Here’s the news: I filed for Social Security a couple of weeks ago; my benefits begin in April. And I’m also drawing income from the old 401(k). So I guess I am as officially retired as I am ever going to be. I’m still not particularly comfortable with that word–retirement–but there’s no other term, in our society, for the status I have now taken on (or should I say descended into.) Again, having not been able to read a manual on this aging process, I wasn’t prepared for how this feels. My mind keeps shouting: I’m not done. Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, there’s still time to accomplish all sorts of things before the clock runs out. Maybe.
Part of the discomfort is occasioned, I think, by a mindset I’ve carried since I was truly conscious that I had a mind. Very simply put, I always believed I would distinguish myself by doing something important, noteworthy, beneficial to society, something for which I would be remembered, at least by a few folks. I wonder if other people haven’t lived their lives with the same expectation? Seems I read that confession somewhere along the way.
Maybe that’s why I’ve been so reluctant to simply say: Yes, I’m retired, I’ve left the ranks of the productive. As I review the work I’ve done (journalism and journalism instructor, mostly), I don’t see anything particularly important or beneficial. I did some stories I thought helped the communities I served as a journalist, and I’ve had the privilege of working with some aspiring journalists who have or will make a significant contribution to informing the public about the world we live in. And I feel good about that. It’s nothing to brag about, but I’m grateful for the opportunities that have come my way.
If I hadn’t carried that fantasy of doing something special or significant, maybe I wouldn’t have been as motivated as I’ve been to do whatever I do as well as it can be done. And maybe I never really internalized all the rhetoric I put out there about focusing on what’s really important in life (family, friends, the life of the mind, the well-being of others) rather than getting caught up in materialistic, egocentric pursuits. Maybe I thought I could do both at the same time. I don’t know, I didn’t have a manual. What I do know, now, is that being retired means I can focus much more intently on the things that really matter and forget that stuff about being “famous.” I think I’m finally learning, at 65 years and 144 days, just to BE.