One year ago tomorrow I quit my job as Public Relations and Marketing Director of a fine arts center. I wasn’t old enough to retire. I didn’t start collecting a pension or Social Security. I wasn’t old enough to tap my retirement fund. My job was neither hard nor horrible and in many ways it was fun and creative. But with health problems making it more and more difficult to get through each day I became determined to find a way to make retirement work for me. Quitting my job was a questionable thing to do. I did a lot of pre-planning-paying off bills, seeking out health insurance plans- before giving up my job. But I still took the plunge feeling unsure about whether or not I could survive financially. You can put plans on paper, but you’re never really going to be sure how they’ll play out until you start living them.
It’s taken me all of the past year to iron out the rough spots but I’ve come to the conclusion that retirement is working out just fine. My husband and I live on one paycheck. While the extra money I had made had been nice, the loss of income has not been devastating.
Since leaving my job, I had visited my old workplace only once last Christmas. Otherwise, I have avoided going back. I haven’t gone there to take a class; I haven’t gone to see a theater production or an art exhibit or a concert. Even though I like all of those things and even though I like all of my old coworkers and I have missed them, I have stayed away. I was tired and depressed and, like a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock, it felt to me as if a flock of black crows were looming ominously overhead, waiting to swoop down upon me every time I thought of going back for a visit. I was also avoiding the the 13 mile drive from my home to the Arts Center, a drive which at the end of my working days had come to feel as if it were a monotonous million miles long.
It has been a strange 12 months. I found lots of things to do. That wasn’t the problem. When I left my job I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish, but much of that list was pushed aside as I discovered that I had many more things to do than I actually had the time for. I had an Etsy online shop and I began making new things to fill it. I started Ebaying to make a few extra dollars. I began helping a friend by listing and selling his excess books on Amazon.com. But without a regular work schedule, I felt disoriented. I’d get out of bed some days and get busy with something only to realize at lunchtime that I had never changed out of my pajamas. I got out of the habit of going to bed at a regular time and would find myself still awake and doing chores at 3 a.m. I have often felt guilty for doing the things I was doing. Even though these things had become my “new job” of sorts, they were things I enjoyed doing, and somehow it didn’t seem right to spend so much time doing things that felt more like fun than work.
Today, after a year, I still have way more to do on my list than I have the time for. Yesterday I drove the old, 13 mile route, visited my old workplace, had lunch with a much missed friend, and chatted with other old co-workers. And I loved every minute of it. Instead of being long and unbearable, the drive reminded me of how pretty the area is. The cloud of black crows were no longer circling in the sky. If I had to go back to work there tomorrow, I think I would do it with a feeling of joy and enthusiasm. We work day after day, year after year. One or two week vacations aren’t long enough to let us really refresh and recover. Sometimes, I think, we just need a break. A good long break. Time heals. And sometimes you can’t rush the process.
And so, here I stand a year later asking myself “what now?” After a year of living without a day planner I feel like it’s time I establish some sort of a routine even if what I schedule are things as simple as having a set bedtime and a set day of the week to do the grocery shopping. That’s my “job” for this week anyway. Next week, well, I’ll live that day when it comes. That’s what you do when you are retired and you have the luxury of time.