August 16, 2020
Retiring to Instead of Retiring From
In June of 2001, my business was in its final death throes. After 36 years, the path had started at fifteen was reaching its conclusion. The finish was not what I expected; the quick fade into irrelevance was not what I had envisioned.
Three months later, the events of 9/11 shook our self-enclosed world to its core. We were only not safe, but amazingly, shockingly, vulnerable. What millions of others around the globe experienced as a regular part of life, in one blink of an eye, became ours, too.
I was instantly aware that my business would never have survived the changes 9/11 forced on us, so leaving when I did was fortunate. But, I realized that the world into which I was retiring was not the one I thought I was about to enter.
Retirement is retirement from something, usually a paying job. I guess you could say you are retiring from raising children or caring for an aging parent. You could retire from volunteer work, or serving on the board of a local charity. You could even think of retiring from your previous life and retire to an island off the coast of England. But, nine times out of ten to retire is stopping some form of employment.
Well, it took me several years to understand that type of retirement really doesn't work. If you retire from something, then what? All you have known stops. Many of your friends are connected by work; that link is severed. The way you spend your time, plan your day, use the weekend changes completely. Actually, when you retire, you are only halfway to a satisfying retirement. There is a key part of the puzzle still missing.
For several years I struggled to find what came next. Prison ministry, ham radio, becoming a lay minister: each seemed to offer a fulfilling next thing. For a time, each gave me something to look forward to, to plan my weeks around, to interact with others. Eventually, though, each ended, leaving me to wonder what was next. I hadn't yet found what I was retiring to.
Ten years ago. I stumbled into blogging. It wasn't anything I planned. I have always enjoyed writing; my favorite class in High School was creative writing. Blogging, though, is different from writing fiction, like a great whodunit. It is more personal. You are placing parts of yourself out there for others to see. Hiding is not really an option.
Ten years of writing this blog had made me a different person than the one I was when I started. A decade of purposely airing my thoughts on a variety of topics has forced me to reevaluate decisions and choices. Publicly putting myself in front of others has left me hardened in some ways, and softened in others.
Writing is tough work, regardless of the form. Have you ever tried to compose a letter to a loved one you hurt through some selfish act? Have you ever wanted to capture the beauty of a sunset in a poem? Have you decided it is essential to pass on life lessons to a grandchild but couldn't quite find the right words or tone?
Blogging is kind of like that. Every few days, there is a need to say something worth someone else's time to read it. To simply produce sentences and paragraphs, anything, to fill a page and hit publish is unfair to the reader. That person has many ways of spending his or her time. They are owed your best effort in making the few minutes at your site worth their investment.
I will be the first to admit that some of what I have written over the years has missed...badly. Few people bothered to read something I posted, and even fewer left a comment. However, I have gained an appreciation for the instant judgment of the marketplace.
Something that hits a cord, is engaging on some level and provokes a response, quickly becomes evident. Likewise, a topic or approach that lays on the page, flat, and uninteresting, makes itself known, too. When I write something, my challenge is to express something that provokes the former, and learn from the space fillers like the latter.
So, this was what I was looking for: something to retire to. This is truly the magical part. When you find something that fulfills the piece of you that needs attention, it seems to open up new areas that have always been there, but simply remained unnoticed.
Playing guitar, trying to oil paint, picking up a charcoal pencil to sketch something in the kitchen or backyard...I believe creative activities that I never knew had any real appeal to me have surfaced because I was not stuck in the "from" part of retirement, but, had transitioned into "to" something. Once that happened, I became free to let other things develop.
So, the important takeaway from these thoughts: have you retired to something, or just from something?