So a lawyer, a rabbi and a scientist walked into a bar…
Actually what really happened is that a lawyer, a rabbi and a scientist walked into a coffee shop. That line might be humorous if I had said the three of us met in a bar. We did not. Though we are not unfamiliar with bars; sticking with lattes at 10 a.m. on a Thursday seemed the wiser choice.
The key to that last paragraph, in case you missed it (do you read as quickly as I do?) was that three friends got together on a weekday. In the mid-morning. Yes, you may realize, we could do that because we no longer work full-time.
We are allies in that fuzzy transitional period that comes after leaving long-held employment. Still active and productive, minus the regular pay-checks, yet nowhere near ready to a settle in for a quiet life of gardening and knitting.
(with many pardons to those of you who garden and knit 100% of the time.)
But the three of us admit to having trouble even getting the R” word out of our mouths. Just when did retirement become such a difficult word to utter?
So defensive am I about my current status that I tell people I am “semi-retired,” with the emphasis on the “semi.” I may not be lawyering anymore but I write, I advise, I volunteer. All active verbs. My friends, the scientist and the rabbi, are also similarly engaged. Which is important because if you tell someone in the DC metro area where we live that you no longer have a full-time job, watch out!
Last week at a cocktail party I had to attend – getting that inevitable question from a man I just met:
“What do you do?”
I started to explain. Then watched as his eyes glazed over. Quickly he looked over my right shoulder in a desperate search for someone, anyone, on the other side of the room who might be more “interesting” to talk to. Someone who HAS A JOB and better yet (because this is the DC metro area after all) HAS AN IMPORTANT JOB.
“Uh, excuse me, I see a friend, nice meeting you.”
Thanks so much, didn’t really want to talk to you either.
While I was more amused than offended, if Mr. Cocktail Party had given me more than twenty seconds, he might have learned (IMHO) that I’ve become a more interesting person now that I am semi-retired. I have time to think the occasional deep thought, to read widely and to tap into the creative side of me long-lost while legally engaged.
Time I didn’t have when my weekday schedule looked like this:
1) go to the office,
2) sit in my chair,
3) answer emails, draft documents, talk on conference calls, do research, get on another conference call,
4) eat lunch (easily the highlight of my day),
6) do more of #3,
7) get up from my chair,
8) leave the office.
Next day: repeat as often as our mortgage company deems it necessary.
How interesting is that?
But I understand the reaction I get from people who didn’t know me in my former life. Semi-retired is a fluid space in which to exist. It can make people squirm a bit; people who still must operate on set schedules, clinging as tightly to their job identities as I once did.
I’m a consultant! I’m a doctor! I’m a real estate agent! I’m a therapist! I’m an editor! I run a business! I do marketing! The still-fully-employed world seems to be mocking me and my semi-retired allies – You don’t have an identities any more, take that!
Perhaps we don’t – or maybe they are just in the process of evolving, our identities less easily categorizable than they once were?
Kind of an uncertain, uncharted but exciting DIY project.
Being semi-retired is the search to keep our old selves but try out new ones, still us, but without the laminated plastic photo i.d. cards that once got us into the buildings where we worked.
I thought about these evolutions in identity when reading to my 16-month old grandson the other day. Reading one of his favorite books – “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle. The little guy takes charge of turning the pages after he pokes his fingers into the paper holes that show the trail of foods the caterpillar ate en route to his own identity change. Apple, Swiss Cheese, Pickle, Cupcake (sounds like some of my favorite law firm lunches.)
On the last page of the book the fully fed caterpillar morphs into a butterfly. And maybe I am stretching this metaphor too far, I don’t think my rabbi or scientist friends would like to be compared to caterpillars. Nor have the three of us suddenly become gorgeous butterflies. Hardly.
But it is rather liberating to have crossed over the divide from full-time, desk-bound life to being a full-time person instead. If only Mr. Cocktail Party could have given me another moment or two to explain what it is that I do now. Much more colorful than being a lawyer, I think, but still not quite a butterfly.