500 Thoughts

hans-peter-gauster-252751-unsplashSometimes the inside of my brain feels like this photo here → 

I seriously have about 500 thoughts running through my head tonight, these being the first few:

  1. At least three blog ideas (actually way more) where I simply need to find the time to write
  2. The packing and prepping for my daughter’s first dance competition of the season, tomorrow, which involves a weekend away and a desperate need to pack healthy snacks so I don’t feel like loser mom for not properly feeding my artist-athlete with a nut allergy
  3. Wondering how our powder room remodel is going, why our front porch is still torn up from some foundation work that needed to be done months ago, and why both of these things are taking longer than expected
  4. Why I hear a clicking noise inside Roxanne (my relatively new Jeep) and whether that’s just marginally annoying and I can live with it or if it’s actually something bigger I need to get looked at
  5. How to “market” myself better professionally internally or externally should it be warranted, and why this is getting more important than ever before
  6. Whether I should be posting/blogging/whatever on LinkedIn and what I should write about if so
  7. Whether I should be posting/blogging/whatever on Yammer which is our internal social media tool at work to “market” myself better professionally with my colleagues
  8. Music I want our little family of five to make for Christmas (a really “out there” idea even they don’t even know I want to do this year but we have the equipment and our own studio to pull it off)
  9. What Christmas gifts and donations are needed for
    • Immediate family
    • Extended family
    • Colleagues, Secret Santa and charitable donations at work
    • Teachers, friends, and charitable donations for our three school kids
    • Church charitable donations
    • Other coaches and teachers for our three kids and
    • Anyone else I’ve forgotten, because yes, there are years I have forgotten and I feel horrible about it
  10. When the shopping for all of the above needs to be done, when I’ll have time to wrap it all and deliver it
  11. How much anxiety I feel about going to CrossFit tomorrow because I have missed quite a bit this last month due to travel
  12. When in the world we’re gonna get a tree or see Santa, and both of those need to happen sooner than later
  13. Whether we will EVER get Christmas lights hung on our house but that depends on when the front porch slab is returned to its proper position and the yellow tape over our front yard is removed so the people hanging lights don’t fall into a foundation hole 8 feet deep
  14. When in the world the front slab of our porch is gonna get returned to its proper position so that UPS and Fedex can deliver packages to our front door, which is gonna happen a lot this month
  15. When I’m gonna get around to cleaning the house, because even though I actually hired someone to help us earlier this year (because, uh, duh: see all the above), she fired US for being slobs, telling us she is not our maid, even though “maid” is literally part of the name of her business: go figure on that one
  16. When I should start planning our trips for 2019, because planning is half the fun for me
  17. When I can start making the small health and behavior changes I learned about after reading The Blue Zones and taking the quiz mentioned in the book, because I have the potential to live healthfully to age 97 if I do
  18. Whether I have enough money saved for retirement to live until 97 (and I think we all know the answer to that one)
  19. Will any of my kids be in a position to take care of me or want to while I live to 97
  20. When in December I can invite every cool woman I know to my house for good wine, delicious food, and laughter
  21. Wait: when are the kids’ Christmas concerts?
  22. Oh shoot: I have no more vacation this year
  23. Whether my oldest understands how to use a planning calendar to stay on top of his assignments and goals
  24. Why am I worried about anything when I’m healthy, we’re happy, and we have everything we need when so many people don’t.
Pretty sure I need a glass of wine.

A Retirement Reckoning

I am the youngest by far in my extended family of siblings and cousins. On average, they are 15 years older than me. Hanging around them means a lifetime of being immersed in their baby boom culture, watching them get degrees, start jobs, get married, buy homes, have kids, juggle daycare and then college tuitions. I am perpetually 20 steps behind them all.

And I’m a late bloomer of sorts, which didn’t help me when I’d hyperventilate over the status of my life. I didn’t do anything at the same age as my siblings and cousins. I did many things on my own which means things took me longer, anywhere from 8-15 years later than them. I always felt like certain things, marriage and kids for one, would never happen for me.

A few years ago my oldest sister announced she was finally retiring, and it hit me: she wasn’t retiring at an unusually young or old age but at a normal age. She’s 14 years older than me, which meant I could conceivably retire in 14 years myself.

Shut the front door.

That news shook my world. I’d been saving financially for retirement for a couple of decades at that point. What I hadn’t done is prepare mentally for it. No way, no how was I financially, professionally, personally, mentally ready for it.

See, when my sister announced her retirement, my youngest was a kindergartener. I swear, two months before he started school, we deep cleaned his room and found a binky behind his bed that had been there who knows how long. I mean, right? In the blink of an eye he went from baby to toddler to school-ager. Retirement, therefore, was the furthest thing from my mind, but suddenly it appeared in the horizon for the first time in my life, and I thought I would projectile vomit at the thought.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with work over the years, as do so many people. Unlike many people, I think of my work as a profession and the whole of it as a career. I have always aimed to get value and satisfaction out of my work even if I couldn’t quite place my finger on what exactly I wanted to do.

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Now there have been times in my life when I changed jobs, and suddenly my sense of self completely disappeared. The new job turned out to be nothing more than that: a job. Suddenly I found myself missing what I had, a professional position with career aspirations and growth, and a feeling that someone, anyone, at the company cared about me and how I grew. But to hold “just a job”? You may as well stab my heart with a knife, I’d bleed to death under the circumstances.

This past year two more relatives retired and I’ve watched a huge number of boomers leave the workforce. I wonder whether some of them viewed their work the way I do: a career, a calling. Were they ready? How do you get ready when so much of who you are is wrapped up in what you do? After all, you spend so much of your day working.

Many of these people retired with no fanfare. Some people wanted to leave quietly. Some left as part of a corporate restructuring, and some were even contractually obligated to stay quiet about it least they impact their severance. They were subject to a gag order, real or perceived.

Imagine me on a gag order. Again, stab my heart with a knife as I’d bleed to death. I need to talk to make sense of things. I write to make sense of things. It’s not that I don’t know how to stay mum when discretion is required, but whoa.

I try to put myself in their shoes. What must it feel like to have pursued a career your whole life and to have it end quietly, in a thud. No fanfare, no thanks, no party, just a severance. Especially when you consider your work to be more than a job, but your identity?

How do you fortify yourself from feeling disoriented, unwanted, or unvalued in that situation? As a coping mechanism, do you start thinking of your work, your career, as just a job? Just a paycheck that you collect?

I’ve never wanted to do that. Never. And I don’t want to become so disenchanted with work to become disengaged, to just hold down a job. I pursued an education and I have deliberately changed employers for the sole purpose of avoiding boredom. While I can’t say that I’ve had a strong calling in life to do something in particular, I have always been driven to do my best. How can you reconcile your ethics and heart under those circumstances?

Besides, I’m the breadwinner – so it would be completely foolhardy on my part to disengage, clock my time, and simply collect a paycheck.

My Dad retired from Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel as a laborer after 45 years with the company. He was happy to be done, period. Then again, he was a hard-working, understated, introverted kind of guy. We threw him a pretty huge retirement party, and all of my siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins came to celebrate him. It was a happy way to bring closure to the monotony of four + decades working shifts in a dirty, loud steel mill.

I don’t know what will happen when it’s my turn. I don’t know how to prepare myself mentally for that possibility. It’s especially difficult to do so when you realize it’s actually on the horizon in the next 10-15 years, if I’m lucky enough to stay employed that long. Having kids so much later in life means my financial obligations and goals relative to them will take me longer to achieve.

It’s a race. Will I stay employed, meet my personal goals and college-tuiting-funding goals for my kids, and retire on my terms or will it get cut short in favor of the up and coming Millenials? Will I feel like I contributed in a meaningful way to the best of my ability?

Guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Photo by Charles Koh on Unsplash