THIS I BELIEVE
Five years ago, I faced a daunting transition. I reached my 65th birthday, and retired. I closed the book on a long career in the U.S. and abroad working in organizations that help people living in poverty create better lives. While I gained an appreciation for the riches middle and upper income Americans enjoy, I continue to be bothered by the basic inequities existing in the world.
My work was profoundly rewarding, but long days and the emotional cost of working in the developing world took their toll. I was ready for a change, but not as drastic as leaving my job, career, professional friends, and indeed my identity. Overnight I went from employed to unemployed, a contributing member of society to a social security check recipient, and from secure in my identity to having in an identity crisis.
During my first year of retirement, I realized that few of life’s major transitions are more conflicted than this one. The trouble with this transition is that expectations often diverge from reality. Who would look forward to a life of boredom, increasing uselessness, and ill-health foretold in an outmoded portrayal of retirement? I hoped that my retirement could be energizing if I was prepared mentally and took control of the changes.
Since, I believe, that I’ll only go around once on this merry-go-round, I had better make the most of this time. We bought a commercial building nearby that use my management skills and provide us income. During the winter I volunteer at my public radio station, and the Baltimore Symphony; work on political campaigns, and participate in my neighborhood association. I march for peace and stand with the Women in Black against violence in the world. My representative and senators hear from me regularly.
During the summer we live on the family ranch where I read, write, take pictures, work in my garden, and entertain our many visitors as I hone my cooking and baking skills. I’m able to enjoy friends, family and nature in the splendor of Montana’s Rocky Mountains. I make time to travel and learn new skills. During our recent trip to China I took thousands of photos on my digital camera, and am learning to use the camera software. My appreciation of the arts and artists has intensified. Never before has my lifestyle so ideally fit my energy, values and interests. I am engaged in life to its fullest.
Now five years into retirement, I believe it is the most underrated of life’s stages. I have more time to be generous, and loving in ways that my busy career and family life precluded. With good health, adequate resources and a continued zest for living, it is the most unfettered, gratifying and integrated time of my life. I am weaving together my previous experiences, drawing strength from deeply rich relationships, and giving back to society—all this with the perspective that only time can bring. This, I believe, is the gift retirement has given me.
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