My friend Mary, a lawyer in the Midwest, is thinking about retiring and wants to know if I think she should. I’m no expert although I’ve been playing at it for a few years.
I say sure, see what else is out there. I tell her about Bob, the retired journalism professor who bicycles to his own little corner in the park to play his trumpet and about Ellen, the retired diplomat, who self-publishes exotic novels.
But no rush to jump into something new right away. Do a Hillary Clinton. Say you’re going to “untire” and see what else comes up.
There are some pretty groovy people no longer working for a living or living for work. After I retired I found two new groups to keep my body and mind going. The Transition Network is a national organization for women leaving and changing careers. Every two weeks our local transition group drinks tea and ponders our possibilities. Every week my Wander Women group pushes me onto a hiking trail and bike path.
Of course, I explain, I’m not really retired. I’m semi. I still write. I still have an appointment book. I still wake up and make lists.
Do I sound defensive? Once you quit your day job you find yourself using the word “still” a lot. As in continuing. As opposed to sputtered out and stopped. People ask, “Keeping busy? Bored yet?” You could serenely respond, “Actually, my life is fuller than ever but in different ways.” But sometimes you stammer, maybe a little too loud, that you just put in a winter garden, took care of two kids under 4, written a book proposal and are thinking about trekking the Camino de Santiago. The whole route.
It is not a seamless next step. You may worry you gave up the job too soon. I guess if you’re a lawyer you could be nostalgic for those genius moments in the courtroom when you were like Martha, the brilliant London barrister with the no-smear lipstick in Silk. I enjoyed good days, even great ones, in the newsroom. But I don’t miss death-to-the-soul staff meetings and how a dull day could turn on the corner deli not running out of lentil salad.
Get going, I tell my pal in Detroit, but understand that you can’t return to what was. It’s like the spikes in the exit lane of a parking lot. Try to back up and you’ll wreck your tries.
Do it now. Some people would keep you tethered for another decade or two. Robert Benmosche, the head of insurance giant AIG – bailed out by the government, helped wreck the global economy – is one who thinks the retirement age should go up to 70 or 80.
I imagine my friend, a lawyer for mostly low income people, and her husband, a retired newspaper editor, will rely for a large part on Social Security, Medicare and a pension. But there are no guarantees.
Some members of Congress and their keepers would cut the lifelines. These people do not have a kind and generous nature. They’re the same ones who hack at food stamps, milk for babies, Head Start, birth control and health care for all. As well, both sides in the Washington games take turns threatening Social Security and Medicare. And these crazy shenanigans with the debt limit can’t make anyone feel secure about any future.
Here’s my advice: Curl up on the chaise and purr for a while and then look for something that doesn’t require a blazer and makes you feel alive. The ukulele, I hear, is a kick. And break in those hiking boots. If the big boys keep cutting, you’ll need them for our march on Washington.