The other day, I overheard a couple of guys in a coffee shop talking about their impending retirement. One is about to pack it in at the end of this month, the other hits the magic R-day later this year.
Perhaps it was excessive politeness that kept me from offering my thoughts on the subject. More likely, it was just the realization that free advice is worth exactly what you pay for it, and often considerably less.
There’s no question that leaving the realm of the wage slave after 40 years or so can be one of life’s more jarring transitions. It’s right up there with getting married, having kids, going to jail, or losing a spouse.
I’m willing to concede it may be a generational thing, but except for the most well-adjusted souls (among whom I do not number myself), self-identity and self-worth tend to be inextricably tied to what we do for a living.
It’s one of life’s existential conundrums: If I’m not a barber, or a stockbroker, or a teacher, or (insert applicable noun), then who the heck am I?
I’m not saying that’s sane; it just is.
There are some, of course, who manage to organize their affairs in such a way that they can sail into silver-haired serenity, concerned with little more than whether it should be Tuscany or Machu Picchu this year.
There are others who champ at the bit, anxious to pack up that meagre box of personal belongings and hurl themselves into the multitude of projects, hobbies and Good Works they’ve been itching to tackle.
I don’t fit either of those categories. When I retired eight years ago, it was like T. S. Eliot’s description of the world ending with a whimper instead of a bang. It was a balloon going flaccid. One day I went to the office as usual; the next day I didn’t.
For months afterward, I would meet the inevitable question, “So, how’s retirement treating you?” with the polite (but hypocritical) expected response, “Great!”
But since we’re all friends here, and I’ve never (well, hardly ever) lied to you before, let me state the bald, unvarnished truth: I hate being retired.
It’s not that I miss the water cooler gossip (do workplaces actually have water coolers?) about my fellow workers’ romantic lives, their brilliant children, or how wasted they got over the weekend.
It’s not even that I miss the regular pay-cheque. Okay, sorry. I just lied to you. I miss that a lot.
What I miss most is the adrenaline high of working under continual deadlines. I miss the challenge of having to draw on a variety of skill sets to produce something of possible value in an atmosphere of structured chaos.
So here I sit in my bathrobe, caffeine-fuelled at something-thirty in the morning, with no option but to set those damned words down in the proper order and hit Send with barely a minute to spare before deadline.
Whee! I’m working. This retirement thing’s treating me great!