Retirement as part of one's career: It's OK to run!
In just one week, I will have been retired from Iowa State University for two years. It seems like only yesterday that I was at the center of a wonderful retirement event put together by my current and former graduate students and others to honor me and my years there. I think about my own retirement a lot-the newness of it-what am I doing during this part of my life? Am I doing what I want to do? Am I doing the "right" things for me and for others? Will I make a difference during this time? How much time will I have to do this?
If anything has become clear to me since I left my paying position, it is that I am the same person I was before I retired. Over those 40+ years of my professional life, I always thought that when I retired I would be a relaxed and laid back person. I would not experience perfectionism in the tasks I do, nor feel the pressures of time, the sense of obligation to others, nor the concern about pleasing others as well as myself. I would stop wondering if I was doing enough, making good use of my days, hours and minutes, helping others feel positive about themselves, and serving as a good role model. Most of all, I thought that I would not worry about things such as whether I was meeting the expectations I had previously set for myself. I felt I would be totally smooth and cool about time and how I used that time once I was retired. I thought I would not worry or feel guilty about tasks left not done. I would not feel guilty for sleeping too long, or for any number of other things that I had previously felt guilty for doing. I thought the low levels of anxiety that I previously felt when I was preparing and working hard would all smooth out.
But... I am the same person in retirement.
That is not to say that I am unhappy with myself, but in many ways I have not changed my outlook. I know I can sleep later, I am free to do nothing or to join nothing -- I can do what I like to do. But what do I "like" to do? Just as in the previous part of my life, I love to sleep late and I do it more now than ever before. I spend more time with the newspaper, the weekly news magazines, and social email than I previously did, but I still have to watch that I stay within the bounds I set for myself.
I finally am seeing a pattern!! In high school I felt that I would study less in college, and in college that I would study less in graduate school, and in graduate school that I would not work so hard when I had a profession, and in my profession that I would do nothing that caused me anxiety in retirement. I finally know that who I am now is not all that different from the way I was in high school and doing things the way I have done them is what ultimately makes me feel right. It is the way I am wired. It makes up who I am. I am not going to change. And the more I think about it and begin to speak about it to others, the more I am realizing that I am OK with myself the way I am-low levels of anxiety about tasks, guilt about not getting things done or doing enough, feeling concerned for others' needs and comfort, and even my competitive spirit that has been mixed into all of this-all of it is me-it is my brand.
Maybe I am a slow learner to have taken almost 67 years to really know this in my soul. I have known it in my head for a long time. I have heard it from caring teachers, from counselors, from religious leaders, from friends. Right before my senior year at Berea College, as I was headed someplace on campus, dressed in my day clothes and not out to jog, I was doing what I would do when nobody was looking. I had broken into a run-running to get to the next place in a hurry. As I was meeting Dr. Jim Bobbitt, a campus administrator, my sense of how a person was to move about on campus (in 1966) caused me to slow down to a walk. As Dr. Bobbitt approached me, he said, ever so acceptingly, "It's OK to run." That was very meaningful to me then, and I can still feel the acceptance his four words said to me that day. Lately I have been thinking about Dr. Bobbitt's words again-it is OK to be the way I am. It is OK to run!