Thursday, June 6, 2013

For Janet

One of my closest childhood friends has requested that I write something.  Me?  She is on the path to retirement and, as a single person, is facing this with natural trepidation.  Her name is Janet and she is smart, sensible and one of the most capable people I know.  I'm sure she won't make the wrong decisions but right now, she isn't as sure of that as I am so her request was for a reflection on the working woman making the big "transition" to retirement.

First of all, when I hear the word "transition" I still associate it with that grueling period of time that happens right before a woman's body finally gives up the fight to hang on to her unborn baby for as long as possible.  It's the time right before everyone present in the birthing place starts yelling "PUSH".  I was a childbirth instructor for thirteen years and have attended one-too-many births so forgive me for what I am sure will be the last sentence of this, my contribution to the working gal's dilemma.

Look, I totally understand how difficult the decision to retire from years of working can be.  I know that there are questions -  financially, socially, and mentally.  I appreciate how much thought goes into the final phases of retirement planning, the visits to the financial management team, the discussions with the young folks in HR, the family pow-wows.  I really, really do understand it all.  But, a subject matter expert on this one, I am not.  I simply pushed a button on a computer screen and became "retired" one day with no turning back allowed.

The words "subject matter expert" bring back memories.....I can laugh about that now.  That's the P.C. term for people like corporate nurses, one used during conference calls and meetings with all the other "experts" present.  I can only imagine the look on my parents faces had I told them that I wanted to become one.  "Sure Lynn, why don't you just go down to the Sunoco station on the corner and apply for the gas pumping job".  Their hearts would have been broken. The liked the idea of having a nurse in the family better.  Well, here's a little inside track into the corporate world - whenever anything in the least bit "strange" started to happen, I could hear the words "call the nurse" without the aid of a telephone.  Same person. P.C. be damned. Get real.  I digress. Sorry, sorry.

I actually flunked retirement.  I had to go back and repeat it before I passed.  This is true.  My first attempt came before I was 60.  One day, out of nowhere, came an announcement that an early retirement package was going to be offered and I was eligible.  Three months later, guided only by my instincts,  I walked out of 300 Park Avenue with about 200 other people doing the same, for the last time.  In the days following, there was not one white-haired person left in the place.  We were presented with our options and told that we could not discuss these with anyone in management lest some law would be broken so I didn't.  It was like being dropped onto an iceberg and shoved off shore, not knowing if we would land up in Antarctica or Tahiti.  Big difference.  The only words that came from above were "if you don't take this offer now, it will never come again" and "once you make your selection, even the Chairman cannot change it".  It was after that final deed was done that I found out that the Chairman's assistant and his chauffeur/bodyguard did not have to worry about things as trivial.  They got the same package a few years later when they retired with him.  It was such a weird time at the old workplace and it still amazes me to think that the Chairman sent all the wrong people to talk me into staying.  None of them spoke clearly, they all used some kind of lawbook inspired babble that I did not get.  I never was very good at Charades and this game topped them all.  So, I took the deal and placed my faith in God and those rapidly-firing instincts alone.

I loved the fact that I no longer had to wake up and follow a routine, timing my every move so that I would be fully prepared for the day ahead, on time for my commuter train, every day of the week.  Freedom from that was the first burst and the rest of it was all a little bit down hill.  Freedom from the annual reviews and the setting of goals came shortly after and added to my sense that I had made a good decision.  Being constantly under scrutiny from a dear husband who wanted oh so very much for me to be happy with my new his mother's home....where he actually had things to do all day, made me wonder.  I was bored and began to have doubts and regrets.  I will tell you now, all of you who are planning....this is normal and to be expected and you will get over it but it takes a lot of mental exercise and stamina.  It's so much easier to get up, get to work and repeat the process, especially when there's a paycheck waiting for you. Even nicer when you take a week or two of your vacation time and there's still paychecks....but then, again, there is nothing in my opinion, that could replace the feeling of being on vacation and not returning to work.

The year following the hasty decision, came another.  This time, I was led by a feeling that it was time  to return to the Cape.That old friend instinct told me that me my parents would soon be needing me closer. I also felt the need to be closer to my own daughter and my granddaughters, at least in the same state.  I was feeling the way a lot of people do after they retire and have time to think about life again....unproductive, way too young to join the ranks and still employable so, I did what I thought I needed to do.  I returned to work.  Long story short, I was burnt out the day I started.  But, I did good work and I had no reason to regret Retirement Number Two after two years of the same old stuff.  Deadlines, dead heads, boring work, a complete and utter stifling of all creative sparks and those dreaded annual performance reviews that accompanied the writing of the annual useless goals.  This one, a no-brainer.  This time, I got it right and my only goal was to get an A-plus on the retirement performance.  And I did and I still do.  So much of it has to do also with location.  I need to be near the water so I am.  I also need to be near a city, so I go as often as I can.  I like the balance and balance is vital to keeping fueled through your "transition" and beyond.  Trust me.

So, heres' how it works.  Forget about "transitioning".  Just do it.  Make a clean break.  You might try working part time as I did before dumping your duties (duties, that makes me giggle) entirely.  But, after you have convinced yourself that you rather like the days that you don't work better than the days you do.....sign it and hand it in.  And, do not, I repeat, do not fall for the "you can work here as a consultant" line.  If they loved you and your work so much, they would not have let you go off to retire in the first place.  Just say good bye and thank you.  If you hold on to the promise of being called in as a highly paid consultant, you might be disappointed.  Think about this, if you are happy working, why consider leaving in the first place?  No more benefits?  No more paid vacations or sick days?  Screw your head on and keep it there.

It's really important to not look back.  That was then and this is now.  Repeat that as often as necessary to convince yourself that things change.  The can and they should.  Not all things worsen when they change.  Here's a good one that really helped me grow with the many work environments demand that we leave our creativity in the parking lot.  I was fortunate at my Colgate job in that I was allowed to be creative but, and here's the biggie - my best creative works were stolen.  I know this will sound familiar.  I came up with the innovation and the people in higher positions than mine took all the credit.  Not one thing I could do about it.  I cannot imagine the response had I spoken up in a meeting after hearing my boss use all of my ideas as if they were his.  I suppose that I did not have the right to claim anything.  That part of me was property of my employer. Just for the record....."Your Health at Colgate" baby.

I recently heard an excellent podCast.  A scientist was interviewed and he spoke of creativity in a way that made so much sense to me and gave me a shot of confidence at the same time.  He said that everyone is creative.  Human beings, by their very nature, are creative.  It's just that during our lives, some of us are told that it is not acceptable.  My parents allowed me to be creative.  My workplace, not so much.  Yes, health care can be a highly creative field of endeavor but the last two years of my health care work proved to be the biggest creative crusher I've ever known.  If I could recover from that, anyone can.  So, I say, find an outlet for your inner artist and keep trying to find out what you like to do with the least amount of stress.  For the first year or two or twenty, keep looking.  Use those A.C. Moore and Michael's coupons.  Even if you find that you, like so many others of us before you, have a new addiction to purchasing and owning all the right materials, not necessarily using them.  That's okay.  Same goes for cooking utensils or endless trips to the library.  Keep searching, you will meet yourself and when you do, you will be amazed.

I'm sure that there is so much more to be said about this stuff but maybe I'm not the best one to say it.  All I can say is that I followed my instincts, allowed my intuition to work, changed my way of doing life's business, swapped my wants for my needs, found a place to live that suits both needs and budgets, made new friends, stayed connected with old ones, took some courses, read some books, bought supplies, decided that I do not enjoy cooking, took lots of beach walks and had some time to enjoy my choices.

And, you may note, I did not have to refer back to the word "push" at all.  Oh, okay, don't let anyone push you out.  Leave your work when you are good and ready for all the good things that you are ready for.  It's the transition that hurts the most. After that, the feeling of that brand new baby in your arms.  This time, I promise, you are the new baby with so much life ahead.  Relax, enjoy and breathe!

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