In the airport the other day I got a little pang of–was it regret?– as I watched business travelers 20 or so years younger than me tote their briefcases, check their email, talk on their cellphones about products, meetings, concepts. Those days of purposeful business travel are over for me, but I remember them well.
The things that were important and set the boundaries of my day-to- day life –clients, new business, bosses, colleagues–have no relevance to this life I lead now as a retiree.
Most of us plan for retirement, right? We set an approximate date and work toward it, saving money and listing the things we’ll do once we have an abundance of free time. Oh, to not be limited by work!
But that’s not what happened to me. When I “retired” in 2009, it was unexpected. My first and last husband (yes there were a couple in the middle) looked up one day and said, “You know, you don’t have to work.”
It stopped me short. I’d always worked. I figured I’d work another five or six years, maybe create my own business and keep going until I couldn’t. I planned to give up my consulting job soon, but figured I’d do something else. I’d have to, to keep making money. The idea that I didn’t “have” to had never occurred to me.
For more than a dozen years I’d had a consulting job and during most of them, I’d loved it. But the thrill had gone and so had my illusions about what had become a Crazytown. I knew it was past time for me to leave. It took me about five minutes to write my resignation letter. No regrets, either.
The second thing out of my husband’s mouth was, “if you leave consulting, you could just teach college part-time.” He knew how much I loved my adjunct teaching and retirement would free me to teach more courses per semester. Adjunct professor pay is notoriously paltry and he knew that. But he also knew how much I loved teaching college courses and he paved the way for me to do more of it.
Once we moved to California, I taught again, at a different school. That, also, was fun, for a while. And then, I knew that I was done teaching, at least in this life.
So many of my cohort are still working because they must and I know that could be me. It WAS me. And I’m grateful that my husband has made it possible for me to live unshackled to a paycheck. I don’t really miss it. Well, I do miss making money but not the steady grind that jobs become after a while.
Still, when I see business travelers in airports I do feel a pang of nostalgia for those days when I, too, was going from one city to the next on productive business. When I worked full time, I did it to support myself. I had to. My choices were limited by that necessity, but I never looked on it as a limitation, just “the way things are.”
Now, my future is entirely in my own hands. I am free to create and recreate myself every single day, and while it sounds great, having so many options can be confusing. Sometimes it feels like I have a bit of ADD: lots of ideas, nothing sticks for very long. Here’s what I have noticed: All those options can create a little anxiety or can even paralyze us.
Here’s what I discovered:
Too many choices can be confusing, American psychologist Barry Schwartz pointed out in a 2006 book about consumers. He called it “the paradox of choice,” saying that we had more choice now than ever before, but we didn’t seem to benefit from that, at least not psychologically. He pointed out that eliminating some of that choice eliminated consumer anxiety. I think that same concept applies to life.
Too much choice has not benefited me. But that’s where I’m at. Stuck.
I’m thinking I know what my next act is if I can get off my ass and do it. But, do I really want to do it? Or is the status quo ok with me?
I’m not sure.
Carol…. inhale the future and exhale the past.