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.