The other day, a friend of mine from work called. She was questioning whether she wanted to keep working or retire. Her will to work was starting to wear down, but she was concerned about the impact her leaving would have on the organization. I encouraged her to decide based on what was best for her. I assured her that the government would find a way to soldier on without her. She agreed and remarked bitterly, “I know all these people who seem so fond of me right now won’t give me a second thought once I’ve walked out the door.”
Her comment reminded me that one of my biggest concerns about retirement and moving cross country was that I would lose friends.
I’ve often said that I have a rather faulty emotional transmission. It takes me a long time to connect with people. Because I am shy, I often hang back when a new group of people is forming. When everyone else is getting to know each other and forging relationships, I am still wrestling with my nerves and trying to calm the qualms in my gut. It takes me even longer to disengage. By the time I’m feeling comfortable and warmly clicking away on all cylinders with my new friends, other people are getting ready to move on.
When I started my first entry-level job with the government, I was hired with a whole group of new young college graduates. We bonded over our new experiences and similarities. It took me some time to weave myself into the group, but I reveled in this new comradery. A couple of years later, I got the opportunity to take a career-enhancing job in another office. I worked on an alternative schedule and had every other Friday off. I hesitated about taking the new job because I couldn’t imagine leaving my friends, but a mentor told me that it was better to go away and leave everyone than to have everyone go away and leave you. I ended up taking the job, but I didn’t really “go away and leave everyone.” Every off Friday, I got up early and rode a freakin’ bus for over an hour round trip to visit my colleagues in my old office. I kept up my little pilgrimage for close to a year, even as other folks in my original cohort left the office.
Given my difficulty in shifting relationship gears, I could absolutely empathize with my friend’s concerns about leaving her work relationships. I told her that I knew from my own experience that such fears don’t have to come true.
I have always heard that some people come into our lives for a season, some people come into our lives for a reason, and some people come into our lives for a lifetime. That is exactly what I experienced when I retired. Retirement has shown me, quite clearly, that some people were part of my working life simply for that time in my life. Some people were in relationship with me for a reason that was tied up with our work experience. Retirement also teaches me, though, that there are definitely people I met through work that will grace me with their friendship throughout my lifetime.
I have had several surprises about who would fit into each category. There are some people who I thought would be friends long after my work life ended who have actually turned out to be friends of the season or the reason. On the other hand, there are people I expected to drift away when I retired who are still in touch and are still keeping my heart company. There are actually more of the relationships that survived my retirement and move cross country than those that have faltered. I am blessed with such faithful forever friends.
I keep friends by being a friend. I recognize that everyone is busy. Having said that, I also realize that my time is probably more flexible than that of my still employed friends. I bend to their schedules as much as possible. With technology that makes transcontinental communication less costly than it was when my family moved across country in 1965, it is relatively easy to stay in touch. I never mind that I am usually the one who reaches out first. Friendship is such a valuable commodity, I guard it and grow it as much as I can. Maybe I can invest the time raising the priority and level of friendship-tending precisely because I am retired. Maybe relationships, rather than dwindling away because of retirement, can actually grow because of the increased time we have for them.
In thinking about this recent conversation I had with my friend about what retirement would do to her work relationships, another thought also occurred to me. Is there really anything intrinsically wrong with relationships that turn out to be based only on a season or a reason? Those people that have meandered out of my life since I retired were no less valuable to me nor were the relationships less sweet because our connections were limited to my work life. Our time together was precious. Our relationships enriched my life and contributed to who I am today.
Also, you never know. People who wandered out of my life may one day wander back.
What do you do to tend work-related friendships after retirement? Have you been successful in finding your “forever friends?” Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy New Year!