Who Am I Now?

On January 3, 2013 I posted a blog entitled “Who Am I”. The post reflected my struggle to figure out who I was without my work identity.

At a recent social event Martin and I were asked the new acquaintance question of “What do you do?”

Martin looked at the questioner and said, “We’re retired.”

In 2013 I realized that what I did to make money wasn’t who I am. And, three years into it, I know retired isn’t who I am either. Retired is nothing more than a description of my social status.

According to the Huffington Post, Laura Carstensen of the Stanford Center on Longevity said, “Older people today are like pioneers of a new life stage, trying to find their way.” I believe the answer to who I am lies in Carstensen’s statement. As you can tell in the pages of this blog, finding my way has taken up a lot of thought space. I not only think about it and write about it, I read a lot about it.

Filling out forms during the last three years, mainly in doctors’ offices and colleges offering continuing education courses, I’ve filled in the occupation slot with the word retired. After the evening when our new acquaintance asked the usual question, I hesitated over such a form. If retired is my social status, who am I? Staring at it, I realized I carry business cards with me saying I’m a writer/blogger. Should I put that in the slot for occupation?

Yes. As a description for how I occupy my time, the answer is I’m a writer/blogger. However, from a philosophical view, I’m not a writer/blogger either. That’s just another label to describe what I do with my time. The reality is I am who I have always been _ an experiencer of life.

While life experiencer may not be an answer I’d give to someone at the next party I attend _ although it may liven the conversation _ it sums up who we all are at the end of day. We are all going through life at every stage, whether it’s paid work or not, just trying to find our way. We are experiencing life. We may all be pioneers at some stage, in any given circumstance.

Retirement is no different. Whether we write, garden, paint, cook, golf, travel, bicycle, take classes or we were an engineer, lawyer, banker, teacher, medical, office or manufacturing worker or whatever, we are all travelers through time separately and together.

Who I am is changed from who I was three years ago when I wrote the first post, the same as who I was then had changed from my previous working self. Identities, labels, names, titles will continue to change as I experience life at this stage of my journey through time. This, of course, is why I believe retirement is a journey, not a destination. Life is a journey. Retirement is simply a continuation of your life’s journey. How you live it and who you are at any given time is up to you.

14 comments on “Who Am I Now?

  1. Hi Kathy,
    I totally get where you’re coming from. When we retire from our careers or long-term jobs, our identities become an issue. Who are we, if we are not what we do or did, and we are not just someone’s wife/mother/sister/girlfriend, and we are not just “retired”, or a fighter/survivor of some disease, or a student, or a member of a political party or a religious group, or a participant in a hobby or activity, etc.?

    I think the answer is that our identity is the sum of all these things, and more. Each of us is the current occupant of a position in the cosmos at which we arrived as a result of all of our experiences and multiple temporary identities. It’s not either/or, it’s all/and. Trying to reduce all of our years of experiences and multiple identities to one term is a pointless exercise. Each of us has many “I ams”.

    And that won’t fit on a tiny space on a form. But that is not our fault. That is the fault of the form designers, who believe that they need to reduce a multi-faceted human being to a term of 15 letters or fewer. “Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.”

    Keep up the great writing!



    • Thanks Rin! I wish I had thought about the sum of all these things _ that’s a great angle from which to view this idea and, I agree with you. We are many, many different “I ams” over a lifetime. K


  2. Really nice post! I often answer “retired” when someone asks what I do, but now I may reconsider it. Although, my “retired” answer does sometimes start an interesting conversation. I’m going to put some thought into another response that better describes what I do. Perhaps “photographer/writer”?


  3. Great insights, Kathy! Being a new retiree, I LOVE filling in “retired” on any form that I can (I know that this ‘thrill’ will likely change over time). Thanks for the reminder about Laura Carstensen … she is definitely worth rereading/rewatching.


  4. I think the question ‘what do you do’ has always been an ‘identifier’. When I started out in my career if you were female you were either a mother or a secretary. Working if you were married was definitely a no no, and I can remember my husband stating ‘ no wife of mine is going to work’ (reader, I ignored him! ) Luckily things have changed but job still denotes status. Every form you fill in has a long drop down list which starts with employed, works through full time, part time, self-employed etc and ends with retired!
    I notice people are now putting ‘gone fishing’ , ‘CEO Home’, ‘resting’ and other creative things on their linked-in status when they stop working. Maybe we all become ‘retirement experts’ or ‘retirement insight specialists’ and not just retired.


  5. Kathy,

    I’ve been meaning to respond to your blog more than once, and your post today spoke to me so that I can no longer NOT respond!

    Thank you for taking the time to do your blog, I enjoy reading it. I love your writing style. Your writing is clear, well thought-out and interesting. And of course, I love your subject matter. Have you written about anything else?

    I found your blog one day as I was Googling around trying to find any kind of personal writings from people who were just entering this “retirement” phase of life. I found your blog and only just a couple of others, surprisingly.

    I “retired” back in November 2014. It wasn’t my idea, and to be honest I did and probably still do have a lot of resentment and anger around being laid off. I loved my work, and I loved the company I worked for. I wasn’t ready for the big ‘R’ either emotionally or financially. (I guess I’m in denial about my age and expected to work forever) So hubby and I had some of decisions to make.

    This is about that retirement word you spoke of in your blog. I find I have refused to use it in the many forms I have had to fill out recently. My fingers seem to be incapable of directing the pen to write “retired” in that little box. So I just skip it. “Retired” isn’t an apt description of who I am or what I’m doing. I realize now that I too let my work life define who I was. Maybe a little denial thing going on! I think my fingers would be happy to write the word “Exhausted” in that little box. For now.

    So here I am, railing against being forcibly retired. But I am finally learning that life is change, and that I pretty much have no control over any of it. Learning that acceptance is my new best friend. Learning to pay attention. Learning to be grateful for what we have. After all of this change, we are still standing. We just can’t find our shoes.

    Thanks again for your blog. Life is change. Your blog is helping me through some of mine.


  6. What a great post. It bothered me when in full time work that one is so defined by a job role. I do use Blogger as my employment description these days but as you say it is only a partial definition. I recall several years ago meeting in Greece a retired couple and his card said “Citizen of the World” , I thought that was apt.


  7. I like what Rin says – each of us has many “I ams”. Defining who I am is different from defining what I do, although who I am and what I do is certainly linked one to the other. Oprah Winfrey told a story about that very thing. She said something to the effect, that when someone asks, “Who do you think you are?” our challenge is to stand in our space and say who we are. It’s always been a challenge to answer that question succinctly. I know that I am a child of this universe and in the words of Loretta Lynn, just trying to matter.


  8. When you raised the question in your post of today, I started to answer (to myself), “I am my genes.” Before the thought was fully formed I realized that answer would leave out my spiritual self. I define “spiritual”, in this context, as the part of me that includes intellect, will and emotions. In this life, those aspects of myself all work partly through by genetically determined body. Anyway, we are more than what we do, more than our roles, and more than our social status, but a succinct way of describing our personal uniqueness is certainly elusive.


  9. When I was teaching, I often used an exercise in my Intro Sociology course that asked students to fill in 20 blank spaces to describe who they were. The spaces tended to get filled with two kinds of descriptors — social roles (e.g., wife, mother sister, occupational roles) and personality/character traits (e.g., strong, kind, generous).
    I have noticed recently that I have been introducing myself as a “retired sociologist” or sometimes as a “retired college professor.” Thinking like a sociologist still describes the way I tend to see the world and I am also still teaching in various ways. Being retired is an important part of my sense of who I am right now because of the opportunities and creative freedom that status represents in my life.


  10. Great blog post Kathy and comments of others. 1 year, 2 mos. post retired. 🙂 I think the 2nd year and onward will be the best. I tell my husband, who is still working, that these are my “stay at home, mom” years that I never had.


  11. As someone who both had a professional job and was also a stay at home mom and then wife when my kids were grown I generally hate the question “what do you do”, in general and I try very, very hard not to ask that one of other people. I actually like to write down “retired”, and then have fun with the “but what do you do all day questions”.


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