Six years ago, in August of 2016, I decided to leave my full-time job, ending my 30-plus-year career in Banking Operations. At the time, it was much more about quitting the job than about starting a new phase of my life; the job had lost its appeal but I had no blue-print worked out for what my retirement would look like. I was still very much drawn to the world of work. I missed the structure, purpose, and most of all the socialization it had provided me. I also felt that my work ethic and my ability to apply myself to tasks were at the core of my identity.
For these reasons, through employment agencies, I took on several temporary work assignments. The jobs I applied for were of shorter and shorter duration, until the last one consisted of subbing, one day at a time, for the receptionist at a local private school. After six years of experimenting, I found this allowed me the maximum work-life balance.
Meanwhile, I added to my schedule activities that would keep me engaged, connected and stimulated. I took classes in literature and history. I joined a book club and a writing group at my library, and a local knitting group. Knitting has been a lifelong hobby. I found out who ran the craft fair held each fall in my neighborhood, applied to participate as a vendor and was accepted. I have participated, with modest success, for the last 3 years.
While all this feels positive, I’ve had many hours when I think “What on earth am I doing? Surely I am meant to do more than this.” In the afternoons I often succumb to the seductive narcotic of the many cooking shows on tv. This seems to be common among retirees I know; a fellow knitter says she loves Cupcake Wars and has seen most of the episodes twice. (Leave it to Americans to turn a comforting, nurturing pursuit like cooking into a competitive spectator sport!) Another friend watches the Gordon Ramsey show ad nauseam. I can’t help feeling this is a less-than-ideal way to spend my time, although these shows are equally entertaining and soporific. But actually, all that focus on food, and my love of cooking, inspired me to start making meals for my new friend who hates to cook. She lives 5 minutes away. I’ve been whipping up one-pot dinners for her and her husband, sometimes delivering them fresh from the oven. Their appreciation is gratifying. They assure me that I can always get a “job” with them!
So far, my retirement has been a series of experiments. Am I happy with the results? Well, I’ve eliminated a lot of stress from my life, but also some of its excitement and challenge. Liberated from the demands of work, I’m free to find new arenas and venues where I can explore and possibly master new skills. Although it is a cliché, I do feel I’ve had to find new meaning and purpose to my existence. That is the current challenge. On the plus side, I can now set my own priorities and proceed at my own pace. That pace turns out to be tortoise-like in some respects, and lightning-fast in others. A creature of habit, I’m slow to try new things and break out of my routine, but once I’ve formulated an action plan I’m quick to follow it through.
One day my sister suggested “brainstorming”: “Ask yourself what you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t done.” I must lack imagination, because honestly, nothing came to mind. But I realized that the process is more a matter of expanding the activities I’ve always enjoyed so that they fill my life. For me, balance is key to contentment: I must function well enough to meet life’s practical requirements but also make sure each day allows for pleasure.
All in all, it’s really not hard to embrace this new level of entitlement I’ve discovered. If my fellow Boomers can do it, so can I! So no more complaints from this corner. I’m grateful for the privilege; I plan to savor the luxury. This is how I see it: I’m Licensed to Chill!