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Stoic Meditation #7 - The Silent Career of Retirement
Retirement means that when someone says "Have a nice day", you actually have a shot at it.
[Note: The preamble (emphasis on 'amble', rhymes with 'ramble') to this post is The Career Trap.]
For the past two years I've been casting around for a way to re-engineer yet another career leveraging past education and experience. My assumption was this would be straightforward, maybe even easy. I'd done it several times before. During this time I was also mulling over the option of retiring altogether. I had the means, but not the vision. What does retirement look like? To begin with, I don't much care for the word "retirement." Few at my age do.
A financial planner I consulted with several years ago shared that in his experience, most people don't plan for retirement, they arrive at retirement. It's as if they hopped on a career train 45+ years ago, destination unknown. Everything they need is on the train and their focus is exclusively on what's happening inside their little career car. And then it suddenly stops. They've gone as far as their ticket will take them and are forced to get off. Standing on the platform with nothing but fear, uncertainty, and doubt, the doors close and the world they once knew moves on without them. No wonder it feels like death to so many people who hold on to a career as if it were a thing rather than engage with their career as a life-long process.
"Retirement" sounds like ossification. It conjures up images of sensible shoes and assisted living. It sounds like a place or time meant to seal a person away from accomplishing anything meaningful, even if just for themselves. There have been efforts to rebrand this phase of life as "rewirement" or "refirement" or "reformation." This may work for some, but none of them have resonated with me.
Several weeks ago, I found the word I was looking for. Q and I attended a Gary McMahan concert at a small local venue. As members of the Colorado Cowboy Gathering, we've attended a number of concerts like this. They're a wonderful combination of home-grown music, storytelling, and poetry. Cowboy poetry and story telling, like most literature and poetry these days, is largely unappreciated. It isn't violent or angry or hate-filled or self-loathing. It's unpretentious, direct, relatable, and more often than not exposes the vagaries of what it takes to be a human being. It's self-reflective and inclusive by the way it shows us how to laugh at ourselves.
Listening to McMahan weave 75 years' worth of authentic cowboy living into his stories and music got me thinking that what's next isn't a retirement at all. It's a continuing story. My story, unencumbered by anyone else's PowerPoint driven agenda or corporate mission statement. Is what I'm looking for a re-story thing? Re-story-ment? Re-story-iation? Restoration! Now that word has a good feel to it. Why?
The action of returning something to a former owner, place, or condition.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:
late 14c., restoracioun, "a means of healing or restoring health, a cure; renewing of something lost," from Old French restoration (Modern French restauration) and directly from Late Latin restorationem (nominative restoratio) "a restoration, renewal," noun of action from past-participle stem of Latin restaurare (see restore).
Also used in Middle English were restorement (14c.), restoring (mid-14c.). From mid-15c. as "the repairing of a damaged or deteriorated building;" from c. 1500 as "a restoring to a former state."
At it's root, the word "restore" - to bring to life again, reinvigorate, renew. There's also a nice phonetic tip-of-the-hat to "story" within "restoration." Much of what I've been engaged with over the past two years has involved spending more time with long-neglected interests and bringing them to the foreground. This has truly been restorative, so much so that the thought of re-engaging at the corporate level as a coach is fading like the view of a crusty harbor town as I sail for blue water. (There's still a strong attraction to one-to-one and one-to-team work, however.)
I wrote previously on careers and how the way most people think about them ends up trapping them in a repetitive cycle bent on chasing ever more money or status or stuff. All this at the cost of having less and less time for living. Being focused on the mechanics of building, re-building, or re-engineering a career distracts from the important insight that what we call "retirement" isn't that at all. When we pay attention to the underlying current, it's the extension of yet another career into the crazy unpredictable flow of careering.
Stop drifting. You're not going to re-read your Brief Comments, your Deeds of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, the commonplace books you saved for your old age. Sprint for the finish. Write off your hopes, and if your well-being matters to you, be your own savior while you can. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 3.14
The beauty of a career of personal restoration is that success happens on our own terms. It needs no external validation marked by purchased certifications or credentials. There's no interview process for engaging in our own life. We have all that we need. Success, in fact, is predicate on developing our ability for needing or wanting less. Fewer things to maintain and repair, fewer things to lose, fewer things to store, fewer places we have to be and more places we want to be. When untethered from the clock we have the freedom to say "no" without apology and "yes" without regret. Less clutter - physical and mental - creates space and reveals more of who we are.
"A man once said to me, 'I don't mind your telling me my faults, they're stale, but don't tell me my virtues. When you tell me what I could be it terrifies me.' I was surprised then, I understand now, because I believe we may be faced by the need of living our strengths." - Florida Scott-Maxwell
I fully understand how the prospect of revealing your self to your self can be terrifying to many people. It's a fear born from unfamiliarity. We've been busy year in and year out maintaining a familiar mask and suitable armor, a task made necessary by the relentless grind of the modern workplace. But the fear is unfounded and the effort not as difficult as it seems, once begun.
On this last point, I have much more to say. Until then, know that it's never to early to start envisioning your own restoration career. Stay tuned...
If you have any questions, need anything clarified, or have something else on your mind, please use the comments section or email me directly.