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What I'm Learning At Home


Ever since I retired the first time—and kind of failed at it—I’ve scoured books and articles and podcasts looking for tips on meaning, engagement and reinvention for folks in their 60s and 70s. I’ve read memoirs, blogs and how-to books, and I've listened to people tell their stories about creating new lives after becoming retirees and empty-nesters. I’ve taken diligent notes and looked for people who seem like me to me. Then one day last week, I walked into our dining room on my way to get a second cup of coffee.


My view was no big surprise—Jodi at her sewing machine working on a quilt project—but it stuck with me. I realized that Jodi is actually the best possible role model for my new post-work journey. She was still working when I retired the first time around in 2014. At first, I thought this was good because I could get used to my new schedule on my own and find my way without having to worry about how she was finding hers. But, it turned out that one of the hardest parts of Retirement 1.0 was the fact that everyone else was going to work and I was staying home. It didn’t make me feel like I had all the time in the world to figure out my life. Instead, I kept feeling like I wasn’t doing something meaningful and useful like Jodi and our other working friends were. That really was part of what prompted me to go back to work when I had the chance. Soon thereafter, Jodi retired early from her longtime graphic designer job and took a contract position that she absolutely loved. We were back in sync and it felt good.

I like watching her do it because I can see hope and promise growing in her with each project.

Then the pandemic hit and, along with practically every other contract employee, she got laid off. I worked another year from my home office, while Jodi made her adjustment to being retired. I realize now that she handled it with the same grace and optimism that she exhibits in all the areas of her life. Regardless of what's going on, she just quietly pivots and steps forward, even into the unknown. I used to think she was a little naïve and crazy to not fret and torment about things the way I do, but of course it’s pretty obvious which of us truly needs to re-think her reaction.


I thought of that again when I saw Jodi at that sewing machine last week. As a graphic designer for 30+ years, it’s probably no surprise that she would find other artistic, creative ways to express herself, but my own experience made me think that it was harder than she made it look. This is not to say that all of this was easy for her; just that she was willing to try some stuff that interested her and see where it led her. In the 20 years we’ve been together, I’ve never seen her sew anything or even express an interest in fabric art, but she took the dive into this new medium and has barely looked back. She reads about quilting, talks to quilters, practices a variety of designs, and just keeps moving forward. She also clearly has fun, which is a good reminder not to take the whole thing so seriously. We are clearly different people in our reactions to the world, but there is a lot for me to learn from her approach.


Like Jodi, I can take my own risks in my own direction. I don’t have to worry about whether it’s compelling or meaningful to someone else. Jodi’s interest in quilting, which I can see now as a direct connection to graphic design, just developed. It's been such a great learning experience seeing her become as involved in it as she has. I like watching her do it because I can see confidence and promise growing in her with each project. She opened a new door inside herself and is headed down a new road. That’s exactly what I wanted, I think, but I was waiting for someone to give me the map to that door and that road.


When I see Jodi at her sewing machine, I am reminded how much we each have to find our own path. We have to take the steps and do the work and discover what’s there to see along the way. I’m a little braver now when I see the joy that her exploration has brought to her. I love it that she expects and relishes mistakes because she can learn from them and that, around every turn of the fabric, there is a new view.