“Retired” is a funny word. It sounds like I was tired once and now I'm tired again. This is technically true, but inaccurate in this context. “Retired” sounds like I'm giving up the daily grind (another coffee reference – get it?) for sunny days and balmy nights at the beach. “Retired” should mean that I've done all I can with what I've got and it's time to rest and enjoy life. “Retired” isn't what we thought it was.
First of all, I made the decision to retire at a fairly early age. Fifty-five is not young, but it's not the equivalent of being ready for the scrap heap. I had planned to begin consideration of this decision in two or three years. Instead, I was presented with a change of plans by the Powers That Be. The age to retire at full benefits was about to be increased. To receive those “full benefits,” I'd have to commit to another seven years. Oh, and the employee portion of my family health insurance was going to increase by about $1,000 per month – the equivalent of an annual salary reduction of $12,000. This from the bureaucracy that always says that people are more important than things or systems. I also had two months to make the decision that would change my life.
So I'm jobless for the first time in my professional life. This should give me the opportunity to do things I didn't have the time to do before. For example, there are squirrels in my back yard that must be counted. I firmly believe that there is a squirrel conspiracy in our little town. They are massing in increasing numbers, gnawing their way into attics and even sacrificing themselves by chewing on power lines in an effort to undermine our communications system. Also, there are songs that are demanding be learned on the acoustic 6-string. If no one learns them, they may go away never to be heard again and that would be tragic. I also need to calculate how much sleep I've sacrificed on the altar of my job over the years and see if those hours can be re-captured.
More important than those things, though, is the need to make the journey of re-discovery. There are portions of myself that have been lost little by little over the years. In the effort to do my job the best I can and to be true to the people I am responsible to and responsible for, parts of my self seem to have faded away. I'm not sure just when they left or just where they went. I'm a little surprised that I even noticed they were gone. I was having one of those “radical-change-of-life” reflections when I reached for something inside and found that it wasn't there. It left quietly and without any fanfare or fuss. I'm not even sure what it was, exactly. I just know that it left an empty spot where it used to be. That has happened more than once and I'm beginning to get concerned that these “pieces of self” won't be back. Perhaps they found someone who will take better care of them, who will give them the proper exercise and the right nourishment. If so, I wish them well – but I also wish they'd come home.
Is it possible to find gainful employment while searching for your identity in the process? I think so. These days, though, no one wants to see you. They just want you to fill out an application online and then they decide whether or not they want to talk to you. It's impossible to tell them what they're missing by not hiring me when they don't want to meet me. Still the search goes on.
The searches are concurrent. There is a need for things like a salary and a job that I feel good about. After all, the squirrels are looking to take over the house and I need money to mount a defense. Woven through that search, however, is the other search – the one that seeks what was lost. Will both of those searches be successful? Maybe. I'd really like to believe that they will.
So, who will I be when the Great Searches are over? That's the frightening and exciting part. I really can't say for sure, except to say that I will be different from the person I was a few months ago. To what degree I'll be different I have no idea.
But I'm really looking forward to finding out.