I am watching with interest as my contemporaries tip toe into retirement.
Webster’s Dictionary defines retirement as an act of retiring, withdrawal from one’s position or occupation or from active working life, a place of seclusion or privacy.
Yikes! That sounds awful! It implies one foot in the grave or at the very least, a permanent state of hibernation.
I grew up in a traditional home in the ‘50’s and 60’s. My father and grandfather ran a small family construction company that was started by my great-grandfather. Three generations of hard-working men.
My childhood mental picture album contains an image of my father’s dusty work boots resting at night on the top landing of our home’s cellar steps while his yellow Chevy pick-up truck waited for another work day on the driveway with an over flowing ash tray and a wad of rubber bands curled on the shift stick.
C.J. Burgess Company’s office, six miles away in Canajoharie, NY, housed three over-sized garage bays with oil stained concrete floors. A dump truck, crane, and a muddy backhoe took turns inside the building. Otherwise, they were parked behind the office on a large asphalt apron surrounded by scattered concrete blocks, oil drums, stacks of lumber, and bags of sand and Portland cement. A curious blend of diesel fuel, cigar smoke, and stale gardenia perfume wafted through out the 1940’s cinderblock building like a noxious storm cloud.
Work is what is what everyone did in the company. I knew the first names of most of the workers. Mac, the electrician, Dirk, the carpenter, Vic, the plumber, Silvio the mason. I did not know anything about their home lives. I just knew what their jobs were.
When I moved away to go to college, I did not see the crew anymore. I knew Mac died, but the others kept working. I did not hear of any retirement parties. My father and grandfather also kept working. Age was not an eliminator.
Like a sugar cube in a mug of hot tea, I observed my father’s and grandfather’s work hours slowly dissolve until there were just a few tiny crystals resting on the bottom. The sugar served its purpose of sweetening the drink. And in the end, a few specks remained to enhance the final gulp.
Retirement was not a term I heard used much. When I did, it almost seemed to be a negative word that implied laziness. My Dad and grandfather kept going in to the office until one day, they did not.
So, as you see, my work ethic has deep roots. Work is part of my life.
As a little girl, I had responsibilities. A homemade weekly chores chart for my three sisters and me hung on the kitchen wall indicating what day of the week which child did what dinnertime task. No days off. Weekends were included.
When I was old enough, I worked in the summer for pay. Before that, gratis yard work and household assignments were part of my routine as a child. I could not imagine not having a job or having a full summer of pure leisure.
Fortunately, I found employment right out college to match my skill set. The salary was meager, but I had a job and I did not live at home.
After I was married, to supplement our newlywed budget, I worked part-time in the men’s department of Gimbels Department Store measuring inseams and selling sports coats. I later worked full-time as a paralegal at Armstrong World Industries. When the kids came along, I was fortunate to be able to put my out-of-home work on hold and raise our family. Although, that was a work of another kind, I never viewed it as such. I was a Mom and that was the most important job I ever did.
Then, when my children were in elementary school, I returned to working outside the home as a high school Spanish teacher. This career structured retirement as its final goal. However, I did not dwell on the end game and its financial benefits, I enjoyed teaching.
Of course, there is a season for everything. So, in my early sixties, I accepted that it was time to step away from teaching. I had less in common with my students. I growled at 5:20am wake-ups. Tight daily schedules, including lunch time and bathroom breaks, were starting to get annoying. Since I had accumulated sufficient years, I retired.
I felt kind of funny going to retirement seminars to learn about my well-deserved benefits. As I slid under the protective umbrella of the teacher’s union, I felt a little embarrassed cashing in on my trade. It was odd to put the word retired next to my current work status.
However, my retirement from teaching actually pushed open the door of my next stage of life. Waiting in the wings was my desire to share messages of hope and connect my heart with others. I started writing. Fortunately, the well never ran dry. I became a published author and a public speaker. Far from seclusion, I enjoy sharing my writing. It brings me great joy. I eagerly jumped off the hamster wheel and perched on a colorful horse on life’s carousel where I sit today as I get ready to release my third children’s book, Heidi Saves the Day.
So, as I listen to others express concern about the end of their current careers, I want to tell them that they are much more than a job. For those who worry about how to fill their days, I want to shout, the opportunities are endless, pick a few things! To the ones who want to linger in the past and replay the glory days, I say, move on, nothing is forever and neither are you.
Kim’s definition of retirement: (sorry Webster)
A gift of a shift from what you had to do to what you choose to do.
It is an opportunity to reap the benefits of your hard work and realize there is more to life than work. Final farewells should not include a desire for one more day at the office, but instead, gratitude for the time given to relax and enjoy life with loved ones.
I am grateful for my retirement. There is so much more to do and learn.
Happy retirement to those of you who are fortunate to be starting on your journey. And to those of you already on the trail, carry on!