Sisterhood

I once had a friend who told me she felt sorry for me because I did not have a sister.  She was very close to her own sister and could not imagine how I got through life being my parents’ only daughter. 

It is true that there is something very special about a sister relationship.  Knowing each other and loving each other and growing through life together is a source of great strength and joy.  God gave women sisters to be companions on the journey.  When one sister falls, another is there to laugh… and then help her up.  When one sister goes through an experience, good or bad, other sisters rejoice with her and mourn with her.  When a sister is going down a dark path, it is a great blessing to have another sister shining a light and suggesting a different direction.

Yes, sisterhood is a wonderful thing.  My friend had it wrong though. I do have sisters.

I have a sister who saw me through a painful divorce.  She stayed on the phone with me for hours at a time, listening to me cry and despair of ever being happy. As the years progressed, she supported me in everything I’ve ever done. She helped me build confidence and joy in myself. Without her, I don’t know that I would have lived beyond age 30.

I have a sister who listened and observed and figured out the best things to do for me while I struggled through my mother’s decline and eventual death.  She just knew what I needed and provided it.  She is also absolutely the best person I have ever met at knowing the exact right thing to say all the time. 

I have a sister who came to me for career advice, blossomed because of the conversations we shared, and included me in her joy when her efforts bore fruit.

I have a sister who walked with me on my road to reception into the Episcopal Church and continues to support me in my faith.  She respects me.  She understands me.  She loves me. 

I have a sister who let me help her when things were difficult for her.  Instead of pushing me aside when she was mourning, she allowed me the honor of doing something for her.  In letting me take something off her plate, she gave me the satisfaction of helping and also showed me that she loved me enough to let me close.

I have a sister who went with me when the Disney Fairy Godmother reimagined me into an aging, chubby Tinker Bell.  Not only did she go, but she enjoyed it and could not imagine why anyone would think it weird. 

I have a sister who is willing to gently tell me when she thinks I am doing something wrong… and also convinces me that I am lovable in spite of the unlovable action. 

I have a sister to whom I can say anything without fearing that I will be judged, misunderstood, or hurt because of it. 

I have a sister who, while my ego and sense of sanity crumbled during a few particularly painful interludes during my work life, could always convince me that “it’s not you; it’s them.” Without her, I think I might have experienced a psychotic break with reality. 

I have sisters who make me feel like the joyful child I used to be.  I have sisters who make me feel like the carefree teenager I never was.  I have sisters who admire the adult I am today.  Often, all these sisters are the same people. 

These are just a few of my sisters of the soul. It is true that I have no sisters by birth, but I am abundantly blessed with my sisters by selection.

Who are your “sisters?” Are they by birth or selection?  What makes the relationship so special?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Hug a sister today!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot

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 terrirretirement@gmail.com.

Happy New Year!

Terri 🙂

Misfitting In

In some ways, retirement represents a return to the “real me.” 

In my childhood and young adulthood, I was naturally inclined to shyness, quiet, and observation.  Rather than joining groups of people or chiming in on conversations, I tended to stay on my own and listen covertly.  I avoided attending social activities and putting myself in situations where interaction was necessary.  I would “parallel play” my way through daily life- perfectly content to work side-by-side with others, but preferring to not collaborate.

At one point, I considered that I might actually be agoraphobic since there were some days when I literally could not leave the house to go to school and other times when I drove to a party or event, but could not make myself go inside.  Then, I realized that agoraphobia was not my problem.  It wasn’t open spaces of which I was afraid.  It was people.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t communicate with people or even that I did it badly.  In fact, I have always been good at putting my thoughts into words, both in speaking and in writing.  I also have decent empathy with others, good intuition about what the other person is thinking or feeling (must be all that listening over the years!) and a nimble ability to choose communication strategies likely to appeal to and engage the other person.  I just always kind of chose not to do so, except with people with whom I had long term positive relationships.   I used to say I have a slow emotional transmission.  It takes me a long time to get into a relationship gear and then I find it almost impossible to let go of that gear when it is time to part.

Once I started working, my natural sense of duty kicked in.  It struck me that it was my responsibility to take the lead when communicating with customers and employees.  I worked for a federal agency from which most people would be happy to never hear.  Customers were often frightened, upset, and irate, often for good reason.  It was my job to help them feel better and more comfortable dealing with their issues.  As I advanced in the leadership ranks, I recognized that it was my job to communicate well and to create an environment where my employees could feel safe and thrive.  I once heard that my job was basically to hold conversations and I think that was probably correct.

 As time went on, I made conscious efforts to use the communication skills and personal qualities I possessed in all my interactions.  I tried to “pretend until I was” outgoing.  While it got easier to pretend and sometimes I even thought I might be achieving outgoingness, I don’t think I ever actually got there.   I often enjoyed who I was when I pretended to be outgoing, but it took a lot out of me.   I was successful in doing the things that would make me appear warm, outgoing, approachable, trustworthy, and confident in my communication. It was my job.  I did it.  I did it well.  I was exhausted.

Now that I am no longer working, I have reverted to my natural preferences.  As much as I looked forward to joining the book club in my new community, I have somehow not found the time to attend any meetings.  When trying to arrange for vendors or contractors to take care of things around the house, I try very hard to find a way to accomplish my task by email.  When our new next door neighbors invited us to a Christmas party at their home, we went out to dinner first and “stopped by” for only half an hour or so.  I only managed that because I thought it would be rude to decline the invitation. When I go to the water aerobics class, I don’t fold into the little groups of two or three that form in the pool. 

I am finding this opportunity to slide back into observation mode to be very restful.  I am enjoying the blissful silence of my own thoughts, the absence of my frenzied mind spinning around trying to succeed in my charge of advancing the flag of conversation.  I listen and horde the little nuggets I hear inside my brain, turning them over and admiring them in the safety of my quietness. 

Still, this welcome isolation does have its downside.  I feel a bit removed and apart from my surroundings and community.  I have no sense of “belonging.” I initially thought this might be the age difference between me and most of the people around me, but I think it might be more my retirement from forced extroversion. 

The other day, Max asked me if I missed work at all.  I replied that I didn’t miss work, but that I didn’t feel like I “fit in” anymore.  He asked a very insightful question, “Do you want to?” Obviously, after over 30 years of basically communicating and forging relationships for a living, I know what to do to create those connections for myself.  I suppose when I want to fit in badly enough, I will find my niche in the relationship networks in my new life.  I recently offered a piece of advice to one of the women in the pool who I heard talking about her upcoming trip to the Grand Canyon.  I volunteered to help with the photography for the community’s new directory. I will probably go to the book club when it starts again in the fall. I have started to make friends.

In the meantime, I will enjoy the quiet and the nourishment I get from the enduring friendships that had their genesis in my working years.   These “forever friendships” were not dependent on the very intentional strategies and techniques I practiced to push myself into appearing outgoing.  Those friendships teach me that my natural self, with all its introversion, is enough.  I’m enough to fit into the hearts of those people I love. 

So what do you think?  How do you forge new relationships in a new life?  How do you balance friendship and introversion?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative,  you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Thanks for letting me fit in with you!

Terri 🙂