As I sit down to write I am uncertain whether or not this article will ever make its way to LikeTheDew, although I think that my dilemma is similar to that faced by a lot of other folks in my generation. And — since my group is the front wave of the baby boom — it is something that a lot of folks are going to be experiencing over the next few years. I am lucky because, according to policies where I work, I can retire anytime now. I’ll keep health care — a biggie — of course paying a lot more than if I was working. I am lucky enough to have a nice retirement fund that is bouncing back from its hard knock a year or so ago. I also have a husband who is still working and is more psychologically wed to work even than me. I don’t see him retiring for a while. So, what is it that keeps me tied to the old nine to five?

First , I guess I thought that you were old when you retired.  I don’t feel old. Like so many of my generation, my self image is locked in at about 35. Sometimes, I’ll catch a glimmer of myself in the mirror and startle myself with the difference between what I feel and what I see. I like work. I like the productivity of it … the accomplishment of it. I feel like I am better at what I do now than I have ever been.  I like having the perspective of many years that keeps me centered when others around me are freaking out. I like people to seek me out for mentoring and advice. I like being around interesting people and stimulating conversations, and I like the idea that what I do contributes to the greater good. I like the structure that work gives to my life and the fact that as long as I am working I have an identity to wrap around me that provides a certain meaning to what I am doing in this life.

On the other hand, I envy my friends who have made the leap and the freedom that they have in their lives. I envy their ability to remake themselves, to experience the almost limitless options of how to live their  lives. Do I need/want a part time job? Do I have a special talent or interest that I want to pursue? Which non-profit needs my skills and talents the most? How much can I afford to travel? How much time should I give to the grandchildren? How much time can I give to my aging parents? Will I feel guilty if I just read all day? How wonderful would it be right now to be able to throw myself into volunteer work to help Haiti? That is the kind of thing that the “young old” can do and do well.

Some of this is tied up in being a baby boomer to begin with … there were just so many of us and striving to get out of the pack is just part of our makeup. Some of it is having started my career at a time when women had to overcome so many obstacles to be taken seriously and get ahead. I don’t  have children and my work (and the people with whom I have worked) has loomed large in my set of priorities. As a former career counselor, I can’t help but think that I am experiencing very much the same sort of amorphous ambivalence that the college senior feels when thinking about leaving the safety and freedom of student life and jumping into the work world.  And then there is the money. How much is enough? How do you even know how to anticipate what enough might be when there are so many uncertainties in the future?

So, where am I with all this? Well, I think I am getting closer. I am little by little working on my relationship with work. I am trying to separate who I am from what I do. I am talking more about it … visualizing it more. I am getting to the point of understanding that just being me is enough.  And I am coming to the conclusion that being me might just be the most interesting  job I’ll ever have.

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Martha W. Fagan

Martha W. Fagan

The senior director of the alumni association of Emory University in Atlanta, Martha W. Fagan has more than 30 years experience in alumni relations, development and career advisement.