Last week I wrote a post about aging, and where I fit on what I dubbed the “beauty intervention continuum.” In a nutshell, I’m pro-hair dye and make-up, but anti-Botox. And I said, at the time, that I am not comfortable having “a little work done,” on the outside. I’m busy enough trying to refashion myself on the inside. Because retirement will do that to you. Or at least it has done to me.
That’s what is so intimidating about the prospect of retirement. The idea that you won’t be the same person as you were when you were gainfully employed. And if not, then who will you be? At least that’s how it was for me. So much of my identity was wrapped up in being a teacher, a department head, a mentor to young teachers, in standing in front of a class, chairing meetings, running the school paper, sitting on committees, giving out diplomas at commencement or all the other myriad roles big and small that had been part of my life for thirty years. And if I wasn’t going to be Ms. Burpee anymore… then who would I be?
And, you know, once I got over being sad about the loss of my old self, that lack of identity is what became so exciting about the prospect of retirement. Who would I be? And how would I tackle making myself into who I wanted to become. It was like being twenty and choosing a career all over again, except I was a lot smarter than I was at twenty. And much more financially stable.
So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past three and a half years. Deciding who and what I wanted to be when I was no longer a teacher. I’ve been having a little work done… on the inside. Doing a little …. self-renovation, so to speak.
Hubby and I have faced some challenging life situations since I retired. I’ve written about a few of those challenges here and here. I think they’ve made me a stronger, more patient, and more empathetic person. You’d think that teaching large classes of teenagers would teach you all you need to know about patience, wouldn’t you? Ha. Living in the Castle of Grumpy Grouch for a few months made teaching grade nines seem like a doddle. But never mind. Things have worked out well for all concerned. Hubby is back golfing, and planning a canoe trip for later this month.
But aside from the personal growth that comes with weathering whatever life decides to throw at us… the exciting part of retirement for me is being able to choose which path to growth I want to take. In choosing which of my interests, on the back burner for most of my teaching career, I can now pursue.
Take reading for instance. I love to read. It seems I’ve spent my whole life with my nose in a book. But when I was teaching English, it was often books I needed to read for my classes that I had my nose in. Now, in retirement I have the time to read whatever I want, as widely as I want, in whatever direction I choose, and I have time to take a detour down those reading rabbit holes that present themselves when you’re reading an engrossing book. Like researching an author I enjoy, or reading all their previous works. Or whatever.
I have more time to pursue my interests in fashion and fitness. I’ve read all kinds of non-fiction books on fashion in the past couple of years. I follow several fashion blogs. I have more time to shop around. See what’s out there. And I have more time to stay fit. I work out in one form or other every day, now. I don’t have to squeeze it in when I get home from school, or go to the gym at the end of a long day. Because let’s face it, early morning work-outs were never going to happen for this mid-morning person. So Hubby and I walk, or bike, or ski together. Or I pedal my exercise bike and do a weight work-out while listening to a mystery novel on my i-pod. And I walk (or skate) once a week with two friends. All this when regular people are at work. How cool is that?
And then there’s art. Last winter I decided to renew my old passion for drawing. With some classes taught by my friend Margaret, and a strong determination to make time for art in my life. And an equally strong determination to not get discouraged, or throw in the towel. Or the charcoal. Phew. That has been tough. Especially for a perfectionist with a very raucous inner critic. But I’m learning to have patience with myself, as well as with others.
And, you see, this is where the growth comes in. Where I’m learning to fashion a new “me.” I’m resurrecting old passions and relearning old and rusty skills. And I’m trying entirely new things too. And learning new skills.
Take blogging, for instance. Writing this blog gives me an outlet through which to explore all my other interests, like fashion, and books, and travel. Not to mention old-fashioned story-telling. And writing. And it has allowed me to develop my interest in technology which was just beginning as my career in teaching was ending. I sometimes can’t believe how many new things I’ve learned to do on my computer since I started blogging. And writing a blog has also spirited me into a wonderful new on-line world, a community really, of readers and other bloggers. And that’s important, since in retirement I no longer have that daily social contact with classes and colleagues. Blogging and writing have become an important part of my new identity in retirement. A very rewarding part.
So where is all this self-analysis going? Well, you might remember that I read Kate Bolick’s book Spinster last month and wrote about it in a post here. Now, I’m not big on self-help books, those books which purport to show you how to live your life, how to be happy, or how to be successful. But I often find that books whose main intent is not to help you navigate your life, can do just that. And Bolick’s book helped me to understand a bit more about myself. And how I see myself in retirement.
In one chapter of her book Kate Bolick discusses a study by American social psychologists Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius which examined thirty subjects who had recently experienced a significant loss in their lives. Markus and Nurius explored how the subjects’ self-knowledge or “understandings of themselves” could be related to how well they were recovering from their traumatic experiences. They found that all the subjects had negative views of their “current selves,” understandable when you consider that their lives had all been recently thrown off kilter. But what the researchers found most interesting was that the subjects who were best able to cope with their loss and make a good recovery were those who saw their future selves in positive terms. Markus and Nurius use the term “possible selves” to describe how we view the “self” we might become in the future. And the subjects who were able to envision themselves as somehow better, more confident, more successful in the future were more able to remain hopeful that their miserable present was “transitory.” Huh. You can read about the theory of “possible selves” in this article if you’re interested.
|Five-thirty… A.M. on the river.|
So as I read Bolick’s book, it began to dawn on me…. if as retirement approaches, we see ourselves facing a future where we will be somehow less than when we were working. If we see our future “possible self” as unproductive, unemployed, not as worthy as our employed “present self”… then no wonder it scares the bejesus out of some people. And it strikes me that it’s not just those who are “busy” who weather retirement best, but those who see their “possible retired self” as better, more confident, healthier maybe, more active, more able to help others now that they have time… whatever. And as someone who needs to be optimistic, I mean really, really needs to be a “Pollyanna”… this theory appeals to me. And kind of helps me understand how I’ve been approaching retirement. As one big self-improvement project.
So, I may not be “getting a little work done” on my wrinkles any time soon. But it seems that I’m working away on everything else.
Not nose to the grindstone working. I am retired after all. But working nevertheless. Albeit with frequent tea breaks. And a good book. On the deck. In the sunshine. Hopefully.
How about you dear readers? How do you see your future retired self? Your “possible self” after work is done for good?