A year ago this week, I retired from IBM. At the time, Pat thought that I’d cry (I didn’t). That I would turn around and look back at the building (I forgot to). And that it would be a sad day (It wasn’t). That day was one of the happiest of my life.
As I wrote at the time, it was time—time to do something different, time to move on. Nine years prior, I had written a countdown on an index card of the milestones leading to retirement. The final one was that my youngest child turned 23 years old. Her 23rd birthday was in February; I returned to the US from Budapest in March and retired in April. During the worst days of the last nine years, that countdown pulled me along.
This year, as my retirement anniversary approached, I knew I would write about it. In preparation, I questioned my emotions, prodded for regret, and analyzed the down side.
There is no down side.
The last year of my life has been one of the best of my life. I did not look back a year ago, and I did not look back once during the last year.
Is it possible I buried all the regrets and fears?
Yesterday I woke up in a panic. I dreamed I had stopped writing. It had been a week since I opened my computer–a week which felt like forever. The angst which I felt yesterday, I have never felt since ending my 32-year career. That’s a good thing.
Yet friends of mine struggle to leave. They retire only to return immediately as a contract employee. They tell me they had nothing to do, they were bored, they missed the people. Rarely do they mention the money. When they look to the future, they see a void—a blackness.
I ask these friends what they love to do, what they are passionate about. Invariably, they tell me they love to work. Then they admit they don’t love to work, but they have never cultivated another love outside of work. Work became their marriage of convenience. It may be a loveless marriage, but it’s better than being alone.
This is where I’m supposed to say, “As long as we’re each happy, we make our own choices, blah, blah, blah,” but I’d be lying. The truth is, I pity these people. I can’t imagine continuing to do something I don’t love because I have no love, no passion, and hence no options.
I’m not advocating that everyone does what we do. It’s difficult. Every month or two, we board a plane or a train and move with almost everything we own strapped to our backs. We spend a week or so lost in a new place. In the case of Guatemala, we lived for three months feeling off kilter the entire time.
Yet when I asked Pat if he would have chosen to live in Guatemala knowing then what we know now, he replied, “In a heartbeat.” And I agreed. It was the most angst ridden, stimulating, thought provoking, awareness building, uncomfortable, luxurious three months of my life.
Pat and I marvel at our good fortune: to witness other cultures, to experience the best of the world, to see suffering first hand, to anticipate our next adventure, and then to come back home near our family to refuel–as we are now.
My wish for my friends is simple: to marvel at life, to cultivate passions, to be excited about tomorrow, to never look back–and certainly to never look back with regret.