Once or twice a year, something would happen at work that would stun me with its success. It might be that I’d solve some problem, convinced someone to do something that he or she didn’t want to do, got selected for some position I coveted, or just made a palpable difference in someone’s life. The improbability of the success of the accomplishment, as well as its elegance, would astonish me. I often exclaimed to anyone who would listen, “I might as well leave now and never come back because it’s never going to get any better than this.” I never really did leave and never come back, though.
Today I retired and left my career as a mid-level manager for a major governmental agency. When I walked out of the building, I knew I was never coming back.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel. Everyone talks about needing to prepare oneself for the emotional transition retirement brings. But what will that emotional transition feel like and how does one prepare?
My mother was afraid that I might regret not being “important” anymore. First of all, I never was all that important. Yes, I worked hard and achieved a certain amount of success in my career. People in my industry knew and respected me. Still, I think my job would have been a whole lot less stressful if I was anywhere near as “important” as people seemed to think I was. If I was so important, maybe people would have done what I told them to do a little more often. It is a lot more work to influence than to control. I’m kind of looking forward to not being in charge of anything anymore. Maybe I’ll learn to do a little better being in charge of myself.
Some friends pointed out that, after over 33 years in the same line of work for the same employer, I might over-identify myself with my job. I might not know what to do with my time. They cautioned me that I needed to have plans to keep me from getting bored and depressed. Considering I am selling my tiny condominium in a relatively urban southwest area and preparing to move 3000 miles away to live in a house about three times the size of the condo in a “countryish” location in the southeast and then turning around and moving my mother to said “countryish” community, as well, and doing this all within four months of retirement, I’m not too worried about being bored.
Other friends cautioned that I might feel some bitterness, born of the mental and physical exhaustion I had been experiencing the last several years of my career. That exhaustion, caused by persistently trying to do the impossible and feeling like a failure when I did not succeed, was a key factor in my decision to retire when I did. Yes, there were things about the culture of my agency and things that happened in the workplace that I thought were unreasonable and depressing. Just like every other job in the world. I do believe, however, that the people with whom I worked and the people who made decisions that led to these conditions were operating with the absolute best of intentions. Sometimes, there just is no good answer. My reaction to the conditions is my own issue and, if I teeter on the edge of lunacy, that’s my problem. I have always chosen to be happy and grateful for the wonderful people with whom I lived my work life over the past 33 plus years. We all have days when things get us down, but my absolute sense of being blessed beyond all measure always has and always will overcome any tendency towards bitterness.
My only real concern has been the possibility of losing the love of the circle of true friends I’ve encountered during my working years. I know people often lose touch with their colleagues after retirement. While we meet many, many people with whom we are friendly as we earn our livings, I have crafted and nurtured a few true, solid, beautiful friendships over the past years. These are the soulmates whose loss would tear large, irreparable holes in the very make-up of my psyche. I will use the same skills I used to craft and nurture true friends out of colleagues to make sure I never lose them.
So, as I walk out of the building today, I feel no regret that I am giving up my work life and no relief that I have made it out of an intolerable situation alive. After having the most beautiful send-off a person could imagine, I leave with joy. I am blessed to have had my career and I believe that others were blessed by my presence in that career. I am astonished, awed, and humbled by the knowledge that I have made a difference to people.
My career is not who I am. Who I am is what made my career a success. And I take who I am with me into the next chapter of my life.