Please permit me to be a bit more introspective than usual. You see, I have just done something significant that I’ve never done before: I quit my job, and now I seem to be suffering from an identity crisis of sorts. Who exactly am I now, where am I headed, and why did I do this crazy thing?
Some people call it retirement, but so far it feels like unemployment. I don’t seem to have any of the traits typically—or maybe stereotypically—associated with retirement. I’m not monetarily rich, I don’t have extensive travel plans, and I am not chomping at the bit to play more golf, catch more fish, or hunt more deer. In fact, I don’t play golf, fish, or hunt. Never have. And although I just turned 65, I don’t feel frail, my back is not bent, and my mind is still … what’s the word … what’s the word … sharp.
Small is Big
I do faintly detect a new freedom looming on the near horizon. I am starting to become aware of a different mindset about small daily decisions. And I’m catching a glimpse of that mathematical concept that applies to many aspects of life: small + small + small + small + small = big. Yes, I sense that something major is about to happen to me—a transformation of unemployment into a productive and fulfilling retirement delivered in small doses of freedom.
Should I take that welcome walk in the woods with my loyal canine companion (Baxter) early this summer morning while it’s still pleasantly cool outside? It’s already occurred to me that I no longer have to wait until after work when it’s hot and muggy. I can spend that special hour whenever I want—a new and welcome option. It’s a small thing, but I like having the option.
Should I skip my previously mandatory morning shower and enjoy some coffee while reading, writing, or listening to music or podcasts for a while? Sure, why not? I’ll save some time by showering only once, after I exercise this afternoon. After all, I don’t have to make myself presentable first thing today, if at all. I might not even venture out of the house. I might not even shave. I might become a hermit and disappear for a day. It’s another small thing to accrue to my total.
Would, Could, or Should?
So maybe I’ll walk the dog early, maybe I’ll have coffee unshowered … and then what? With an entire day ahead of me, how will I spend my time? How should I spend it? And for that matter, is it a question of would, could, or should?
… if I were older, younger, poorer, richer, taller, shorter, sicker, healthier, or smarter I would probably have different doors to deliberate …
If I had boatloads of bucks to spend I no doubt would have some options I don’t have. Such is life, and I’m not complaining or bemoaning what I would do if this or if that. Sure, if I were older, younger, poorer, richer, taller, shorter, sicker, healthier, or smarter I would probably have different doors to deliberate in my new life. But focusing on these irrelevant hypotheticals would be a worthless effort and a waste of time, at least for now.
Regardless of what I would do if I had someone else’s life, what could I do now with mine? I think I’m a writer. We’ll see. They say you are a writer if you write, not if you plan to write. I do have some book and blog ideas in my head, and I have already done some writing in both areas. But is that what I’ll do in retirement? Am I really a writer? I could spend more time writing. Time will tell.
I’m also a musician. I play guitar. I write songs. And no, I can’t sing and you’ll be happy to know that I don’t. I am fascinated by the recording process and I love to record my songs. I suppose that, like writing words, I am only entitled to make the “musician” claim if I actually make music out loud. I could use my time for that. So am I a musician? We’ll see.
I have been and will continue to be a teacher, as well as a speaker. In retirement, I could teach many things and I could speak publicly on many topics, but will I? If I am asked to teach or speak, I know I could and possibly would. These are things I like to do, have done well, and could do in retirement. So why not?
And then there are the shoulds. I’ve been both fortunate and lucky: The world has given me an abundance of joy, and I really should give some back. In fact, I’m sure I should. Maybe I can do so by writing more words, making more music, teaching more topics, or speaking in public. Maybe I’ll stumble across an entirely new way to contribute to someone else’s well-being or make the world a better place. Maybe I’ll run for president, but probably not. More likely, I’ll spend more time with my family and forgo a new career in politics.
Maybe More of the Same
My 2010 prostate cancer diagnosis and subsequent proton beam therapy in Jacksonville has already provided avenues for me to address some shoulds. I’ve written a book that has helped many men who have walked that road, and I’ve spoken with newly diagnosed men to help them sort out their options. I have enjoyed using humor in public speaking to help lighten the load of my proton brothers, hosted festive gatherings of fellow prostate cancer survivors, and written a blog (yes, this blog) for them and others who care to read it. With more time available I probably should continue those efforts.
And what about technology, which I love, and teaching, which I also love? Should I do more of that? For thirteen years as the technology training guy for Richland County, South Carolina, I did my best to help my coworkers discover ways do their jobs more efficiently, which hopefully made their days more pleasant and productive. It was a lucky kind of job, one in which the job itself was to help others. Should I have continued in that role? I liked it and they paid me to do it, so I am back to the original questions: why did I quit, and what do I do now?
Timing is Everything
I realize that each thing I do occupies the same time I could instead devote to something else. If I do “Thing A” now, “Thing B” will have to wait until later. Of course, if there are no “Things B, C, D … Z” then this would be a moot point, but with a long list of things to do (including a growing honey-do list), the issue of now-or-later is ever-present. Simply put, waiting until later is not a long-term strategy.
… the issue of now-or-later is ever-present. Simply put, waiting until later is not a long-term strategy.
I know people who retired and then promptly returned to their former job. Presumably they had no lists to tackle, so that’s fine for them. I know other people who have significant lists, but allow themselves to be golden-handcuffed into working “just one more year” in order to gain an ever-shrinking incremental financial benefit that somehow seems too hard to resist. I question this very tempting strategy because I know yet other people who were never able to tackle their lists. They ran out of time, as we all will eventually at some unknown, unpredictable moment.
Was this the right time for me to retire and tackle my lists? I am relatively healthy and can pay the bills, but I do hear the clock of life ticking loudly, amplified by my brush with prostate cancer. So yes, I feel reasonably confident that it’s time to move on—time to open one of the many new doors in the long hallway ahead.
Which door should I open first? You tell me. Knowing what you know about me, what should I do now? Thanks in advance for emailing your advice!