Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Taking the Fork in the Road

               When you come to a fork….                    Courtesy

If you had been a fly on the wall, listening to our discussion, you might have come away with this conclusion:
Finding a new path after leaving a longtime career is a bit like hiking in a forest with few trail markers -- and no GPS.
You know that any trail will take you through interesting scenery, but which one to choose? Walking through the forest with some buddies lends support to your decision. Also helpful is not worrying about the destination.
As they say, “It’s about the journey.”
Or as Yogi Berra said, "If you come to a fork in the road, take it."
Thirteen of us recently chewed over this transition issue, each sharing insights and experience.  Judy, a U.S. bankruptcy judge is retiring in five months and just getting over the “terror” of that prospect; Margit, an entrepreneur who loves running a small company is contemplating a different challenge; Sharon and Cece, who had full time jobs when our Project Renewment group first met, worked up the courage to drop to part-time; Essie, a hearing specialist, Tobi, a scientist; Jean, a business school instructor, and Barbara, who carries huge responsibility in a large non-profit, still love their work, but want a glimpse of what’s around the bend.
Three others (Carol, Carole and Shellie) left their careers years ago and have considerable experience if not expertise in what’s on the other side.
As for me, now two years out, I’m plunging ahead on many fronts – and feeling a bit lost in the woods.

On the pull of work, aka "I don't clean, cook, shop…."
Margit, for one, has never spent time at home and doesn’t relish the idea of doing so. “My whole life, I got up in the morning and went to work. I took a month off when I had my kids,” she said. “I do nothing around the house. I don’t clean, cook, shop, nothing. I never have. I get no enjoyment out of that. I don’t know what the next phase will look like…I need to figure out what will even appeal to me. I don’t know what I want.”
For Essie, Thanksgiving with 30 people reinforced her determination to keep working pretty much full time. “I was so glad to go back to work on Monday and it wasn’t because I was tired.” The holidays, she said, “were  a long time at home.” On the other hand, work offers  “a place to go. I have an excuse to be out of the house, to have a routine, to have this definition of time where I’m supposed to be somewhere and I don’t have to be home looking at all this sh--. That I don’t like to do. And I get paid for it. I like to get paid for what I do. What’s wrong with that?”
Yes, concurred Cece, “There’s security about being able to get up and go to the office.” At work, “you’re focused.”  
The prospect of losing that focus – and identity --  is what brought Judy, a bankruptcy judge who has “loved every minute of it” for 28 years, to our meeting.
“I am retiring May 16. Gulp. The terror I feel about getting up in the morning without getting dressed up and walking out the door,  I’ve sort of gotten over that, I think. I’m excited about prospects and certainly that’s why I’m here.” Still, she said, it’s about “your identity.”
“You’ve had a working life all these years and you’re intertwined with that.”

Why the fear of leaving work? 
 “We grew up thinking we had to push, we had to achieve,” said Marlyn, a  psychologist. What effect does that early conditioning have in terms of how we face the rest of our lives? The fear of not doing something. The fear of finding something that you think is really meaningful. I think you’re dealing with some really ingrained issues.”

Taking baby steps into the thicket

Said Sharon, a speech pathologist: “What really helped me the most was that I began thinking about the process.” Sharon decided she wanted to retire from the hospital where she worked, “but I didn’t want to retire from working. I loved what I did and felt that I had reached a certain level of experience and expertise and I wanted to keep doing it.” Through planning, she was able to piece together two days a week of work – one teaching and the other seeing patients. “I still feel that I’m contributing and doing something that I love, but I’m no longer rushing.”

Margit, the entrepreneur: “I think we’re talking about doing the kind of work that we find meaningful. A number of people here work in therapy type situations. They work one on one with individuals and their satisfaction is from helping a given individual. Others of us are helping a system or a community.” Either way, she said, satisfaction comes from being “in a
dynamic situation that’s alive and where you can play an important role.”
Still, the trick is to find the venue for that satisfaction. “It’s almost as if we want people to ‘show me THE road,’ but there isn’t one road.”

To quote my neighbor, Ellen, a later-age artist enjoying increasing success and too busy to come to the meeting: “Retiring is like job hunting. You have to go out and research it,” she said. “You network, you meet with people, you figure it out.  If anybody is sitting around feeling like there’s nothing to do, they’re not trying.”

Is there a roadmap? Or just blind turns? 
“Change is the new norm,” said Jean, a business school instructor. “So we can assume that we will not go forward on a straight trajectory, but we’re changing according to what our situation is at the time and maybe that won’t stop.”
Echoing the notion of change,  Margit said,
“I think we look at retirement as a time when we’re going to do The Thing, but maybe I’ll do something for two years and then I’ll lose interest in that and find something that excites me more. I like the idea of approaching it  like looking for a job. But reinventing yourself multiple times.”

Now, the conversation turned my previous blog about Wisty Rorabacher, a woman who transplanted herself from the Ozarks to Greenfield, Mass. Her walk in the woods – a fast-paced jog, actually -- was particularly exciting. Without a roadmap, she just put one foot in front of the other, quickly connecting with others, discovering needs and drawing on her skills and interests to serve her new community. “She didn’t have a roadmap,” I told the group. “It just evolved.”

“It’s scary not knowing what the road is,” said Sharon. “But if you’re kind of there and open to it, then other things come about that touch you and connect with you. You get into it.”

A slow walk or triathlon?
Pace is my particular challenge. ”You want to feel like retirement is the time when you have the time to do the things you really want to do, but then you don’t have the time to do them,” I said.
Quipped Carol K, reminiscing about her dream list. “I haven’t gotten to many of them. I thought I was going to be fluent in French.” Then, she noted that people are who they are. ”People who are over committed are constantly driven. It doesn’t matter if you’re employed or not.

Shellie loves the rushing. “I’m very happy being retired. Don’t ask me what I do, but I’m busy all the time. And I’m still rushing. Maybe it’s because I do too much, and that’s ok, too.”

On friending
The meeting ended in a kind of kumbaya – talking about the importance of  having each other, of having community at this stage of life.
For Shellie, that community is the Y, where she goes every day. “My volunteering is volunteering to be there for my friends and helping them through all the things they’re going through. Of course, they help me with the things I’m going through, too.”
Margit noted the loss of communities as we move on. “A lot of us have communities from our work and a lot of our friends are from our work, so whether or not we’re moving geographically, [when we leave work] we’re suddenly in another city. It’s called the City of Retired. And we have to figure it out.”

And for Barb, who works with many older people in her non-profit, the value of women’s friendship is “clearer and clearer” as she grows older.
“So many people come to the center where they create new groups. Much to their shock and surprise, they find they’re able to make meaningful relationships at any age.”

What are your concerns? What have you learned along your path that you can share with others.

(For previous posts on our Project Renewment meetings, google "Project Renewment" and "UnRetiring")


Kathy Byers said...

I am retiring as of May 31 and I am looking forward to that day with a sense of excitement. I will start writing the next chapter in my life, but I have only a few ideas about what the main themes will be - family, friends, gardening, speaking out on issues that I care about, maybe some writing. It will evolve, as my life has. I never had a grand plan for my life - it evolved as I took advantage of opportunities that presented themselves and made choices (mainly good ones it turns out), so I sense my retirement will be the same - an evolving process as I get to explore new opportunities. The difference is a greater sense of urgency - and wanting to spend time on quality not on destructive feelings, people or activities. What a glorious sense of freedom!

Dotty Brown said...

Kathy, what are you retiring from? Yes, you're right, it will evolve and you'll really enjoy your exploration. Urgency is an issue we haven't talked about much in our group but it hovers over us as we realize there's more time behind us than in front of us

Avery Rome said...

great post, Dotty. It's so valuable to have such a variety of options and hear about other people's adventures.