Over the course of my 33 1/2 year career, retirement always seemed so far off. Even though I took pre-retirement seminars in my 30s and 40s to get a sense of long-range thinking and planning, retirement was really not on my radar… until I turned 50.
It was the awareness of “a half century of existence” that triggered a huge mind shift and a process of reflection on how I wanted to spend the next half century (provided genetics permitted me to follow in the footsteps of my long-living relatives and ancestors).
There were many factors and sleepless nights that went into the decision of when it was time for me to sign off for the last time (… far too many to list in a blog post). However, without really thinking or looking too hard, it was almost like witnessing the parting of the Red Sea. It soon became obvious to me that June 2021 was the right time.
In January, I notified my manager and my colleagues of my plans, and then began the process of completing the stack of forms to formalize the decision. Once the forms were submitted and I received confirmation that everything was in order, that was the moment when I realized I had pulled the metaphoric pin on the metaphoric grenade. The countdown was on!
I don’t know if it was just me, but from there, it wasn’t a gradual trajectory from January to June. Once that decision was carved in stone, a surprising roller coaster of emotions ensued.
I was already prepared for the idea that, much like in the completion of a major project, there is joy, pride and satisfaction in a job well done.
There was also a form of grieving over the imminent change in the routine and the loss of the familiar faces with whom I collaborated for years. I reminded myself to be present and in the moment and to be appreciative for every remaining hour with what had become my extended family of colleagues.
Some days, I truly wished that this chapter of my life wouldn’t end, as I’d knew I’d be dealing with the inevitable sadness and “ugly crying” at some point along the way.
I also lived with a feeling of exhaustion. Buying, selling and moving at the beginning of the pandemic, followed by a list of overwhelming emergency home repairs left behind by the previous owners was a big drain on my energy levels.
Yet on some mornings, I woke up already wishing I was retired, prematurely instilled with the motivation to tackle some of the many projects yet to be completed around our country property.
Similarly, there were times when some of the story characters cohabitating in my subconscious were busy dictating character notes or storylines for future scripts. I took quick notes from those moments of inspiration and tried to shoo away the characters saying, “Just a few more weeks, OK? I’m not finished with work yet.”
There were some days when the weather was less than ideal that I often thought to myself that this would be a perfect day to put on some gentle tunes, make a cup of tea, and park myself on the couch with a good book, the cat snoring on my lap, and just “be” rather than “do”. I reassured myself, “those healing days will be here before we know it” as I dutifully plowed through the work day.
Some days went by at a snail’s pace while others went by so very quickly.
I believe it was the series of “the last time I…” that made the finish line feel closer: the last time I take this mandatory training course; the last time I have to do this report; the last time I have to change my password.
The strangest emotion I felt was disbelief. Because I worked in a very reactive environment, deadlines and due dates often shifted when something unexpectedly hit the fan. After three decades of that reality, I mistakenly established an association in my mind that my retirement date was also potentially subject to a delay or deferral (even though it was completely within my control). As a result, I didn’t dare count my retirement chickens until they were hatched.
When June finally arrived and we were well into the single-digit countdown days, the anticipation was building and emotions were surfacing.
For my retirement party, given the pandemic restrictions, I would have been happy with a few words at a team meeting, but my colleagues went ahead and organized a virtual event that was truly a heartwarming and a perfectly delightful send off.
The ugly cry came later when reading the email wishes from colleagues, present and past. There was a bit of a sense of “It’s a Wonderful Life” in reverse when reading their descriptions of how a gesture on my part caused a positive ripple effect in their lives. With tears streaming down my face, I was left speechless, which doesn’t happen often.
Interestingly enough, five minutes before signing off for the last time, I turned on the “Out-of-office auto reply” function in Outlook, with a message saying “I have retired… please contact… instead”. To my surprise, my emotions didn’t spill over in that moment. In fact, there wasn’t much fanfare in that step.
When it was time to go, I sent my final email to my team mates expressing my thanks for the wonderful virtual party. Again, surprisingly, no gush of emotion at that point. That was when I realized that I had already gone through the full range of pre-retirement emotions over the last six months and that the roller-coaster ride was over. I guess that I was pretty much cried out. Who knew?
Just at that moment, Ivy the Wonder Cat head-bumped her way into my home office, meowing. I turned to her and asked if it was time to go for a walk. She ran downstairs and parked herself by the pet gate, impatiently waiting for me to put the leash on her.
Once outside, we took a stroll around the property. After a few minutes, she sat down in the freshly mowed grass, to enjoy the sights, the sunny day, the perfect temperature and the gentle breeze. In realizing that I wasn’t on the clock anymore (having to return from lunch at a certain time, or to be back at a specific time for a meeting), I decided to sit down next to her and to enjoy the idyllic moment with her.
I was already starting my journey into just “being”.
We both sat there quietly, staring into the countryside, enjoying the tranquility of the moment and the calm that follows the conclusion of a busy but most enjoyable career for which I will always be most grateful.
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Have a great day,