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From Where I Stand

When I compare my life today to when I was in my 30s, I can see that I’ve changed immeasurably. In my late 60s now, I have such a different sense of myself and how I fit into the scheme of things. And yet, I’ve discovered in the last few years that I still feel the pull to be like everyone else—to favor "traditional" actions and ideas over my own. But, when I'm not being independent and courageous, it almost instantly makes me feel small and uncreative.

Four years ago, I retired from a long career in higher education. At least I officially filled out the paperwork and turned it in. My friends and co-workers had a retirement party for me, and I was ready to move in new directions. Or so I thought. I did finish an MFA and started writing more actively and earnestly, but I have also gone back to work in my community college district every time I’ve been asked. People laugh at me because I jump back in instead of enjoying the open time off, and I’ve spent lots of hours during the last four years figuring I was some kind of idiot for staying in the rat race instead of taking up golf or volunteering my time.

I love getting to discover so much at 67, and it gives me such great hope for what lies ahead.

This semester, when I went back to work at the college where I taught for more than 20 years, I realized the real truth. I like this work. I like working in a community college. I like the students, and my colleagues, and the earnestness of always wanting to do a better job. I’ve been faulting myself for the last four years because I couldn’t seem to let go. Turns out, I’m not ready to let go.

Throughout my career, mostly teaching, I’ve known the importance of reinventing myself every few years. I was always lucky to get to teach a variety of subjects, and I took on additional projects to keep myself engaged and learning new things. Still, when I was in my early 60s, I was well aware that what people do at that age is retire. Everyone around me was jealous, as connected to my Retirement Countdown Clock as I was.

I was definitely at a “time to reinvent” moment, and I felt that I had planned my exit well as I entered the second year of my MFA program. What I didn’t think about was all that I was leaving behind that I simply couldn’t duplicate at home playing with my dogs or at my computer. In fact, my struggles to do that have made writing harder than ever. Every few months—with a tiny feeling inside me that something is missing—I've actually been very grateful when someone asked me to come back to work.

When other people seek my opinion about some decision they are trying to make, I’m always quick to come up with a creative idea or suggestion. When it comes to my own life, I tend to take the safe route. Part of it is that I’m scared that I’m going to make a fool of myself, and the other part is that I want to follow the rules. When you’re in your early to mid-60s, you retire. That's the standard. On some level, I’ve been the luckiest person in the world to get to do that. On another level, though, my thought process was fairly limited and uninspired.

This semester, in a college I love, but where I haven’t worked for nearly a decade, I’m inspired, excited, and feeling super creative. I changed my perspective and it opened more doors than I can imagine. I’m having so much fun and using my brain in so many new ways that I would love to be able to keep doing it. If I can’t, my view has changed enough that I know I won’t be able to just go back to being home, being retired. Who knows what's next?

It’s easy to limit ourselves and to make decisions based on made up rules, or old views of our capabilities, or what we believe others think of us. Immersed in their own dramas, most people aren’t really thinking about us at all, it turns out. This semester I've learned the value of looking at things from a bunch of different angles. Doing this gives me the chance to consider what feels best to me. I love getting to discover so much at 67, and it gives me such great hope for what lies ahead.

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