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Never Say Never


The reasons are tedious and probably only completely understandable to me, but I’m going back to my old job for a few months. Because I made a big deal about being “completely through” with working after I returned last fall, part of me feels a need to explain myself here. Truthfully it’s more that compulsion to clarify than the work itself that has me sitting here at the computer today.

Let me begin by explaining that, as a relatively shy and definitely introverted human, I don’t love having a lot of attention drawn to me. And, just so you know, I get the irony of me writing here in a semi-public venue about not wanting people to focus on me. Still, I have a long-held competing urge to want folks to generally approve of what I do. I wish I were a person who could thumb her nose at the opinions of those around her, but I lived in shame in the closet for way too many years to be completely free of a desire for affirmation. So much for the set-up.

The punch line is this: When you are retired, a lot of people have opinions about what you should do with your time. Clearly it’s more about what they think they would do with their time if they were retired, but going back to work doesn’t seem to be very high on anyone’s list. Mix this message with my retirement discovery of being somewhat at loose ends without the identity and structure of work and you have the underlying feeling I’ve been carrying with me for the last three years. In other words, no one in their right mind goes back to work after they’ve walked out the door for the last time, but once you’re out that door—if you’re like me—it’s a struggle figuring out who you are and what you want to do with this next phase of life. You’re on one end of a somewhat steep seesaw no matter what you do.

I lived in shame in the closet for way too many years to be completely free of a desire for affirmation.

Because I also tend to prefer sureness to ambiguity, I continue to feel as if I need to choose. This is what prompted last December’s proclamation that the siren call of a known structure would no longer hold sway with me. And, at that very moment, I believed it. I’d worked hard for several months and I was oh, so happy to return to an open schedule, more time for writing, more room in my head to dream. Who could turn her back on that?

Well, me, it turns out. When I made this current decision to return to work for a few months, I did look at myself in the mirror for signs of insanity. But I’ve had some time to sit with all of this and I think the lesson for me is not that I have to choose between one way of life and another, but that I get to choose. A great gift there, I think. As much as I might feel that peace of mind lies in always doing the “right” thing and having things line up like the greatest row of ducks ever, that doesn’t feel like me or my life.

On a slight side note, my strongest belief about our purpose in life is that every day we navigate the many situations that we encounter on our paths and, in so doing, we learn about ourselves and the world and other people. Hopefully, in the process, we become richer versions of ourselves. I know that unequivocally decreeing that we are simply never going to do A or B again, no matter where we are when we encounter it, sounds impractical and unrealistic. But I also understand that these kinds of assertions can help us move to the next step.

So, truthfully, I get it that no one really cares whether I go back to work or not. My point is more about giving ourselves room to choose, to change our minds, to make mistakes, to triumph, and to begin again. The meaning of our lives has to thrive there more comfortably than it does in forcing our big, complex selves into little boxes. At least I hope so.

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