Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Bold or Mold: What Do You Do When Your Career is Over?


The rooms in which you’ve lived for most of your life are collapsing, one by one.  You reluctantly walk to the only exit left and open the door.  Absolute darkness awaits.  You’ll need to feel your way from here, hoping you’ll discover new adventures, new wisdom, new loves.  Your only certainty is that nearly everything will change.  It’s up to you to find the light.

Most of us face major life changes at one point or another.  Some despair at the loss of the old.  Most feel at least a little anxious.  A few take deep breaths and cheer for the excitement.  Change is always stressful, but now and then, it leads us to greener pastures than we thought possible.

I’m retiring from my day job.  Like the door on an antique prison cell, retirement clangs shut on past possibilities.  An old song repeats, “If you go, you can’t come back.  If you go, you can’t come back.”  Backward is generally an awkward, unsatisfying direction, if it’s possible at all.  The grotesque results of the unsuccessful plastic surgeries suffered by a few of our aging celebrities remind us that we can’t return to the people we were, even if we try very hard with lots of money.  Even if we manage to appear to be the same, it’s an illusion.  We aren’t.

American individualistic culture often equates us with our jobs.  “What do you do?” is the question we ask instead of “who are you?”  We believe we are what we do, and losing a job is losing identity.  Who will I be when my title is negated by the prefix “retired” or “former”?  Who will respect me?

Most of the people who lose their jobs for whatever reason grow weary of the well-meaning, well-compensated employed who chirp, “You just need to reinvent yourself.”  Really?  Did you ever try molting into a butterfly after years as a caterpillar?  It might hurt.  And how do you know how to fly when you’ve spent so much time creeping along the ground?  The answer is you (“you” being “me,” of course) make it up.  You leap off the cliff and start moving whatever you can move to keep yourself airborne.  When one idea doesn’t work, you try another…and another…and yet another.  The time for following prescriptions is over.  Now you have to follow your instinct and your imagination.  Old has to be bold or it’s mold.

The prospect of losing connections, of having no one to tell you when you’re looking good or to share a commiserating glass of wine when life is going badly–the prospect of living mostly solo is appropriately terrifying.  It’s time to be purposeful about reinvigorating the friendships and partnerships you’ve enjoyed in the past, while you work on establishing new ones.  Your phase of being an island is over.  You need to find or fabricate bridges to the mainland–even if they’re electronic.

Those of us who are of an age to retire have no illusions about what the end of the line will be, but that’s not news.  We’ve known that all along.  What’s news is that the only box around us now is the one we’ve built.  We’re afraid to leave the cage now that the door is open.  We finally have time to experiment with old and new talents.  We finally have time to care about more people than the ones in our house or our family, if we wish, or care for our loved ones better than before–or care for ourselves better than before.  For some of us, our bodies haven’t survived the journey intact.  You take the hand you’re dealt and do what you can to make it work for you in the time you have.

I’ve been without a defined job before, but I always had the key to a back door.  From now on, my options are limited to going forward or stagnating where I am.  In my mind, there’s no time to dawdle.  In my mind, stagnation is living death.  I folded my former dreams into paper airplanes that crashed.  I have drawers of manuscripts that people liked but for which no one was willing to risk big bucks.  Do I have more airplane designs yet to fashion?  Given more time and energy, could I create one that would fly?  Or do I have a future that has almost no relationship to my past?   Will it blossom in a faraway place or into an unimagined life?

I have love and faith as fuel and so I leap into the void.  For the moment, I’m flying…

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