I am unemployed. Or “retired”, as some people have congratulated me on, although that word doesn’t seem to quite fit. I feel like I am actually a “retirement imposter” in a sense, because this “retirement” was mostly unplanned, not affordable, and certainly not the way I had always imagined retirement was supposed to be. Not finding myself out there smiling on some sunny golf course (well, OK, I don’t golf), or painting wildly on large canvasses; not walking across Spain or a beach at sunset, nor traveling around the world sampling foreign cuisine; not busy buying and decorating a new condominium or cottage. Not relaxing on the front porch of the little farmhouse I always dreamed of. Not living off a hefty and well thought-out IRA. Not being especially creative either….not yet. Not doing anything depicted as “retirement” in those commercials. I don’t see myself as that smiling woman with a short gray bob hairdo donning gloves and garden shears, clipping roses while her athletically built geriatric husband waters the lawn in the background. That’s just not happening. Not finding myself “old enough” to be retired – Gak! Not Old!!! It’s just not how I imagined it in my mind at all.
This seems to be causing a bit of an identity crisis at the moment, a Who Am I? question regarding this Change Of Status that has occurred much earlier than I expected it to, and a big “Uh oh, what happens now?” question surrounding the future.
The reality is that for the last couple of years I have been struggling with a number of health-related issues that finally culminated in a point of malfunction, where I realized I would have to abandon a long career of dedicated and hard-earned gainful employment. Once I accepted I couldn’t keep going (and coming to an acceptance was a very difficult part of this; dealing with, living with, making peace with a disability), things unraveled pretty quickly from there and I made a quick exit. I left without the long goodbyes, the “she’s a jolly good fellow” party, the proverbial pocket watch. Like the vapory wisp of a ghost slipping out the chimney, a mere echo after the door is shut, a hint of breeze as the window is closed, I was gone. I actually prefer it that way. The satisfaction, purely personal, is knowing that (even though they may not know it) I have made a positive impact in the lives of a number of people during my career.
But that is the past now. I worked for a private, non-profit agency and, um… non-profit is the operative word here, as I do not have a pension that will take me past a year. No longer generating an income and with bleak financial straits on the horizon, it is ironic that where I once had the money to participate in some adventures, there often was not enough time or energy left to carry those desires out. Now that I have the time, I have not the money to accomplish the big-ticket items sitting on my bucket list.
And there is an extra monkey-wrench thrown in, because those very issues that have caused me to leave my job are also the same issues that are keeping me from participating in some of the cost-free endeavors I would like to be taking advantage of now. I am sort of “grounded” at the moment. So, being grounded, I have decided to try and create a new reality as best as I can, to reinvent my life, deal with this Change of Status, and make the necessary modifications to accommodate this.
For the first week or so I found myself sleeping late. A strange, lazy sort of a buried-in-the-blanket bliss, wrapped up in a tremendous relief that I would not have to stress about my job and continue pretending to do the things I could no longer do there. It was also a bit naughty and delicious, like an unanticipated snow day from school, or the first few days of summer vacation. Yet, it was disconcerting at the same time. Truly being The Early Bird, much as my mother was, I love the dawn, the sunrise streaming in the windows, the birds waking up, and I hate to waste those beautiful morning hours. But down-time is necessary to recharge your body and soul.
After that first week or two where I was drifting around the house getting my bearings, it was clear to see there has been so much left neglected or unfinished that I have not found time to address. Seems like the time to deal with it has arrived. One thing I have learned from over two decades of working with people who have disabilities is that productivity is very important for the worker-bee in all of us, no matter what level your capabilities are.
Applying this productivity theory, I made a pact to myself when this happened that I would try to accomplish at least One Productive Thing every day. I revisited the abandoned Pack Rat Project from last year, trying to clean up and sort through each room, each drawer, each cabinet and closet, day by day by day…. until it is finished.
Which it is not. Because I am slowed down a bit, each project gets broken down into baby steps, intentionally or not. There is a lot of stopping, sitting down and then starting again; whether it is during gardening or cleaning or even reading. There is frequent tiredness. I get distracted. Many cups of tea are consumed. There is no rush, just taking things a little at a time. There is some grace in that.
In addition, I have begun making Lists Of Things I would like to accomplish. The Lists are necessary because I get side-tracked (if you read this blog, you might know about “The little distracted bee that flits from flower to flower“). There is great satisfaction in crossing things off The List, and maybe some excitement in adding new things to The List too. There is The Grocery List, The Chore List and then there is the more fun Bucket List…..step one will be to just get some of the unfinished things out of the way and discover some new horizons as I ease into this other reality.
One of the most wonderful parts of it all is that I have finally been able to make more time to be with the people I love. I have seen my family more and connected with friends, old and new. In the long run I am finding this is what really counts.
Someone suggested that I should call this a Sabbatical. I really like the sound of that.
Change of Status: Sabbatical. OK!
Since my change of status was generated by being fired, I fell into retirement in the same way. No countdown calendars, no party (I was perp-walked out of the office), no pocket watch. The having no money part was delayed a bit because I collected unemployment for a very long time. I stumbled upon the One Productive Thing rule as well, and it does help. I still find myself using that guide for each day. Accomplish something – anything. I make To-Do lists – and feel so good crossing things off.
One suggestion for you. Do not, in your exuberance over all the free time, overbook yourself. I believe that I am working more than when I was officially employed. I said YES to too many non-profits, and took on more responsibilities than I should have. Practice the word NO. People assume that since you are retired, you have all the time in the world to take on more jobs.
Make sure that your One Productive Things are not all about chores and errands. Reading a book is a Productive Thing. Polishing your toenails is a Productive Thing. Doing something that only benefits you is still productive.
You waited for the time to have TIME. Enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty about it. We can’t all “retire” with a million bucks, but it sure as hell beats working.
I agree with annieb523, learn to say NO, you are no longer obligated and being paid to perform. I could easily be swallowed up by volunteer “work.” I too, left the work world with little fanfare, but for a different reason: I had had enough, and working every day at something I had no passion for was affecting me physically; I did not think I could live another five years, literally, unless I stopped working.
You are going through what every retirement/change/spiritual/awakening book I ever read addresses; it is a mid-life crisis of sorts. At first you can busy yourself with little things, like cleaning, organizing, visiting, scanning old photos, sleeping late, etc. But then it starts to hit you that even though you are not working, you need to feel happy and productive in your new unstructured life, and you need to find some routine. Volunteering is a great way to explore your new-found freedom.
Truthfully, I am so busy now that I do really wonder how I ever worked, and it is mostly with happy fulfilling activities, but it took five years to get here.
About 3 years ago, I had to retire (or be fired) after working as a Registered Nurse for 20 years at way too many jobs for way too many different employers. A nursing career (difficult for even the most sane people) became impossible for me; at the same time, the way that nurses are treated severely exacerbated my illness.
My career met its demise when I encountered (what was for me) the unmanageable stress of working with paralyzed patients for the federal government. My Staff Nurse job on the Spinal Cord Injury Unit at a Chicagoland VA Hospital was the most emotionally and physically demanding one I’d ever had. Although new graduate nurses are often hired into them that’s because experienced nurses know better, and don’t want the heavy workload and major stress. I should have known it would not be good for me. I moved into into an entry level position with my Master’s degree and 20 years of experience in a wealth of nursing specialties.
I was optimistic that I would succeed. But even my education and experience did not allow me to do the job that my supervisor subsequently demanded.
Although I performed more competently on the job (one that was hard for everyone) than some of my colleagues, I called in sick so often with depression and panic that my supervisor fired me. The spinal cord unit was chronically short staffed because none of the overworked nurses stayed in their jobs very long, opting for another employer, or another position at the VA. Retirement has eased my stress. I am so much better off retired and back to my very first “job”. My mother and grandmother started me knitting when I was about 5 years old. I have plenty of time to knit. I might start a knitting blog.