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.

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.

  1. Frank Povah

    Martha: I shall pass this on to my wife. She is enforced retirement since returning to the USA and finds it difficult. She also sees her job as her identity pass in the world.

  2. Terri Evans

    Once again I am reminded of why your nickname is “Grace.” This piece, and these thoughts are indeed elegant. In my humble opinion, you are asking all the right questions, many of which we should all ask ourselves every now and then along the way, whether retirement is an option or not. I’m referring most especially to the idea of our identity being wrapped in our work. Over the years I have witnessed so many people who see themselves exclusively through the lens of their work and then are lost without it, or worse – devastated if they lost their job. This beautiful, at times frightening, world allows us multi-faceted identities if we choose them. Even better, it allows perpetual reinvention. I look forward to watching you gracefully make your decision.

  3. What a lovely, well-thought out and relevant article to all of us who are approaching or have reached this milestone in Life. You’ve hit the pulse of an entire generation with your questions, opinions and the answer I see at the end of your thoughts.
    So many people identify their lives with their jobs, the productivity in which they take great pride, the camaraderie of fellow employees and the continuing education and learning curves which keep us plugged in the great changes in our lives.
    Being one of the people who opted for an early retirement, I don’t regret the decision at all. Oh, I’d probably like to have the increased income as a hedge against the last couple of year’s weird melt downs, but I also have realized that now I have other venues for the gifts in which I’ve been blessed.
    And I don’t think this is an ‘either/or’ type issue. For some, I’m sure that continuing in their careers will be fulfilling and rewarding. And I’m thankful for the continuation of the vast experience that many years of a professional life brings to all of us. For others, the ability to relax, enjoy family and friends at a more leisurely pace, and pursue new goals will be just as rewarding.
    In my own situation, through personal experiences, I’ve found the answer. Every single day is a gift and my greatest ambition is to share that gift with those who enjoy or need it.
    And you too have that grand horizon before you.
    This was just beautifully written but then so is your Life, Gracie…

  4. Eleanor Ringel Cater

    drat. that Terri took my line about your name. But how nice to have a calm, reasoned and still occasionally humorous piece on a choice facing so many o us. Thank,s Grace.

  5. Amen, Michael, and thanks, Grace, for your thoughts on retirement. I retired twenty-one years ago from a satisfying hectic job in a social service agency. At the time I still had a four year old in my care. I was busy with her and my blinded veteran husband. We traveled a lot, mostly to meetings across the country. When that child was thirteen, she left. Two years ago my husband passed away. Presently I am having the most fun. I go to the YMCA four or five days a week for classes including Latin dancing. I serve on two boards, enjoy visits with my grands and great-grands. Wake every day happy and feeling alive. Go on, retire, but stay busy doing useful satisfying fun things.

  6. Martha,
    I too have been contemplating this for the past 4 or 5 months — exploring new ideas and pathways. I think of it as going shopping and trying on lots of different clothes that I wouldn’t normally consider. I assume that someday I will know which dress to purchase. In the meantime, it sure is fun to dream and explore!

  7. All good points — the story and the comments. I have several friends with enough money to retire from their present jobs who are having a great time doing new things. For most of us who work freelance, voluntary retirement at any age isn’t an option. People should be able to work as long as they want and are able to. I have one friend who worked until 75 – in the last few years, part time. Another friend is 83 and still working. What would I do all day if I didn’t, he asks!

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