January 27, 2011 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: Boomer not ready for rocker

By The Spokesman-Review
 

From my vantage point at the head of the parade of baby boomers now turning 65 – I declared my status two weeks ago, so I might as well stick with the theme – I’ve been thinking recently about working. Or not working. About retirement and how it kind of sucks.

And having the flu, which I do right now, makes it suck even more.

I was always one of those people who planned never to retire. I used to say, only half in jest, that I’d be carried out of the office, toes up on my 93rd birthday. I was one of the lucky ones. Most of the time I loved my work. I loved having a compelling reason to put my shoes on in the morning. I loved the energy of the office, the problems and problem-solving, the collaboration, the friendships. And I liked the regular paycheck.

I was fortunate. Along the way, I also found time to do most of the things I wanted to do, though sometimes later than planned, what with the needs of family, the dictates of finances and the reality of the time available to do them all. Still, I didn’t live a wait- until-I-retire-to-realize-my- dreams kind of life.

But things – and expectations – change. As it turned out, I walked out of the office on my own two feet not long after my 60th birthday. I was age-appropriate, so I rode the retirement pony out of town. There were no villains in the piece. As I said, things change, and I recognized I just didn’t fit comfortably in the organization any more. It happens. Happily, I had options. But goodbye to the toes-up scenario.

Since I had no intention of really being retired, I began looking for a part-time job right away – I didn’t think I’d be that marketable for most full-time positions at my age – and I even interviewed for the position of editor of a statewide retirees’ publication. I made it into the finals, but no further. So I started a little freelance writing business. I’d been a freelancer when my boys were little, and I’ve always enjoyed it. I also do volunteer work for two nonprofit organizations in town, serving on the boards of each. It all keeps me busy, and it is pretty fulfilling.

But it doesn’t feel like real work.

Even though, technically, I am retired, I can never bring myself to write that down on any forms I fill out. Profession? I write in freelance writer, which is true also. I’m just hard pressed to use the R word. It makes me feel diminished, though I know it shouldn’t. I mean, this is the place toward which people work and plan their whole lives. Why does it not feel as cool as advertised?

The literature out there about us now-retiring boomers talks about the bottom and the top – how we are financially unable to retire and struggling to make ends meet or how we are realizing our passions and creating a third act filled with creativity and inner joy. But I haven’t seen a lot about how some of us just miss regular work, of being a part of what makes the engine hum.

I’m not one of those people who found my identity or validation through my job. I’ve been very fortunate in life. A good man. Good kids. Work I loved (mostly). It’s been a good balance. But now that I’m nearly five years into what’s considered retirement, filled with activities I’ve been able to select, I realize I feel out of balance. I miss not necessarily any specific job I’ve held, but all of them – that world of work in which I was a player (small scale) and a contributor, that time when I was depended on to do my part.

I know, in this economy, it’s a privilege to be able to retire and to have some choices about what to do in retirement. But here I am longing for that earlier time when it mattered (to a degree) whether I showed up at the office, when I had an office to show up to (awkward grammar, sorry) and being in the mainstream.

Yes, yes, I understand that time moves on. We all get a turn. None of us is irreplaceable. And I am so aware that this sounds like the most self-indulgent whine. (Well, we baby boomers are good at that.) I don’t hear similar sentiments about work from friends who have also done the R thing, so I’m clearly missing something here.

Or maybe it’s just the damn flu.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at upwindsailor@comcast.net.


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