• author
    • Pat Rigley

    • September 29, 2013 in Columnists

    Why, yes — I am ‘retired’

    I didn’t slip into retirement, as much as fall into it. There was no gold watch, nor brass ring, just a wooden nickel slipped into my hand by a declining economy. One moment I’m riding the gravy train, next thing I knew I was huffing and puffing alongside, my hand just inches from the grab rail.

    Unlike millions of unemployed Americans, mine was a self-inflicted wound. I left a position of 16 years to follow my wife when she landed a brand new job — our ticket to a better life in Washington state. Looking back, it was foolish of us to think that 25 years of experience as a graphic designer guaranteed me anything other than the paycheck I collected — and subsequently gave away too willingly.

    Comfortable with a job position I had almost created, I felt I could do it all, and most work days, I’m sure I did. I was near the top of my game — why wouldn’t my next move work out as planned? With our eyes to a brighter future, we rolled the dice. And guess what? We simply landed on the wrong square.

    I was most likely too confident. I interpreted the lack of response to my out-of-state job queries as in-state locals being given preferential treatment. After eight months of failing to bridge a seamless transition from job-to-job, I decided to quit the safety of the position I held so I could reunite with my wife who had long ago taken refuge in the Great Northwest.

    I gave a month’s notice to my employer and tied up the remaining loose ends before waving goodbye. By the beginning of May 2011, Jan and I were once again a couple. Out the front window, Mt. Rainier dominated the horizon and our future looked limitless. I gave my mini-vacation a week and then hit the boards running. If it moved, I fired my resume at it. Weeks passed, no reply. I signed up with one, and then, two temp agencies. Nothing.

    Screw graphic design I thought, what else does the working world hold for me? How about grocery clerk, warehouseman, marketing assistant, museum docent, and anything in between? I’d held countless jobs over the years. Why not try something different? Off went a barrage of resumes accompanied with an endless array of computer generated job applications — but once again, no interviews — and in this new world of online only procedures, no response whatsoever — zero, zilch, nada.

    By the end of summer, the magnitude of what I had done to myself had finally sunk in.

    With decades of work experience, came a price I hadn’t anticipated — the number of years it took to accumulate them. I should have seen the signs, read the tea leaves, checked my horoscope. But I didn’t. With all my efforts in searching for a job I managed to squeeze out only five interviews in two years, compared to the late 1980s when I racked up nearly 50 job interviews with less than one year of direct work experience.

    The truth of the matter was I had grown too old. In a youth dominated profession, there was little chance of any company hiring a job candidate on the plus side of 60. Hell, over the years I had been involved a number of times in the hiring process. Would I have employed someone my age from a pool of applicants? Odds are, no.

    I’ve no doubt that losing my livelihood patterned the emotional upheaval of a death in the family. Work had been the armature of my life, a structure I grew to appreciate. I enjoyed what I did and the contributions I was making. At the very least I was invested in my career. Though I didn’t live for work, could I live without it?

    My self-esteem was like looking in a broken mirror, each shard carrying a likeness, but no longer adding up to a cohesive whole. To put it simply, I was a mess. When someone asked, “What do you do for a living?” — how do you answer that? Was I out of work, looking for work, too lazy to work, retired, semi-retired, or endlessly weighing my options? It was a variation on an old joke. You tell everyone you’ve chosen a celibate lifestyle, when the simple truth is, no one will sleep with you.

    Today, I’m well over two years into this new life of “retirement.” That’s what I’m using now… “retired.” As far as employment stats, I’m off the grid — no longer a factor when discussing a national recovery. The nation will rebound; I’ve no doubt of that. But there were millions like myself who were amputated from the body politic. Each of us with different reasons, telling the same old story, economic casualties set adrift and working the open waters as best we can.

    Ironically, my wife and I are back in California, having answered the call for another corporate shuffle. This time though we’re in a good position. We live well, but modestly. I spend an inordinate amount of my time working on our home. I enjoy the creativity, physical labor, and being my own boss. The house is older than me by a third, but together we’re managing to patch each other up — the house on the outside, me on the inside. As opportunities present themselves, I’m working side jobs as a graphic designer. There’s even a good chance I can grow this into a respectable part-time gig. Something a retired person would do.

    • Pat – My retirement experience was different than yours but still, for me, traumatic. I re-invented myself (without meaning to as it turned out) and all is good. Give retirement another 5 years and you’ll never look back.

    • I retired by choice but, have real estate as income, I always told my grown sons never leave a job until you have another one. Now more important than ever before I think. Not the same as being laid off or downsized which is beyond one’s control. Glad you landed on your feet and working it out.

      • Maya North

      • September 29, 2013 at 7:32 pm
      • Reply

      Twenty-eight years with the state of Washington as of next month. I could plausibly retire in 4 years (modestly) or in 7 years (a bit more comfortably). I plan to go back to school to get a degree in something less youth-oriented…

      • Susan Drews

      • September 29, 2013 at 11:20 pm
      • Reply

      As usual, you are insightful and well spoken. I think our generation most of all doesn’t see ourselves as old.

      • Jean Boling

      • September 30, 2013 at 5:24 pm
      • Reply

      Unlike you, I would – and sort of did – hire an older person as my replacement. The owner of the storage facility prefers “older”, “settled” individuals, and I knew that the majority of the younger crowd simply could not have had the time to learn to multi-task as would be needed, much less handle being on-call virtually 24/7. After 13 years, the owner included me in the interview process and concurred with my preference. Of course, I had good reasons not to choose some of the applicants, but the primary reason I gave him for my recommendation was that “she has a strong enough sense of humor to handle this job”, and he agreed. So I retired and moved to a different state, through choice. Now I’m working harder than ever, but my only “pay” is that finally all the information on historic cemeteries in the county I left is becoming organized and will soon be available at the historical society to anyone. However, I do read the local newspaper, and it’s very obvious that if I did have to return to the work force, I would have virtually no chance of anything beyond minimum wage and maximum hours, regardless of any and all experience.

      • Courtney Stutts

      • October 1, 2013 at 11:27 am
      • Reply

      Mr. Rigley…the path you walked (chosen or not) is so familar, achingly, achingly familiar. I too believed I could buck the trend of “1 year minimum to land another job after a layoff.” Not so. Almost a year to the day it was, for a job that is a fraction of where I was before. At the law school, I had a place, and a position, like you, that I had carved out of virtual nothingness, and in one whoosh of a key stroke, I became vapor trail with a “hush money” severance in hand and a colossally bruised ego. One hour to clean out a desk I’d spent 5 years honing. All this and divorce to boot. Thankfully, you have had the marvel of a marriage with Jan. I always loved the way you expressed yourself and how very clearly you love her, and she you. In the adventure book of a life, you can write which pages to jump to, to return to, to omit, and to re-read. Never doubt that you are a bonafide double threat even if the corporate world, or body politic, can’t appreciate it – you have the visual and verbal chops to illuminate the plight of so many. The verses you’re contributing here are therapy for you and others. I’m very proud of you for soldiering on, keeping your humor, and seriously making this girl laugh as much as I have at your witticisms on Facebook. That, and a mutual love for the gilded voice of Sting. 😉 Keep verbing, Pat, you fill this online planetary universe with fantastic grist.

      • Shary Thomas

      • October 1, 2013 at 9:58 pm
      • Reply

      Pat, I experienced something very similar when I turned 50. I finally had the experience they told me I needed, in all the the right areas; but I was a 50+ year old woman and that made me “unhireable”. I experienced much the same as you, off and on for 2 years. Then I finally got a job, doing something I’d never done before. I was promised I’d have it until I retired (14 years away). It was in a lousy environment, and 3 years later I had cancer caused by the pesticides I’d been exposed to. After my chemo, I was ready to go back to work(they’d promised me I would get it back when I was done with my treatment). Guess what? I could have a part-time position. It stressed me out so much, my oncologist retired me. He was afraid, I’d never completely recover if I continued to work.Then I went through the same thing. That limbo that a forced retirement, no matter what the reasons, causes. Explaining why, at 57, I was no longer working. My husband assumed I had the easy life, and was eating bon-bons all day. Meanwhile, our plan to have everything paid for before I retired went out the window. I sat and worried. It took me 3 years to find my way. I finally did…just like you. I have SSDI now, and that has helped the financial aspects. All my friends are still working; which is kind of a bummer. I’m not physically able to do much, due to the fatigue. However, I’m loving life. Turns out my energy is about equivalent to the tasks I must complete each day. Things have a way of working out in spite of our best efforts; which I’m sure you found out too.

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