21 April 2008

Context/What do you do?

I've been circling around a thought for the past few weeks and I'm still not sure what I want to say about it but here goes...

I always said if I won the lottery and could retire tomorrow, I would. I also acknowledged that I'd probably get bored doing nothing pretty quickly but I'd sure like to give it a try and see how long it took.

In the last few weeks I met up with an old friend who is independently wealthy and really can do nothing if she chooses to, and sometimes chooses to. And we had a nice chat but the things that she was talking about had very little to do with the things that I was talking about. It was like we were in very separate circles and trying to find ways to at least bridge the circle edges for a little while.

And then I saw the movie "About A Boy", in which Hugh Grant plays someone who is independently wealthy and does very little at all (lots of TV watching and such.) And Hugh's character meets a woman who asks him the inevitable question, "What do you do?" When he admits that he does nothing, she's singularly unimpressed. In order to impress her versus actually giving his life meaning, he pretends to be a father.

And there's the rub. Because the first question almost always asked is "What do you do?" as in "How do you spend your day?" The assumption is that you work, or go to school, or take care of children. Or, if none of those, that you do philanthropic work or creative endeavors. This is how we define each other when we meet. This is how we create context.

What do you do?

I'm an X.

Oh, an X.

And with that we begin to make and remake assumptions about how great or terrible it is to be an X doing what Xes do. But we have a neat little box, right or wrong, in which to put this new person.

But if you're not an X or a Y or a Z, then what? How do you connect with other people who are Xes and Ys and Zees? What do you talk about? How do you create your own context? How do you not lose yourself?

This becomes a more important topic to me as we approach honest-to-god retirement (hopefully early retirement within the next 10 years). Because once we are retired, then what? Do I work part-time in something that is less stressful than my current job or even enjoyable once salary isn't an issue? Do I volunteer and make the world a better place? Do I start drinking lime daiquiris at 11 am? What?

I took a Retirement prep class a number of years ago and it had great financial advice and tax advice and lots of wonderful components. One of the segments was on health in retirement and what they shared (statistics) was rather sobering. Apparently, people who have worked for years and years sometimes have the irritating habit of dropping dead soon after retiring unless they have something scheduled to do. It's like some part of them realizes that they no longer have context and says "Okay, I guess we're done here. Check, please!" and *poof* they're gone.

I've recreated myself a couple times in a professional sense and I guess I will again when the time comes but it's a little worrisome. I'd invite comment from those that have successfully negotiated the retirement wave and lived to surf another day. Or those that have found non-standard ways to answer the question "What do you do?"


Anne said...

I found this blog posting via Ronni's Time Goes By, and it is an interesting question. I'm 60, and have been more or less retired for several years. It wasn't intentional, it wasn't forced on me, it just kind of happened.

At first I was reluctant to say I was retired, I would say I was working part-time (like an hour a week!). But I'm a little different, I didn't start working full-time until my mid-30s, and I never really defined myself by my job. It just felt weird to say "I'm an X".

I am definitely not bored. I have slowed way down; doing a few things take up way more time than they would have ten years ago. I spent about a decade circling around the question you raised, still am in fact, but it's not worrisome. It's a kind of adventure, the entry point to a new life. You've changed careers before, this will be another career change. Not scary unless finances are an issue, rather interesting in fact.

I've finally managed to say the words "I'm retired" without choking, I'm as busy as I want to be, I am genuinely deeply happy. I recommend it ;-)

Ronni Bennett said...

As Anne references above, I used this blog post of yours as a jumping off point on my blog for a discussion of retirement.

It's still early in the day and thoughtful answers are pouring in. I hope it will be of some use to you.

lacochran said...

Hi Anne,

Thank you for your thoughtful response. So glad to see it can be done with grace and joy!


lacochran said...

Hi Ronni,

I'm glad I inspired you to take it to the next level. You raise lots of good questions!


Sudiegirl said...

I'm down with the lime daiquiri part.

Just sayin'.

lacochran said...

Sudiegirl: Oh yeah! :) Cheers! And thanks for stopping by.