coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A crying shame

Being someone who does not cry in the workplace is a persona I have carefully cultivated over the years.  I believed I needed to be strong; even tough.  As an old feminist, I feared displaying too much emotion at work was one of those things that held women back.  I still believe that. 

I have joyfully mentored many women over the years.  For better or worse, one of the things I tried to do was to break them of work-related crying habits.  I am not saying that crying is bad.  In many areas of our lives it is appropriate and even a good thing to do.   I am saying that it does not serve a useful purpose in the workplace.   It is hard to take someone seriously as an employee or as a “player” when they are crying.   Although I know people usually cry at work simply because they are not able to control their emotions, and often for good reasons, it is important to realize that observers often interpret workplace crying as either a tactic or a weakness.  Neither perception helps get raises, promotions, or more challenging job tasks. 

I hate to cry – even if I am alone and at home.  It is physically unpleasant.  I look awful.   I feel awful.  I use a lot of Kleenex.  It gives me a headache and a sore throat.   My eyes become bloodshot and my nose gets red.  At this point in my life, only the death of a loved one can bring me to tears.   Perhaps that will change in retirement as I learn to “live in the moment,” (a cliché I am personally tired of hearing, sorry to resort to using it here) and become more relaxed about how I react to events.  In the workplace stressful events were things I had to “get through.”   In retirement stressful events will hopefully become things I “live through” and allow myself to feel and fully experience.   Does living well mean feeling deeply?  I will have to get back to you on that.   I am not actually ready to give up my non-crying persona yet.

If my mother read this she would ask me if I was bragging or complaining.   Hard to say.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Enough already!

Are you getting tired of reading about how happy I am since I retired?  I am almost tired of saying it.   I am going to stop real soon.  I promise.  It seems like I am bragging, but apparently “feeling happy” just never gets old.  The stated purpose of my blog is to explore my thoughts about aging.  Consequently, I am going to share some thoughts on the subject of making the decision to retire.   It is, after all, a personal decision - and although I am writing about what worked for me, it is not for everyone.  So, please continue to humor me while I ramble on.

I was talking to T at dinner about how good I felt.  He said, “yeah, you feel relief, right?”  I thought about it and decided it was a tripartite process, this "happiness in retirement.First there is relief.   Then there is a sense of freedom, followed by the feeling of possibility.   That is what I mean when I say I am happy.   Could it be that mind-numbing boredom is right around the corner?  Financial concerns?  Lack of purpose?  Probably I will experience all of those things at one time or another.  For now, I am just trying to figure out this thing called retirement as I go along.  I was not prepared for it.  I did not expect it.  Truthfully, I did not think about how I would feel once I was retired.  I retired because I was done.   I had an epiphany last summer.   Some lame crisis came up and I, of course, had to find a way to resolve it.   It occurred to me while solving the problem that the thrill of “Problem Solving” was no longer present in my work life.   As my friend SH S would say: “Bam, Pow.”  I was over it.   I was over my job.  Damn!  Time to retire.  

Problem Solver was a role I loved.  I was the administrative manager in an academic department with over 100 people.  I had minimal control over what would happen next, and maximum responsibility for resolving it.   That pretty much defines office jobs everywhere.  I was not the only office worker in the department doing this kind of work.  Office workers are heroic, self-sacrificing, and extremely productive.  Many people do not seem to appreciate how hard office staff work and how much they care about others.  Add to the office mix all the management stuff and you have some idea how I have spent the last 37 years.  During my working years I genuinely loved whatever job I had; however, in recent years it all started to get old.  One of the only things that made it worthwhile towards the end (besides the people) was the rush I felt when problem solving.  It was creative.  It was fun.  It was challenging.  However, by the time I made the decision to retire my shoulders were constantly up around my ears.  I took only shallow breaths.  My brow was furrowed. My hair turned gray.  Okay, okay, maybe the hair turning gray was just a natural part of growing older.   Still…the hair turned gray.   I gained a ton of weight by stress eating, and I drank like a fish.  A couple of years ago I developed a mysterious rash on my face and hands.  I ignored it.  All of this seemed acceptable as long as I still got a creative rush from the job.  So when I had that particular epiphany last summer and realized the thrill was truly dead and gone, I knew it was time for me to retire.  Because if I was not having fun, then I would not be creative.  And if I was not creatively inclined towards my work tasks, then I would not be doing a good job in the future.  After that the decision to retire was easy and obvious for me. 

My Mom retired in her mid-70s, and then only because she had Parkinson's Disease.  She loved her job.  She did not retire because she wanted to and she was certainly not happy to make the decision to stop.  I am still sad she was unable to continue doing what she loved and wanted to do: work.  I have other friends and family who worked into their late 60s and early 70s. They did so because they loved working, or because they needed the money, or both.  All excellent reasons to avoid retirement.  When to retire is, like I said, personal.  You will know when you are "done."  We are all so different.  There is no-one-size-fits-all model for human behavior.   Do what makes you happy.