This may not be the right time to ask this question. After all, I’ve been writing a blog called Terri LaBonte: Reinventing Myself In Retirement for almost four years. I published a book called Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement. Perhaps the cows have already escaped the “reinvention” barn. Still, this inquiring mind wants to know: is reinvention really a thing?
When I first published my book, most of my friends demonstrated amazing support. I’m not sure I could have gone through with the whole project if not for the encouragement I received from both online friends from the blog and my IRL friends who cheered me on in my creative endeavors. Being the kind of person that I am, it was more important than it should have been for me to have other people’s approval before my book hit the public eye. My friends, in their unconditional love, provided that approval in spades.
One friend, though, did challenge me when he heard the title of the book. He questioned whether anyone could really reinvent oneself. His point was that people don’t fundamentally change, especially in their fifties, sixties, seventies, and beyond. He asked me if I thought I really had changed since my retirement. His question baffled me. In my mind, there is no doubt that I have changed significantly since leaving my career. I am happier. I am quirkier. I am more confident. I am more appreciative of other people. I am calmer. I take more risks. I am more patient. I seem to have acquired skills in any number of areas that I never thought to have (writing a blog, cooking a palatable dinner, cleaning wood floors, lizard whispering, and naming random wild animals just to mention a few). I am less desperate and less despairing. I think I even look and sound different.
I’m not the only one who thinks I have changed. People who have known me for years have frequently commented on the transformation. Even the daughter of a friend, who has known me most of her life but has not interacted with me regularly in many years, mentioned her astonishment at the “new me” when the family visited central Florida last year. A friend from my youth saw me on Facebook and was clearly amazed that I was living a happy, full, vibrant life, comfortable in my own skin and embracing the journey. She was my very best friend in my college years and I know she loved me dearly, but I also think she would not have been surprised to see me living alone behind tightly locked doors with an overabundance of cats. If we had reconnected ten years ago, she probably would have had no reason to change her perception. Now, she is exclaiming at how happy, fun, and pretty I am. I love it when people have such low expectations of me that I can exceed the bar simply by getting through a day without dissolving into a pile of goo.
Yes, I certainly seem different than I was during most of my working life. I understand my friend’s point that people are pretty much who they are by the time they retire. Change of any kind can be challenging. It seems unlikely that a person such as myself could change my whole life and the very fundamentals of my personality. So, how do I reconcile this improbability with the reality of my development over the past five years?
I think it boils down to being who I was always meant to be. I’m not sure the fundamentals of who I am have changed. I think my desires, morals, and values are the same as they have always been. I think I have retained many of the tendencies that I have always had. I think my world view is pretty much the same. The difference is that I spent many years, as most people have, building bridges and scaffolding to allow the person I was inside to function in the world in which I lived. I built guardrails and stunted my growth where I needed to in order to concentrate on surviving and succeeding in the world in which I put myself at a young age. There is nothing wrong with that. I was usually reasonably happy in my job. The work I did stimulated my brain, made me feel valuable, and challenged my intellect. I think I helped people. The success I had in my career nurtured my confidence. The people I met during my working life honed my judgment and insight about human nature… and often provided me with love. My career was a wonderful part of my life and who I am. I would not change it, even if I could.
Now, though, it is time to shelve that part of my life. I take with me the lessons I learned and the positive traits my job helped me develop. In retirement, however, I think I’ve started tearing down some of those bridges and scaffolds that were restricting other parts of me from growing. Those parts of me were probably always there, but were covered by more urgent and visible impulses. Hopefully, by the time I leave this Earth, I’ll be able to cherish the best of both the “career me” and the “retirement me.”
Reinvention isn’t so much about new construction. It is more about demolition of the internal structures that no longer serve.
What do you think? Is reinvention really possible? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Invent a wonderful day for yourself!