Merry Christmas dear reader! I fervently hope that I have at least minimally followed that wonderful and time-honored theorem known as the Infinite Monkey; that were you so seat a monkey at a typewriter, given an endless supply of time, that monkey will eventually type the complete works of Shakespeare. The ore you ponder this, the greater the fascination in the concept, at least to me.
In much the same way I hope my ramblings (ranting? ravings?) have led to at least a brief moment of a different perspective that may have afforded you a new understanding of your own life. To me, the concept of posting my thoughts, my ideas, my views, into a public forum was initially reprehensible. It struck me as egotistic; who do I think I am to “teach“ others? But through the years there have been some people who seemed to appreciate my writing; at least they claimed they did. And while my personal writing strength lies in fictional short stories, I’ve neither the time nor confidence to begin do that until I retire. So I decided to try a life’s lesson approach instead. I figured that I’ve been around a while and have hit my share of bumps in the road and maybe someone, out there somewhere, might learn something from my lessons – good or bad. Because, the lesson of life is that life is the lesson!!
I’ve lived 62 years now, close to 63. I began working at age 12 I think, caddying at the local country club. And I have worked ever since. Part-time until I was 18 and once I left college shortly thereafter, full-time. So my slant, my take, my perspective, is heavily weighted to the working environment. And this is the last Christmas (God willing) I will experience as a viable, contributing member of the workforce. Work is not just a means to an income – Maslow was completely correct on this point. Economic stability and fulfillment is certainly a base need for all of us; but work is more than that…..it is so much more than that.
Work provides us each an identity. I am sure I’ve touched on this in earlier posts; the first thing most men do when they meet another man for the first time is ask: “What do you do? Where do you work?” What we do is a base and primal part of our ego, our sense of self. And the why of that is deep with reasons. It surreptitiously demonstrates our skills without having to boast. What you do can describe how strong, tough, smart, wise, crafty, brave <insert the adjective of your choice here> you are. The rank of your job hints to your position in the pecking order. Have you ever been introduce to someone who is a vice president? Especially a vice president of a very large and important business. You immediately change your thinking as you interact; at least I do. For example I will surely make sure to answer “yes” instead of “yeah”. You certainly do not become subservient my any means, but you certainly recognize that this man has at least some skills that rival, or exceed, your own. So a generally unrecognized product of working is a social ranking with your peers.
But that is just the beginning. The bottom of the pyramid. We want to belong – to be a part of something; a community so to speak. A sense of belonging and association with others with a common purpose – a team, a fellowship. A relationship where we can take our turn at the front of the pack, we can compete, we can challenge each other, but still rely on the next guy to help pick us up when we stumble or our skills are less than needed for the moment. To be more than we are through the strength of the pack.
We all (I think) want what we do to matter. We want our work to have worth; to be valuable. We want to represent ourselves with dignity. We want to make a difference. We want to leave wherever it is we work, better for having been there. We want to elevate others. We want to hone our own skills to a razor’s edge and to grow for that. We want to challenge ourselves; and our co-workers. And the more we chase those goals, the higher up the pyramid we climb towards self-actualization.
In an odd way, work almost provides a reason to live; a life with purpose. We are contributing to society; offering a product or service that enriches our community, our society; making life better for all in some way. A foreign concept to many no doubt, but think long enough and deep enough and I suspect you will come to see this concept as a truth. But to be clear, I am not implying that those born into sufficient wealth that they really don’t need to work are unfortunate! But from what I have seen, they find ways to still contribute to the betterment of society whether that be through charities and donations or programs for those less fortunate. To me it reinforces the fact that we all seek to be a part of something larger and that work quietly affords us all that opportunity. Upon reflection, it is a brilliant system for humans!
And to my point, finally, is that walking away from that is frightening. As I have mentioned before, I fear it to be a loss of identity, of self. I took a week’s vacation this month and unlike other vacations of the past…..umpteen million years, I planned nothing. No trips, no activities, no plans. The most I counted on my list was to get some Christmas shopping done and to go out for breakfast (did both by the way). And part of why I did that was to practice; sort of a “mock retirement”. The “moment”, the transition, grows closer and I increasingly find my wondering what it’ll be like. So this became a dry run so to speak. And like so much else in life, I found duality in it.
I enjoyed it for sure! Not getting up at 4AM; not seeing the light of day at all, all day, not having to go to bed by 10PM to avoid exhaustion the next day were all wonderful respites from daily life as I know it. And driving at non-rush hour times was noticeably more enjoyable. But as I people watched in the stores, I began to notice a disproportionate number of white haired folks. Shouldn’t have been a great surprise I guess, should have expected that no doubt. But subtlety, unconsciously, I began to look at the men I was seeing as quasi-ghosts. Yup. Weird, right? They appeared to me, or perhaps felt to me is a better description, as just shadows of their former selves. Who was the past president of a Fortune-500 company? Who was a retired doctor who had held peoples literal hearts in his hands? Who had piloted an aircraft with 200 souls aboard through stormy skies to a safe landing? And now here they all stood, patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for their wives to give the “time for departure” signal. Not that they (we?) appeared sad or forlorn; in fact I think they all looked peaceful and rested and happy (store environment notwithstanding). It was, in hindsight, my personal filters that cast them in that light. But over and over I found myself seeing the ghosts of former warriors past; no longer in the fight having stepped away from the battle. And I found that a little frightening – work is a lot to give up.
But surely I am more than what I do? And it slowly began to occur to me that work has played such a huge part of my life because it has been such a huge part of my life. Certainly I am the better for it; it has taken me, forced me, to become what I wasn’t; to don mantles inherently uncomfortable and awkward to me that challenged me and ultimately stretched me – forced me – to more than I was when I began. But it is not everything; I am, we are, more than our work. And those are the hidden gems of retirement I anxiously anticipate mining in the coming years. And that thought helps trim my trepidation of my rapidly approaching step off the battlefield.
I look forward to exercise again. My job has me chained to my desk for far too many hours – seated hours – the worst kind of time spent to a human being. Especially in a high stress job such as mine; a touted deadly combination. It is easy to say you’ll make time for more exercise in your life. But 12-14 hour work days and the demands of daily life leave precious little time to find that room to go walk for an hour. So I look forward to walking far more often.
There is yard work – so much yard work – to be done. That alone will fill my first summer off. And beyond that, hiking. We used to hike a lot a few years ago. To me, my weekend was not complete unless I had completed 10 or 12 miles in the woods. That will once again be a part of my life once I retire. As hopefully will be bike riding and more writing. And maybe, after all that, I can find some small but meaningful part-time job, or volunteer. We’ll see. The point is, there is some much more than being a ghost-like apparition in store in my future. And that is another of the wonders of life; every turn in the path is richly steeped in possibilities. And all that you’ve done to grow your personal desert to its current state, was done in preparation for the next trail. Enjoy the journey!
I wish you a Merry Christmas (hey – I’m old and not PC – it’s what my generation says!) and I wish you a Near Year full of challenge, adventure, achievement, learning, and understanding.