During the last 20 years a lot has been written, reported, spoken about being our authentic selves. When the idea of living authentically first entered my head space, I was working. I wondered then how that might be looked upon in our rule based society where fitting in was a job requirement for most of corporate America. Different ideas were often met with, “but that’s the way we’ve always done it”. Rules and policies reigned. Employee manuals included everything from acceptable behavior to dress codes. Group think or face the wrath assigned to anyone not perceived as a team player.
Going further back in time I grew up in a very conformist household. My family was, like many other families of the era, rule based. Rules for inside the home and rules for school, church and social activities. Rules for speaking and rules for dress. Rules for daily living and rules for thinking. The rules were there to ensure that we did fit in, were accepted and belonged. We had to act the part and look the part and sound the part. We’ve all heard the saying, “Go along to get along.”
From an early age I was always the odd girl out among my siblings. I didn’t do sports or fishing or deep sea diving or horseback riding or going to the stock car races. While the kids in the neighborhood played baseball in the empty lot, I reveled in books, dance, theater, music, art and anything avant-garde. The Sizzling Sixties rocked my world and I enjoyed the ride. Growing up an hour train or bus ride to New York City, I was smitten with the anything goes in the city that never sleeps. Back in my little borough on the Jersey Shore, it was rules, beliefs, fitting in and being normal. Anything I did that was different from the perceived normal was shamed and ridiculed ending with the refrain, “We don’t believe in that” or “We don’t do that” or my mother’s favorite, “Kathleen, how could you?!”.
From home, church and the school yard we move on to the work place. Here’s where not fitting in can hit us in the wallet. The job or career where we have to fit in, go along to get along and work, work, work to achieve more and more in order to gain higher levels of prestige, money and success. We create goals to satisfy our egos and our supervisor’s annual review. We burden ourselves with more tasks which, comes with more stress, perhaps competition, and sometimes jealousy, from co-workers, then more hours, education and experience grabbing to do the same thing over again. We dress to fit the role we play. For this t-shirt and jeans type, hands-in-the-dirt gardener, the designer suits, acceptable hair style, perfect makeup and well heeled look grated. It wasn’t dress for success to me; it was a strait jacketed uniform that helped pay the bills.
Throughout our lives for any number of reasons we often strive to fit in, so we will belong, suppressing our very authenticity. We self-edit our ideas and desires to become someone else’s version of normal, acceptable, to meet their reality. It may be for family or societal pressure, to bring home a paycheck, to be liked. For me, that always chafed as if I were wearing a pair of ill fitting slacks. Retirement is a cathartic release of all the above. As poet Mary Sarton said, “We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” Retirement is the opportunity of a lifetime to be truly authentic. Whatever identity we wore in our previous two-thirds of life, we can now create an identity of our own making.
Today I don’t have one designer anything in my closet. My wardrobe consists of many pairs of my coveted jeans, t-shirts and sweaters. I rarely wear jewelry, not even earrings. I let my hair go gray years ago. I write, read, paint, draw, listen to music, garden, of course, and plan solo travels like my upcoming trip to Italy or building my new house. There will always be people who tell us we should do this or should do that. They are thinking what works for them must surely work for you. Listen to them, politely, if you can, then do whatever the hell you want! You have nothing to prove to anyone. You don’t need anyone’s approval.
To an extent we will always need to follow some rules as a society without rules is a mass of chaos. I see this time as choosing to live my reality built upon my dreams. I see it as I need people who support me, who may disagree with me, but people who accept my authentic self. I see it as this time in my life is irreplaceable and it belongs to me with open arms for those who love me and I love in return. I see it as wanting people in my life who see me as amazing as much as I see them as amazing. In this moment I realize the gift of retirement is freedom to be who I am, where I am. I no longer have to fit into someone else’s idea of me. That’s my new reality. That’s my rule now.