I finally do it. Retire. It happens almost spontaneously, though I’ve been thinking about it for years. I just know – now, it’s time.
Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve worked a wide variety of jobs that might not amount to a real “career” after all, from bartender, cook, and shell fisher, to Executive Director, community organizer, marketer. I’ve been riffed, rightsized, trained, re-trained, all in that endless daily shuffle we like to call “employment”.
Until suddenly, overnight, it ends.
Which is when the staff of the sweet little non-profit where I’ve last worked comes together to bid me goodbye. They give me gifts, tell me they’ll miss me. After a final flurry of hugs, I drive to the closest department store to buy new underwear and socks, as if going on vacation. Sitting in the car, I pause, feel new space growing inside my body, an emptiness that promises freedom instead of fear.
It’s the first time in years I don’t have a title after my name to define me. I can no longer feel that familiar sense of pride telling folks what I do for a living. I remember in past jobs how we’d all compete for working the longest or being the most sleep deprived. Now, that all seems like a futile struggle for approval.
Maybe it’s related to the shame we often attach to aging. A retired friend tells me she hates how she feels invisible without a job. For professional women, leaving workplace for homestead implies being erased. We’re labeled as old, often a code word for incompetent, out of touch, or worst of all, irrelevant.
But I don’t share my friend’s concern. I’ve been so overly visible in my work roles that invisibility is now a blessing. I crave the freedom of no one watching, of no longer being held accountable to a supervisor’s priorities. I want to be able to travel my memories and imagination free of expectation - to shapeshift as needed. I wonder - how do we open to new possibility after a lifetime of definition by others?
I don’t have answers yet. I trust it’s okay to just live in this question now. I want to build my daily practices and discover what emerges. I hunger to move from role to soul as Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön sums up this time of life.
Living to be healthy beyond career is an immense gift, for which I’m deeply grateful. My own mother only lived to the age of 53. I have no idea how much time I have left – this vast openness could instantly dissolve in the wake of an unexpected diagnosis. I remember a beloved local postmaster retiring after many years of service here. The community celebrated him with a big party and a new set of golf clubs. He was struck with a fatal heart attack soon after, and to my knowledge, never got to use them even once.
To choose to withdraw from one’s position when the time’s right might be the wisest move of all. Just a few days after giving my notice, I received an unexpected email from an old friend saying she’s starting a small press and she’d like to publish a volume of my poetry. I’m staggered by the perfect timing of this kind and prescient offer. She had no idea I was retiring, simply awakened that morning thinking of me. Coincidence? Maybe, but I like to think that allowing this new space to open telegraphs my readiness to claim my creative purpose. In the act of moving back and letting go, opportunity can find room to breathe.