and weaknesses, and then occasionally turn to those around us for assistance. But with these people our attention is constantly being dragged back to…..them. We can’t concentrate or get anything done that we have on our TO DO list, because of this unending stream of needs being dumped on us.

Each of these questions is innocuous in isolation (which is where we will want to be soon), but after enough time and dozens of questions, we realize that the true intent is not the get specific answers. The real motivation is to get our attention, and to put the burden of the decisions on someone else. No one can point to them later and say, “It was YOUR doing!”

Unfortunately, my personal way of dealing with needy people is to become deaf while appearing to hear all, to be somewhere else mentally even though my body is right there soaking up all that poisonous need.

And this is unfortunate because we all know what happens when the sky really does fall, right?

Climbing off the ladder……

I have managed. I have supervised. I have hired, trained, and nurtured employees. I traveled and stayed in hotels, attended company meetings and got lost in a rental car or on a subway. I did it all in the pursuit of my career, whatever that was at the time.

When we are in the fray of our careers, our days are filled with tests of our competence from one end of the clock to the other. The pressure is intense, and our personal lives and families very often suffer. We suffer. But, unless we consciously jump off the treadmill of western civilization, it happens to all of us.

Which is why I’m enjoying my last stint at a full-time job as I approach semi-retirement in about 6 weeks. As it is, I haven’t worked in an office setting, complete with a cubicle and an eye on the clock from 8-5 for….well, decades. But, life is endlessly entertaining, so here I am in front of a computer with a name badge around my neck and a wristwatch on my arm. I agreed to do this only because it is a temporary job, covering for a young woman out on maternity leave. And the paycheck, of course. I knew there would be an end and I wouldn’t have to flip too many pages on my wall calendar to reach that end. At this point, I am a little over half way through.

We seek out responsibility in the early years of a career. It proves to those above us on the ladder that we are worthy to join them up there in the corporate clouds. Today, I avoid ladders like a superstitious plague. I don’t want to be noticed and I don’t want anyone to know how much I’ve done in the past, from clerical work to teaching to becoming the VP of a company to becoming a professional mediator to writing books and owning my own company. I just want to tap on this keyboard until the new mama returns to continue her career and her own search for significance, however she defines that for herself.

This job is pressure-free because it means nothing to me, other than the source of a paycheck to fund the next stage of my life. The fun one where I will work part-time at something I love. And the rest of the time I will expand the horizons of my life into areas that interest me, like writing, reading, volunteering, checking out as many cruise ships as I can and, of course, ballroom dancing.

So, for the next six weeks I will show up, do what I’m asked to do to the best of my ability, and then leave it all behind for the next phase of my life. And not a ladder in sight.

It’s a minefield out here…..

It’s a dilemma. My mind is that of a woman of 40, maybe even less, but my body tries to betray me whenever I’m not looking. I’m not looking because I’m appalled at what is happening to it, with wrinkled and droopy skin, veined hands, and other signs too personal to discuss here. (Yes, there are things that even I won’t talk about.)

My dance instructor wants me to incorporate sensual hand movements at certain places in a routine and all I can do is giggle. Yes, I can still giggle like a girl but don’t ask me to do that with my arms in a rumba, OK? It’s not “seemly,” as my grandmother would have said, probably when she was the age I am now. If I laugh at it, I can just imagine what those on the dance floor with me are thinking. And, let’s face it, my instructor is not even 40, with an agenda that requires him to encourage me to do such ludicrous things. Cute, but unaware on a personal basis about what many of his students are facing either now or imminently.

I have a fear of not recognizing a boundary between the way I feel and the way I look. I feel young, probably younger than I felt when I WAS young. Transformation can happen at any age, and it did for me about 15 years ago. Not sure what prompted it, but let’s face it, I used to be boring. Smart, but not much fun. Today, I’m a hoot, but it’s a dilemma for me to be this really young soul entrapped in a body that betrays me on a regular basis, even though I take good care of it.

It’s not bad for a woman in her mid-60s, but no one but me ever sees ALL of it anymore. I know what’s under the clothes and those shape-shifter things that merely push skin into strange places and requires great strength to peel off. Needing to use a restroom while having one of those things on is a recipe for disaster. Believe me. Another betrayal.

I have no solution for this dilemma, one that I’m sure many women face, at least if they are interesting, vital people at all. Where is the line between staying young and presenting oneself as ridiculous? It is a great fear for me, and I’m not sure there is anyone I can trust to be brutally honest about this. We live in a society that reveres youth above all else, with little respect (or actual disrespect) given to anyone over 50 or so.

To maneuver between the two worlds—aging and a youth-drenched society—is a minefield. I don’t know where all those landmines are hidden, but I know they are there, just waiting to explode if I make a misstep. It won’t be pretty.

Older women know who they are, and that makes them more beautiful than younger ones. I like to see a face with some character.

I want to see lines. I want to see wrinkles.
Naveen Andrews