I’m very glad I didn’t feel melancholy when I left my career, because apparently, that can be a common sentiment. I have that feeling about other things from time to time, of course, that homesick kind of pull at the heart that something is missing from a particular moment. I usually only have that sense of nostalgia for a time that has long passed, or for people who I wish I could see more. Of course, for many people that is precisely what the end of a career represents.
Retired people are definitely separate from the work team and often left feeling alone. We might be looking for deep meaning in retirement, as though it’s a full lifetime of our decisions, actions and interactions looking right back at us.
It can be a daunting milestone, like the expectations of New Year’s Eve in the days of yore – when the hopes and dreams of a generation of young adults hangs in the balance of a few hours in an otherwise random day. But we all told ourselves back then that we had better be whooping it up at a large and engaging function, if our social standing was worth anything.
No wonder people often ended up crying or arguing or imbibing on NYE, and why people might freeze in indecision about their next steps into retirement. They are often trying to justify their own plans in this new phase of life, or even over-judging the moments in their own days. Who needs that kind of pressure?!
I hear some people say part of the continued pull towards their career is that they didn’t reach all their goals before they left and it’s a distraction to them. I figure if you set your goals too high, as ambitious people do, it’s pretty common to not succeed at all of them. I wanted to be Margaret Atwood! Not the human being, but the accomplished author of high authority. Like many writers, I work in a few different genres and have tried for nearly four decades to successfully publish fiction. I released myself from those ultra-high expectations halfway through those decades, and any literary achievements I attain are just little bonuses.
I freed myself from a lot of strain when I stopped trying to clobber book deals out of the universe, and I came to realize the accoutrements that surround a writing life are rich and fulfilling on their own – the writing retreats and author workshops, book launches and small successes. Browsing through bookstores and taking part in a book club – there are many happy moments surrounding the wonderful world of books that have nothing to do with signed contracts!
What things did you have to let go of along the way in your career? Do some of them still haunt you? And if so, can you still pursue them? I know someone who had to leave university 40 years ago and they only recently returned to complete their degree – and celebrated their graduation the same weekend their granddaughter celebrated her high school graduation!
For many of us, though, the quest for super high new pursuits may be feeling out of reach now. Does that make you ill at ease? I’m a list person, so when that happens to me I jot down the things I’m still going to do. They are all much simpler than ‘Become Margaret Atwood’, but there are always new things on my lists and for me that’s good enough.
Sandy Bexon is stepping into retirement after over 35 years as a communications professional, reporter and writer. She lives in Red Deer.