This represents a truly enviable dilemma. I no longer need to work for a living but at the same time I am looking back on my career with a perplexing wistfulness. I am not old enough to be retired. Just lucky.
I spent 5 years working to attain this level of freedom, where I can come and go as I wish, and not have to answer to anyone. It is kind of early semi very early retirement, where I work a little and have lots of free time. I have lots of time to workout (which is my favorite thing), read, and relax with friends. And if all goes well, I have 25 years or so, rather than 15, with which to explore the possibilities. So what seems to be the problem?
I went on LinkedIn and that may have been my first mistake. There were all my professional contacts in their high positions, earning their fabulous salaries and connecting with more people each day. A glimpse into my old professional life. Over the last five years, while I was planning my change to a more peaceful, less harried existence, I followed a couple of blogs that discussed the perplexing pull of the job left behind, so I should have expected this melancholy. The fact is, that you spend an entire lifetime achieving and repositioning yourself to achieve. So even now, when I see the folly of a lifetime literally ‘spent’ in the hapless pursuit of status and money, I still feel a certain angst when I think of my previous life. That previous life, however funded this possibility of early retirement though, so it was not all bad. I suppose that if I called up any one of my old contacts, they might envy that I have made the leap so early.
So what don’t I miss from my previous life? I don’t miss getting up early, dressing in the same suits and running out to see clients who tended to be ambivalent about my mission. I don’t miss the chronic to-do list that cycles in my head from the moment my feet hit the ground in the morning. I don’t miss the late nights at work, working on chronic problems that just don’t seem to go away. I don’t miss the office politics. I don’t miss that the things I wanted to do most often fell by the wayside while I did the things I wished to do least.
So now, even as I write this column, my spirits are lifting as I move into this altered perspective and identify the things that I appreciate about my new life. So easy to take the ease of this new life for granted. Lazy mornings where I rise according to my body clock. Time spent by the fire with an amazing cup of coffee and a good book. Working out becomes a solid item on the mellowed to-do list for the day rather than a residual ‘if I can get to it’ item. Walking the dog and appreciating the sunny crisp morning rather than a short, last-minute walk in the cold dark night. Writing and ghost blogging for a regular list of clients whom I adore working with. Time to travel for as long as I wish to, but that is another issue.
I wrote long posts about the intrigue of traveling for longer periods of time and created my top 5 wish list of places to go when I retired. I am now early retired, and my work is freelance and portable. But I am not traveling at all. I keep making plans to travel and then I find a reason not to go, just yet. A friend has suggested to just go with the feeling and see what it is telling me. Am I really that intrepid traveler that dreamed of exotic places where time slipped idly away without consequence. Maybe not yet. But maybe in the future still.
So who I was then and who I am now could be two different people. Could it be that we focus on what is missing and how dysfunctional is that? I do not ever wish to go back and I know that for sure. I was offered a role for a substantial salary with a non-for-profit for a great cause and I turned it down. There was a requirement to be in the office 5 days a week and a substantial commute involved. So I know that I am where I need to be. I just need to adjust to it.
There is an article here about the six stages of retirement and it highlights the Reorientation stage where you are building a new identity. I am currently moving between the Honeymoon Stage and the Disenchantment Stage, although disenchantment feels a bit strong for what I am experiencing. I think during this time where we are forming our new identity, we vacillate between appreciation for the new life and a nostalgic glamorization of the old life. The new life is amazing but we have no identity within it. Friends are still working and conversations which diss the corporate culture are no longer relevant. Always when we are ‘becoming’ there is a tenuous place of nothing where the old descriptions no longer fit and the new ones have yet to be established. It is just the anxiety that always exists when we undergo a major life change. And always, with each change, some things are better and some things are worse.