As a kid my friends and I played a game called ‘Who Am I?’ One child was the guesser. The rest of us would pretend we were teachers or firemen or train conductors or nurses or doctors or some other type of worker. The guesser would have to ask the rest of us kids questions one at a time, questions such as, “Do you wear a hat?”. If the answer was yes, then the guesser asked the next child if the hat was black or red or white or whatever color they chose until they guessed the correct color. After I grew up, at business functions and social gatherings alike, the question changed to “What do you do?” as people sought to find common ground with a new acquaintance. Now, “What do you do?” has once again become “Who am I?” as I grapple with my retired self’s identity.
I’m still asked the inevitable question of “What do you do?” as was the case a few weeks ago when I met someone for the first time. When I answered with, “I’m retired”, my new acquaintance uttered, “Retired?” The question was accompanied by a look of puzzlement on his face followed by nothing more than a simple, non-committal, “Oh.” I hurriedly told him how I “used to be” a real estate broker and banker. But, this, too, fell flat as it was obvious he wasn’t impressed by who I used to be. Apparently, he wanted to know who I am now. So, who am I? Without an occupation, am I anything less than who I used to be? Many retirees struggle with these questions in much the same way I am now. They also struggle to find value and worth without the occupational title they held for so long.
Recently, a friend challenged me to fine another word for retirement. Believe me, I’ve searched for that other word. And while our perception of retirement is changing, all the dictionaries I checked still define it as a withdrawal from active working life, ceasing to work, a termination or end. Synonyms include withdrawal, pullback, receding. How dreary. Finding a word which adequately defines the breadth and depth of possibilities laying before retirees today, is, indeed, a challenge. Retirement may be the end, the termination of our career but it is also the beginning of a life full of endless possibilities.
Perhaps, the bigger challenge is the question we must each answer for ourselves. What is it that creates our sense of value and worth? What is it that gives us a sense of purpose in our lives? Isn’t it really a matter of our own perceptions of ourselves? Our perceptions often confuse what we do for a living with who we actually are. When we’re younger, we’re always running the race for more money, more recognition, more promotions, more clients, more accomplishments to add to our resume. The last several weeks I’ve come to realize I’m not what I did for a living and never have been. Regardless of the word we use to describe it, retirement is, in fact, an opportunity to become more of who you already are rather than what you did for a living. In retirement who I am…wife, mother, grandmother, sister, friend, gourmet cook, gardener, motorcycle Mama, artist, writer, blogger, volunteer…is no longer overshadowed by an occupation induced persona. Retirement has made clear what I am at my core without the external trappings of a career.
In retirement, folks, we can relax. We can appreciate and enjoy what really matters. We can be curious as we explore new interests. We can tackle a newly discovered hobby with the zeal of full time attention. We can choose to introduce ourselves to an ever widening array of activities or stay with what we know. We can be kids again playing a grown up version of “Who Am I?”.