coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Retirement: Should you retire?

A few people have asked me in recent months if I thought they should retire.  I answered each one differently, because there is no single answer to that question.  It depends on the person and their situation.  In the process of thinking about this, 7 great universal truths emerged that I am compelled to share, somewhat irreverently, with the world:

1.  Are you sure this is what YOU want?

I retired at 62, almost two years ago.  My husband, T, knew I hated my job.  He saw the toll it took on me.  That job was stressful and truly hateful.  I was physically and emotionally burnt-out on even the best days. 
He wanted me to retire for a long time before I actually did.  Many times during those last years he would send me off to the office with the retort, “Don’t forget to retire today!”  That was funny at least a couple of times. 

He was afraid I would get sick, occupational stress being a proven fertilizer for many major illnesses in this modern world.  Which brings me to the following very important disclaimer:  if you have a major and/or life threatening illness, ignore this entire post and find the best way to stop working as soon as possible so you can devote your energies to healing. 

OK, now back to the irreverent stuff.  I loved T for caring so much about me. I wanted to make him happy.  I wanted him to stop worrying about me.   I shared his concerns and I thought he was right; but when to retire had to be MY decision. 
Ultimately, I waited longer than he liked because, well, retirement is a big honkin’ decision!  If I had not made the decision myself, I would have resented him on those odd days, and there are always going to be those odd days, when I get bored with retirement.  It seemed best to behave like a grown up and make my own decision so that he would be free of my childish blame game.  Yes, I play that game more often than I would like to admit.

When I finally made the decision to retire, I was absolutely, positively sure. The skies opened, angels blew their celestial horns, and lightening struck a few times.  I am not sure that will happen to everyone, though.  I wrote about this
in a previous post.

I am glad I stopped working because retirement changed my life for the better. I like being retired, and so do most of my retired friends and family members.  I know a few people who deeply regret having retired and I feel bad for them.  It is a tricky situation.  A person needs to think hard before making this decision.
  Changes will ensue. Best to know what to expect in advance.

2.  Are you prepared to do nothing?

“Retirement” always sounds great when you are overworked and under-appreciated.  At about 50 you start thinking of retirement as your next career goal.  You talk about it, joke about it, plan for it, and wonder how soon you will actually be able to do it.  Before I stopped working I had this mental image of the retired me as a thinner, taller, and grayer version of myself running off screaming into the night.  Kind of like the banshee in Darby O'Gill and the Little People.

But seriously, you need to understand and prepare yourself for this thing called retirement. You are not switching jobs or taking time off if you choose to “retire.” It is also not a vacation, although it will definitely seem like the best vacation EVER until napping in the afternoon and staying up past midnight starts to seem like an entitlement.  It is the vacation that never ends.  Your life will never go back to pre-retirement “normal.”  R&R becomes the new normal.  Think you can handle that?  Dig deep before you answer.

For example, today the bug guy came to spray the house and pool area.  It's a Florida thang.  He comes quarterly and he is a super nice guy.  When he sat down to write out the invoice he paused, looked at us in pure wonderment and asked how things were going.  T was lying on the couch playing around with his iPad and I was nestled into the easy chair reading a book.  Mr. Bug Guy joked a little and said he could not help but notice how peaceful our house and lives seemed, was it always like that?  I said “YES.  This is retirement.”  He laughed, clearly not knowing what to think.  I will admit at that very moment I felt a little guilty.  Not for being retired, we most certainly earned the right.  However, I try not to talk about how great retirement is to working people. It is like bragging about your wonderful husband to a friend who is married to a creep.

Keep in mind that in retirement you are ending your working-outside-the-home, achievement focused, on the way up, kicking ass, big money earning years. Suddenly life is no longer about productivity.  At all.  There is no longer anything to prove and nobody to prove it to.

When you worked you had to be ready for anything.  In retirement you must be ready for nothing.  THAT takes some getting used to...  I am not kidding.  It really does.  At first you keep thinking you should do something productive.  But eventually you come to realize that you do not have to do anything at all.  You only have to do something if you want to.  As corny and trite as it sounds, that is the absolute best part of retirement, that “only if you want to” thing. It is pure magic.

3.  Retirement requires personal initiative.

You also have to reinvent your self as a fully functioning and personally satisfied retired person on your own.  You must become self-motivated; consider the horror!  I am kind of bad at this one, so I really do not want to dwell on it...

4. Do you have enough money?

First and foremost you need to make sure you have enough money saved/invested to provide you with a comfortable income until you are about 1,000 years old.  Then you have to hope China doesn’t gut the world economy with dramatic stock market declines.  You also want to have good health insurance with prescription drug coverage, especially if you are retiring before you are old enough to qualify for Medicare.  Medicare does not pay for everything, so if you are lucky enough to retire with health insurance, for crying out loud keep it!  If you are in a position to afford long term care insurance premiums you probably want to continue that policy into retirement, too. 

5. You WILL lose your work identity.

It is not just about having enough money to retire, although that is the most critical concern.  Retirement is a total lifestyle change.  When you stop working you lose your workplace identity, giving up a role that defined you for most of your adult life.  Be clear on that. 

Chances are you were valued in the workplace.  People knew what you are capable of.  When you retire, that role, that identity is left at the workhouse door.  It does not come home with you.  Your employers do not retire your jersey, they replace you ASAP.  Afterwards, very few people will know what you are capable of, even fewer will care.  Can you stand it?  Be honest with yourself. 

6.  Can you "really" get another job if you change your mind?

If you retire in your 60's and then decide to go back to work or get a part-time job to supplement your retirement income, chances are your time will no longer be worth as much as it used to be IF you can even find someone willing to hire you. There are lots of ageist assumptions going on out there in the workplace. Young people think we are stupid and they are afraid of our mortality.  I know this because I used to be a young person.  I know how they think.

7.  Can you do less with less?

Last but not least, your discretionary income will be reduced.  One friend specifically asked me about this one, and I felt kind of bad telling him the truth.  But I did.  There are luxuries that you will have to give up or find cheaper alternatives for, even though you formerly did not think of them as luxuries.  This is different for everyone.  I stopped getting my hair cut on a regular basis.  I let my hair grow long and now just pull it up in back with a clip.  I see no reason to spend the money to keep getting it cut and styled.  I only buy new clothes if I have to go to a wedding or a funeral, and then I shop the sales.  I go to the library now instead of buying books.  I do my grocery shopping at Publix instead of Whole Foods. On New Year's Eve I buy prosecco instead of champagne.  You get the gist?
Personally, I would rather have less discretionary income than have to get up every morning at 6 a.m. and get ready for work.  I am SO over that.  It is all about who you are and what you want. 

What I am trying to say is, retirement can turn your well ordered, predictable, safe and manageable world upside down.  Retirement giveth and retirement taketh away.  It involves many changes, so you really need to be sure you can live with those changes before you sign on the dotted line.  I am not just whistling Dixie. 

If you are healthy, happy and still feel passionate about your job then you probably should not retire. 
However, if you are completely over the work-a-day world, feel the thrill is gone from your chosen career, know you can stomach all the losses alluded to above, are able to nap without guilt, can motivate and amuse yourself every damn day for the rest of your life, all on a restricted budget then I think you are a good candidate for retirement.  You will love it.  Cheers!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Courage, My Friends!

This morning I woke up thinking about the online accounting system at my old job. Then I read a provocative blog post on Feministe defending a certain Southern sorority’s questionable recruitment video and scolding readers for commenting so ruthlessly about it. I was reminded that courage is needed every single day in every single life, and often for rather mundane issues. However, I know in my heart of hearts that courage alone is not enough.

When I retired the new university accounting system was still new. Maddeningly complicated, the system was designed for central administration’s use. 

I worked most of my adult life as a staff member at this large research university, the “business” of which is teaching, research, and public service. A significant number of employees work in the academic units where the teaching, research, and public service actually happens.  The central administration (aka, Central) is there to make sure the tools are in place and well maintained to meet those goals.

Central is naturally concerned with the University macrocosm.  For them budgeting in aggregate is critical.  The staff in the academic “units” are concerned with the microcosm.  In academic units budgets are a means to get money into a financial entity (called an “account”) so spending can begin and teaching, research, and public service can happen.

Faculty researchers are creative individuals.  Some are the best people in the world at conducting their specific research. They think new thoughts, explore our humanity, analyze social issues, create new materials, isolate genes, cure diseases, and even take us to Mars and beyond. I am not saying they are perfect.  Some of them are not nice and a few are not even all that smart; however, when they behave themselves and do good work they are extraordinary!

Financial staff in the “units” need financial data generated quickly and easily so spending can be monitored and federally funded grants and contracts do not go into overdraft. The new system did not give us what we needed.

Anyway, Central just needed to tell the programmers to design a few different reports for the academic units.  For a ridiculously long time that did not happen.  When we complained, the central accounting people responded defensively. They accused us of being averse to change and stereotyped us as “negative.”  The result?  A solid majority of users hated the system and lost faith in the University's central accounting office.

Neither side listened to the other and no one changed their mind.  This left me scratching my head, once again wondering how you effectively challenge someone’s belief system to effect change? In a nutshell, the courage to speak up is not enough if you cannot get someone to listen.

Personally, I do not always have the good sense to fear those in power.  I know some people think I am foolish, or a glutton for punishment, but I always felt it was important as an employee to do a good job, speak the truth, and try and make things better.  I am not afraid to interrupt or talk over a man in a suit to make him listen to what I desperately hope is a well-reasoned argument.  I learned early on that you have to interrupt people in power or else you will never get a chance to talk. To do that you have to believe you are as important, as smart, and as valuable as anyone else in the room.

I also think it is important to do “the right thing.” However, unless you are comfortable being an ideologue it is hard to figure out exactly what the “right” thing is in any given situation. To figure out what is right you have to be open to the idea of being wrong.  Then you have to think critically, leaving comfortable, established belief systems behind.  This does not come naturally to human beings.  It is hard not to jump on the bandwagon or try not to succumb to group think.  Let’s face it, it is hard to be alone.

You have to suspend a natural human desire to be liked, too.  That means you cannot cry if someone gets angry with you. You just have to take it on the chin. I am sorry, but you also need to stop caring about being sexually attractive, at least for the duration of your argument. There is a time and a place for everything. 

This is a huge stumbling block for some young women. The media would have our vulnerable young girls believe sexual presentation and social approval are the most important things EVER in their whole entire lives.  Big sigh.  How do we liberate these young women from this great lie? 

Which brings me to the post I read this morning on Feministe and the murky connection between that blog post and the University’s online budget system. The post is titled: In which, God help me, I find myself defending the Alpha Phi video.  It was written by a fabulous blogger named Caperton.

As I read her defense of those seemingly frivolous young women I thought, “I don’t buy this.” The whole cutsie-cute sorority sister routine bothers me, why was this serious feminist defending them? What was her point?  In the final paragraph she laid it on me.

We are not going to change any young girl’s mind by attacking or ridiculing her. What I think Caperton was saying is this: a young sorority girl will be humiliated and angered by hurtful dogmatic criticism. Consequently, she will then be lost to the cause.  Plus, she’s still a kid and she is just trying to have fun so give her a break. We were all young and stupid once.  Some of these girls might still grow and change if they are not attacked and traumatized by raging and rabid feminists.  Ha!  You KNOW she’s right! 

I was blown away by Caperton’s courage and intellectual fervor. I enjoyed her message, but it was not as important to me as her savvy in presenting it.  Alone she stood up within the confines of a righteous but dogmatic political movement and spoke what she thought was the truth. She asked what might be a better way to effect change in those young ladies. That took courage, but it also required critical and, more importantly, strategic thinking.

I still do not like sororities. That is probably not going to change considering who I am and what I value.  That was never the point of this or the other blog post, anyway.  Still, I wish all young women cared less about how they look and more about how they think.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Rainy Season

It is the rainy season in Central Florida.  That means "summer" in the Land of Mouse.  It is hot, humid, and rains nearly every day, though usually only lasting about a half an hour to an hour in late afternoon.  With all the rain our yard is often waterlogged.  There are large areas with standing water for many hours after a heavy rain, and some days it is impossible to mow the grass because the ground is mushy and wet.  It has not rained for over 24 hours right now and I just walked out back where my heels sunk into the wet ground as I walked.

For most of the last 25 years I felt I was an accomplished perennial gardener.  I thought I knew a thing or two about gardening.  I knew how to work the earth, and I knew how to manage the seasons.  It has been so interesting moving to this strange place and finding much of what I thought I knew about gardening no longer computes.  Some days this depresses me, I am not going to lie.  However, just as often I am energized by the challenge.  I got this!  Eventually I am gonna kick some Central Florida gardening butt.  I am almost sure of it.

Collateral damage?  In the past 3 weeks I have lost my butterfly bush, a shasta daisy, two coneflowers, a shrimp plant, and a variety of annuals, all of which I planted this past spring.  A purple penta plant is pretty pathetic, too.  Why?  I am not sure.  They survived the blistering heat of spring and early summer.  Maybe they cannot survive the deluge?  Perhaps the rainy season killed them dead? I wish I knew the answer.

But that is not all. 
I have a plumbago that simply will not grow underneath my screamin' pink Crepe Myrtle in the front of the house.  I have another plumbago I planted at the exact same time under a lavender Crepe Myrtle out back.  That plumbago is absolutely huge and glorious, flowering with wild abandon.  I do not know why the other one refuses to thrive.  I already lost one of my 3 Stella D'Ora daylilies to the heat before the rainy season began.  The other two are about the same size as they were when I put them in the ground last May.  WTF?

I am now in a bit of a quandary.  What the hell can I plant that will survive drought for 9 months of the year and then standing water for the remaining 3 months? 
As you can imagine, there are not a lot of choices.  I now understand why I do not see a lot of flower gardens down here in people's yards.  Most flowers cannot take these extremes.   

Interestingly, Shrimp Plant is supposed to be a good choice for a wet area.  I wonder if there is something else that killed mine besides the excessive moisture?  I really liked that Shrimp Plant, the flowers actually are shaped like shrimp.  They are wonderfully crazy shaped with great color.  Maybe it will come back?

               That crazy Shrimp Plant

African, Louisiana, and Blue Flag irises are also on the list for wet areas.  I planted a variety in a wet area last spring and they are growing slowly but surely. I will
feel victorious if they spread and flower by next year.  I NEED a victory, too!  Dammit.

The giant red Canna Lilies are doing well, as are their smaller yellow cousins in the back yard.  I like Canna Lilies, but I am ashamed to say I wish I liked them more.  What kind of ingrate does not like a flower that looks like this?

      Some gorgeous cannas, not really caring if I like them or not.

We are growing some beautiful flowers in large planters in the area around the pool.  Bird of Paradise, Desert Rose, Gardenia.  I have high hopes for that Gardenia.  If it lives until next summer I will buy more. 


The spectacular Gardenia

Hey, I successfully underwent an open MRI today.  It was still a little freaky, but the open sides made all the difference.  And (Maria) I took your tip and kept my eyes closed.  It worked.  Next time I do something like that I want to choose my own music, though.  Bad late 1970's pop music.  Ick.  In the late 1970's I was listening to the Clash, Blondie, Richard Hell and the Voidoids and Talking Heads.  They had me listening to simpering wimp music as if I was an old lady or something.  I think being pissed off helped take my mind off what was happening.


Friday, August 7, 2015

Fly me to the moon

T and I took our 11 year old granddaughter and 16 year old nephew to the Kennedy Space Center near Cape Canaveral the other day.  It was just an amazing place, filled with actual rockets and launch pads and shuttles.  The best part for me were the video's and short films talking about when we landed on the moon in 1968.  They also played this amazing video where in 1962 JFK announces we are going to the moon before the decade is out.  I was reminded of a time when there were politicians who were passionate about people CHANGING for the better, becoming more and doing more than they thought they could do.  Below is an excerpt from the days when Catholics were mostly Democrats and giants walked amongst us: