No Job for Cowards, Retirement, Learning to Be

Here’s something I wrote last July before I retreated from retirement, getting back on the tractor, so to speak. Some of you will have no trouble leaving the workforce when your time comes. Some of you will fail miserably at retirement. Don’t beat yourselves up. You’ll get another chance, as will I.

It’s not escaped me that I’m working as hard to be retired as I did when I worked for a living. It’s ironic that when I worked my fantasy was having nothing to do and now that fantasy’s morphed into having something to do. Retirement isn’t all fun and games, folks. It’s a total reset of one’s identity. It’s no job for cowards.

At the center of the struggle is a redefinition of not only what we do, but who we are. For me, for many of us, it’s also a recalibration of the significance of that word something. It obviously means more than an occupation of time and space. It incorporates meaning and self-worth and probably a bunch of other things I’m too embarrassed to admit to myself.

It’s not just enough anymore to have knowledge (there go my why questions). It’s becoming equally important to experience life. To be. And that’s no easy task. The mind doesn’t like lying fallow – mine doesn’t anyway. You know how people are always saying the first few days of vacation are hard because they can’t relax? This is that on steroids.

I’m surprised at how few resources I’ve found to ease myself through this major life change. There are a few authors that glorify the second half of life (technically, we don’t have another half left in us, but whatever). Well, I’m not ready to buy it. I couldn’t find anyone pushing back and believe me, I looked. It’s as if it’s a dirty little secret that there’s shame in having retired, in being unproductive.

This morning I willed myself to be still, to recline in my easy chair and just be.

“Oh, jeez. Be what?” I asked myself, my mind chafing at being told what to do.

“Just be,” I responded, hoping I’d figure it out as I waited. I didn’t. That may have lasted a minute, I can’t be sure. It felt like forever.

I concluded to myself that learning to be when you’re a compulsive doer is hard, hard work. Then I considered what thoughts and feelings I was avoiding with a runaway mind that refuses to yield. And then I realized that I’d quickly been tricked out of just being by my mind.

So I focused on feeling my fingers, the blood pulsing through them. It synchronized with a whooshing sound I started hearing in my ears my last year of work. I began thinking about stress and what it can do to a body and was glad I got a handle on that (ok, am getting a handle on it). Then, thinking about the human body amazed me. And just like that, my mind had already led me somewhere else.

But not yet willing to surrender, and with no reentry into the workforce in sight, I downsize my goal. Maybe all I can do today is a minute. Tomorrow I’ll shoot for two.

Oh someone, help me please. This learning to be is hard and I’m no coward.

3 comments

  1. Unbelievable resonation in this piece Teri! I too have experienced the difficulty in ‘learning’ how to retire, just be (“be what?”) and sitting still, breathing, for one absolute minute. I struggle with the compulsive doer syndrome, with roots I’m sure embedded way, way back in time. You and I need to catch up, soon, as I too am starting a new career and I think you and I may once again be working closely together! And looking forward to it.

    Like

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