That question – in a nutshell – occupies a fair amount of my time now that I’m “not working.”
People who know me, know me as I once described in one of my posts. In my adult life, I’ve been many things: daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, aunt, wife, ex-wife, mother. Optometrist, Licensed Professional Counselor, writer, teacher, advisor. Friend, adversary, student, mentor, volunteer, colleague, supervisor, supervisee, boss, advocate, committee member, office holder, perfectionist, overachiever. Catalyst, irritant, critic. Tourist, retreatant, co-journeyer, listener, speaker. Avid reader. Supplicant to Saints Francis, Jude, Therese, Teresa and Michael the Archangel. [Human Being? Human Doing? Human Becoming?]
Now that modern medicine has us not only living longer, but living healthier lives, what to do with this life re-imagined?
Two comments I hear (too) often that bother me to no end:
1) Where do you work? (Nowhere???)
2) How do you like being retired? (When did I retire???)
Let’s look at question #1. In the past, I answered: I’m in private practice; I work for a group of ophthalmologists; [insert career change here] I’m in community mental health; I work in spiritual care at a hospital and at a hospice; and, I’m Director of a Counseling Center at a small, private college.
Professional, succinct, in control, no hesitation.
Now what do I answer? Nowhere?
I guess that means housework doesn’t count, or grocery shopping or cooking the occasional meal, dropping off the dry cleaning, setting up appointments, paying bills, bringing my cat to the vet, being my own travel agent for Egypt or Sicily or Peru, being supportive of my husband, ironing, doing laundry, etc., etc., etc.
Somewhere my mind got used to thinking that a pay check was directly related to my self worth. If I got paid to do something, that equaled work, which mattered. Yet I remember when I practiced as an Optometrist, I was always careful to ask (mostly) women if they “worked outside the home,” so they would realize that staying at home incorporated work.
Let’s look at question #2. Retirement? Who retired? A year ago, physicians recommended I step aside from my position and take time off to rejuvenate. Someone asked me not long ago how my stress level was now that I was home. I told them honestly it was higher, since I was so stressed about not working.
I’m never satisfied, I guess…
At any rate, I’m no more retired than the President; I’m just in a holding pattern until I figure out what I’m going to do the rest of my life.
You know – my life re-imagined…
So far, I’ve incorporated neck and shoulder massages into my life [note: my poor massage therapist, who does my deep tissue massages -- we spend half the session solving the hers and world's problems, then the other half talking about how the ever-present knots in my muscles that will not loosen have "migrated" from place to place; who knew that I had traveling knots???], I’ve started this blog, I took swimming lessons at the YWCA, I got back to volunteering in Disaster Mental Health for the American Red Cross, I take a silent 8-day retreat once a year, and I’m looking to get back into per diem crisis work at a Level I Trauma hospital.
But with all this moaning, woe is me attitude, I’ll let you in on something that surprised me — I’m not “hungry” anymore…
Let me explain.
Could I open a private psychotherapy practice and do well? Sure. I did it as an optometrist and I can do it as a therapist with the benefit of years of experience behind me.
Do I want to? No. I’ve done my time and paid my dues. I’m tired of going 24/7 and being exhausted all of the time.
Could I work at another college? Sure – somewhere. Am I up for the politics and resistance to be faced? Not worth it. Let someone younger take that on; my time is too valuable for having to bulldoze the man-made obstacles that would be thrown into my path. And quite frankly, my time is more limited. 30 more years of non-stop, highest quality productivity is no longer possible or realistic.
Let the younger generation have their moment in the sun and in the spotlight, starting up new programs, generating income, getting published and promoted and challenged. It’s their time to shine, bonfire style, while mine is more of the quiet glow of a bank of embers.
Steady, sure, mellow. Still providing light and heat but without the expenditure of so much energy all at once in a short period of time. Both fires serve their own purpose.
Working full-time out in the competitive work force has its purpose, but so, too, does re-aligning my trajectory in mid-life.
But why is it so hard for me to do? Why isn’t what I’m doing, or attempting to do, enough? How can I help more of those in need by what I’m doing? Or not doing?
If anyone has any suggestions as to the best use of me, please let me know. After all, I’ve got plenty of time to listen…