June 19. September 10. December 5. August 13. Some dates hold emotional value to me. Recently a new date has joined the pantheon of days to celebrate, or at least to remember fondly. On a December 20 my life changed. Yes, I had an inkling of how big the change would be, but I had only hoped it would be a wonderful day of change, like a handful of other days.
Three years ago that day I walked out of IBM, using the security exit, not the regular door I used at the end of a work day. I was stopping at security to turn in the badge that allowed me to enter the plant at any time of day or night. Never again would they let me in unaccompanied. It felt strange to hand my badge to the guard behind the heavy glass window. I’d worked with this security guy several times over the years as I brought hundreds of customers on site, now he was the last person to bid me farewell. I said good-bye and walked into that December day, a day of blizzard, wondering what was ahead.
In some ways, work had been the center of my life. No longer.
Before that snowy December day dawned I thought about and planned what to do at the end of my working career. The list was long, full of possibilities. I had met with friends, telling them I was open to working on a board, volunteering, just about anything to fill the days. Magazine articles told me to seek my passion, find something that really interested me, then fill the day with my favorite activity. There were so many options, I felt ungrounded.
A couple of weeks ago I had coffee with a recently retired good friend. He was still groping his way into retirement, looking for something to create excitement in his life. My advice bucket was empty. None of the traditional recommendations had worked for me. The lists I had created … uninteresting. The friends I had talked to … no fruit from that vineyard. The passions recommended by the magazines … boredom. Even the offers to consider going back to work generated … fear … not excitement!
After talking to my buddy that day, Judy and I talked about what our life has become since I quit going to IBM every day. This life is nothing we would have imagined three years ago. The things filling our days were not on the lists. Writing this blog wasn’t there. Working with RavensFire wasn’t part of the plan. Day care for our youngest grand son hadn’t entered our reality. Our days and evenings are full of friends, I get out for coffee and lunch with people several times a week, and a nap after lunch seems right some days.
This discussion is kind of circling around a key point here: the retired life for us is about as close to perfection as possible. But what am I supposed to tell my buddy who is trying to figure out what to do with his life? Another buddy went back to work. Len took up fishing. Ray seems hooked on old movies. Then there’s the guy who enjoys watching television. Most seem satisfied with their lives, even the one who doesn’t leave his home place often. Where’s my advice?
If you’ve read this blog regularly you may have noticed a couple of things I learned from Jim, Lucy and my parents. They thought I knew what I wanted. Yes, I wanted a lot, and my standards were high, but I didn’t know what was coming. As I look back, I realize that what I really worked at was keeping the door open to serendipity. I didn’t just wait for a chance event, I laid the groundwork so that when something good showed up I could grab it. No waiting, just take it.
Many of my days are spent enjoying things that weren’t on the radar five years ago. Something good would show up, and it was just what I’d been looking for! That’s the second lesson from my mentors. When life shows up, take the time to enjoy it. There is fun everywhere. Even my upcoming medical issues have been a source of joy. The procedures scare the hell out of me, but the love and caring of friends have more than made up for the scary bits.
Finally, a lot of people give me grief because I tend to plan everything, dotting every “i” and crossing every “t.” What’s not so obvious is that I don’t expect life to exactly follow the plan. The plan is there for when serendipity fails. My retirement lists were there as insurance, things to do if nothing better showed up.
Something good did happen. Even so, I’m ready for the next good thing. I can’t wait to see what it might be. Serendipity, don’t fail me now!