Reequilibration

 

One year ago today, I wrote a post called “Disequilibration.” It was about how I had unexpectedly been let go from my job of thirty-one years and was abruptly facing retirement a couple of years ahead of schedule.

A lot can happen in a year, and I’m amazed when I think back on where I was in May 2023 and how far I’ve come.

If you had asked me my plans back then — and a lot of people did — I would have told you that I didn’t yet know, but I couldn’t imagine starting over with a new job at some new company. I was past that. I didn’t rule out the possibility that I might end up looking for another job, if I got bored or if we needed to supplement our finances, but not a full-time (or long-term) commitment.

I stopped setting my alarm clock, and for the first few weeks, I enjoyed what felt like an extended vacation. But then came the first surprise: I started to feel lousy. Physically lousy. I was getting headaches, I wasn’t sleeping well, and I had no energy. I just felt out of sorts. I realized I needed structure in my life.

And so, surprising myself, I started setting the alarm clock again. I made a point of reestablishing daily routines, much as I had when I was working. I found that I could still spend much of the day sitting at the computer, even without an actual job.

But I still craved interesting and challenging things to do. There were lots of hobbies I could pursue, but I found it hard to motivate myself, and none of them seemed really to interest me. I had to admit it: I was bored. I missed the regular challenges of work, the opportunities to learn new things, and it didn’t seem that I’d learned how to find those things on my own. In the moment, it was always easier to choose idleness.

People suggested volunteering, but the idea didn’t appeal to me. I didn’t think there was much call for volunteer technical writers, and I wasn’t interested in sorting donations at the Habitat for Humanity thrift store or ringing a bell outside Walmart at Christmas. Perhaps I’m selfish, but I realized that it wasn’t enough for me to be merely useful; I needed to do something that exercised, and even challenged, my skills.

I found myself groping for a phrase I’d come across somewhere, although it took me a while to track it down. It’s supposedly Aristotle’s formula for happiness: “The exercise of vital powers, along lines of excellence, in a life affording them scope.” The words are a bit flowery, but my interpretation of this is simply the idea that satisfaction — happiness — comes from learning skills and then applying them to their fullest. You need to have your abilities tested and expanded, and you need to be able to meet challenges by using your expertise.

Paradoxically, I realized that, at least for me, happiness requires that I do things that I don’t necessarily want to do. I need to have challenges put in front of me, and I need to be held accountable. I need to do things that are hard.

I began to realize that in some ways it had been rather spoiled of me even to ask myself whether I really wanted to get a job, or whether I preferred to just sit on the couch and watch TV. Most people don’t get to ask such a question and just accept that they need to work. And I realized that that was how I should think of it: I needed to work. I shouldn’t even be asking the question.

And so I pretty much forced myself to start applying for jobs. And after a lot of applications and a few interviews, I landed one that seemed like a perfect match. It was a chance to restart my career in exactly the way I’d thought, a year ago, I didn’t want to do. Another full-time job with a salary and a 401(k), and meetings, and frustrations, and all of the other things that go with having a job.

And remarkably, my whole outlook has changed. Before I got laid off, I’d thought that I was just working a few more years until I reached retirement. Now I’ve realized that it was a mistake for me ever to have set a date for retirement at all. I feel like I’ve just started, and I feel like the future is open-ended, and that’s a feeling I didn’t think I would ever have again.

It is almost a cliché for people who have been laid off from their jobs to eventually say “It was the best thing that ever happened to me.” But I have to admit, in my case, it’s pretty much true. I can’t think of any other way I could have learned the things I’ve learned about myself, or any other way I could have found a renewed sense of purpose in my career.

I will retire someday. But when I do, it won’t be because I just want to stop working, and it won’t be because some arbitrary date has arrived. It will be because there is something else I want to do.

Assuming it’s left up to me.

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There are 6 comments.

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  1. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    Well done!

    • #1
  2. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Great post, BXO!

    • #2
  3. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Outstanding post. (And incidentally, so close a match to my life in so many details.)

    • #3
  4. Susan Quinn Member
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Excellent news! I’ll be posting a book review for those of us moving into the second stage of our lives. Even in your new job, you might find it interesting.

    • #4
  5. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Fantastic!

    • #5
  6. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Great post, I’m happy for you.

    I had some comparable events when I retired voluntarily, but under some duress, from the federal bureaucracy at 55 years old. I had reached a stage where I was not as happy with my work as I had been in earlier years and I had never been very satisfied working in that bureaucracy loaded with Lefties. I was offered an ‘early out’ (I would not have been normally eligible until five years later at 60) so I took it.  My first grandchild having just arrived made it even more palatable. I spent the first couple of years with no employment helping with the new arrivals, the second one had arrived a year later. In 1997 I started playing senior softball in northern Virginia (NVSS) on Tuesday and Thursday mornings(90 games April-October), and that was really enjoyable. But I had too much idle time.

    Late in 1997, I was hired full-time by Airline Tariff Publishers (ATPCO) located at Dulles Airport to work on cleaning up their automated system for Y2K since I had extensive experience in the programing language of the old systems. But when April rolled around I could not give up the softball. I approached ATP and said I could only stay if I could work only Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I was pleasantly surprised with agreement to that and I stayed until 2005 when I retired for good.

    By then I had six grandchildren but they were living in Utah and Arizona. We relocated.

    Because there was something else we wanted to do!

    • #6
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