I had a long conversation with a friend on Sunday about what it’s been like for me being “retired.” I always feel like I have to put the word in quotes, because even though I quit a job I’d been at for 19 years and I’m in my early 50s and I’m not working much right now, all key signs of retirement, I don’t intend to quit working altogether. I still plan on teaching and writing, hopefully making some sort of a living, a life, as simple and modest and small as it might be. After talking with my friend, I thought I should come here and share what I’ve learned. I don’t mean to say any of this would be true for anyone else, but this is what my experience has been.
1. Burnout is real. I thought I’d take the summer off like I had for the past nine or so years, and in the fall I’d be rested and ready to begin. My body in particular, along with my mind and heart, said “nope, we need more time.” This is frustrating, and a bit scary (what if this is as much energy as I ever have?). I’m trying to be patient, to trust myself, to honor what I need. I remind myself that technically, because I’d had summers off, I’ve only been retired for three months. It’s okay to take my time. It’s okay to pace myself.
2. Things take more time than you think. Because I knew what I wanted to do next for work, have classes and workshops all planned out already, know the effort required to create the foundation for those things to happen, and I’d been planning this for at least the last decade, I thought it would all come together very quickly. Again, “nope, we need more time.”
3. The things you run from will catch up with you once you stop running. I knew this very well from my meditation practice, but somehow I wasn’t applying this awareness to my life. I didn’t realize how much the speed and stress of my CSU work was distracting me from the other things that were going on. Now that I’ve stopped, slowed down, 19 years of accumulated and unprocessed things showed up, requiring my attention.
4. You have to balance your workload with your energetic needs and limits. I wish I had learned to somehow manage this while working for someone else, but there was constant push back, resistance, and in the end I couldn’t make it work. Now that my effort isn’t being directed by the interests of others, I’m able to be more honest about how much I can actually do. As a teacher, I hold space for people who are making themselves vulnerable, and as an introverted hsp, that requires I hold space for myself as well. As a writer, I make myself vulnerable, contemplate things that are hard, and engage with readers, and again, as an introverted hsp, the effort and ease required to manage that in a way that doesn’t compromise my well-being is huge.
5. Being a practitioner can make decisions like leaving a job more complicated. I am speaking from the perspective of a Buddhist and a yoga teacher, someone who is working towards personal enlightenment, who wants to ease suffering in myself and in the world. From this place, it can be hard to know when to move on. Every situation presents itself as an opportunity to wake up, to learn, to become more compassionate and wise. Practice asks that we don’t run away from things just because they are uncomfortable — in fact, the first noble truth of Buddhism is that life is uncomfortable, that we will suffer. As a practitioner, the way out of suffering isn’t to reject or resist discomfort and cling to comfort, but rather those habits of aggression and attachment are seen as the root of suffering. From this perspective, it can be hard to know when it’s right to leave a situation that’s no longer workable, which can keep us stuck in things that have run their course, where what we have to offer is beyond making any sort of difference, where we are only generating suffering by staying.
6. The decision to quit won’t necessarily come with fireworks. There may be no light bulb or a-ha moment. I was waiting for that, often wondered what the straw that broke the camel’s back moment would look like, hoped it wasn’t something that would be dramatic, where either someone would do something awful to me or I’d break down and freak out, having a “take this job and shove it,” burn it all down exit. In the end, the decision was quieter, calmer, cumulative, and came after much contemplation and conversation, a deep sense of peaceful awareness that I’d come to the end of the road.
7. Sometimes you want to quit or know you should long before you can. Honestly, this is something I’d been planning for at least the last 10 years. I’d been talking about it to friends and in therapy, writing about it, preparing for it, but it wasn’t until this past year that all the pieces came together and made it possible. Also, I could only make that choice because my husband has a full time job he doesn’t plan on leaving, I could get on his health insurance, we own our house and have a really low mortgage, we could pretty easily modify our spending habits, and we don’t have kids. It’s a choice I could make because of my privilege.
8. It’s a BIG transition and you have to give it space to be what it is. Having your life framed by your work for almost two full decades and then quitting is a huge shift, a monumental change. It’s like turning a cruise ship around. You know you want to go another direction and you calculate what it will require and put in the effort necessary, but then you have to be patient with how much time is actually required to make the full shift. Every big change I’ve ever made in my life has taken three years to complete, to fully embody. This one will most likely be no different.
9. Leaving a full time job is like a break up, even if the decision is mutual and there’s no drama. The reality is you are leaving and the relationship is ending. Your life will be different, your relationship to that effort, that place and those people will change, maybe even dissolve entirely. Even if you leave on good terms, a chapter of your life is over, a big part of your daily experience has come to an end, and that involves a similar grief and disconnection. So many things have already happened that I’m not involved in and not a part of, even though for so long that was the center of my life. It can feel a little weird. I have NO regrets upon leaving, but it still can be strange to have left.
10. You are replaceable. I was awesome at my job and the people there adored me, and yet, I have been replaced and am not really missed. And that’s okay, even as it should be. I guess what I really mean to say is don’t let your sense of being irreplaceable, important or necessary, keep you locked in a situation that no longer fits.
11. If you are any version of an introvert or hsp, you won’t miss the chaos of the workplace. When I first started talking in earnest about quitting, Eric worried I’d be lost, lonely, even depressed if I wasn’t working at CSU. Nope. Not at all. Going to a department full of people on a campus full of even more people to do work that overwhelmed me is not at all something I miss, ever. Being able to stay home in my pjs with my dogs and take a nap whenever I need to and do the work I want is the best thing ever. From this place, I can make conscious and careful decisions about when to get involved in the world, when to make an offering or connection, and when to step back, when to rest. I’m so much happier, so much healthier.
12. Being “retired” isn’t so much a sense of total freedom as it is relief, acceptance. I feel more connected to myself, more clear about what I need and want, more centered, more balanced, more stable, more grounded. Even when I’m locked in an anxiety spiral or feel stuck, even when I’m too tired to do anything at all, even when I’m uncomfortable, I feel like I am embodied, connected, and alive. I feel like I’m fully HERE.
This is a powerful, powerful piece of writing on transition to retirement. I would encourage you to consider submitting it for publishing to AARP magazine.