If the life I’m living could be characterized as a book, there can be no argument that I’m in the final third or maybe the last quarter until the finish. That’s how I think of it anyway, and I see the day-to-day of it as paragraphs that become pages that turn into chapters leading inexorably to the conclusion. Every day is a struggle to get from dawn to dusk in one piece, health – both mental and physical – intact, playing out the season that is my working life with no hope of anything resembling victory in the cards, but trying to keep the drama to a minimum, and some level of consistency in my routine.
That’s been next-to-impossible over the past year or so as what was once a normal retail position has evolved into the most unconventional and demanding job I’ve ever had. My life has been turned upside down by constantly changing daily shifts, an ever-increasing workload, and an impossibly demanding boss who insists on complete loyalty and dedication as he berates staff and blames his shortcomings and failures on everyone else, myself included. The inability to find success can only be laid at the feet of an incompetent management team that cannot accept responsibility or find an effective way of coping with the increasing workload. That’s definitely not what I signed up for, and in the almost total absence of anything resembling perks or real benefits, the incentive to play the game simply cannot be summoned by even the greatest of wizards wielding the strongest magic.
So there was nothing more to be done except to suffer in silence or move on. I don’t wear the mantle of martyr well, so I elected to move on to a similar job with the same company in a different store with a different management team and co-workers, and something closely resembling normal working hours. For the first time in about a decade, I can join the majority of the working world living a normal life. And since my wife is now retired, and she suffered the same fate in a different career, this will be the first time in our 35-year marriage when we lived a conventional life similar to what others enjoy. I simply decided that it was time to turn the page, and try to regain some control over my own life. I have no idea if the decision will turn out to be a good one. But I won’t harbor any regrets. Under the circumstances it was the only decision I could’ve made. I’ve been at the crossroads any number of times in my life, and each time I evaluated the situation, and tried to choose the wisest path. Not every choice I’ve made has led to success, but if I look back on those decisions today, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change a single one of them. I made the best choice in each case under the circumstances, and my instincts – particularly where the workplace is concerned – have been nearly flawless. It’s the reason I’ve managed to stay employed for so long even though nearly every place I ever worked has not survived me.
I never imagined as a young man that my greatest accomplishment as an older man nearing retirement age would’ve been simply to stay employed. That’s incredibly difficult to do in this day and age. Jobs vanish all the time and companies collapse under the weight of mismanagement or a failing economy. The ordinary worker struggles simply to survive it all. It’s an almost herculean task just to stay in the game. In the workplace of the 21st century, survival is the greatest measure of success.
Assuming I’m able to maintain my health, I have about eight working years until I can retire. All I want to do is hold on to my job, and make a simple living with a minimum of drama, and stress. I want to do that work at a high level and make a valuable contribution to the company’s success. That’s really the only path to job security (but hardly a guarantee). But if I’ve learned anything over the past couple of decades, it’s that I can adapt and adjust to almost anything.
I wrote that on the eve of beginning a new job this past Monday. The first week has been drama-free, with a nearly straight learning “curve”, and an opportunity to renew old friendships, and meet new people. That’s a nice mix to find in the workplace when you’re just around the bend from the home stretch to retirement. The energy I bring to my job is used in actually doing the job as well as I can. I no longer have the extra you need when you’re building a career, or trying to be promoted. Those things are no longer on my agenda. My job is there to provide an income – not a future. Whatever future I have now looks very different from how it looked when I was 28 or 38.
Once you reach a certain age, what’s most important begins to take shape and to crystallize in a very definite fashion. I have in mind a retirement that revolves around learning – keeping my mind sharp, and entertaining myself. I expect to continue reading – both for pleasure and to gain knowledge. There are several books on my shelf related to the sciences. There are lots of biographies and history books. I have several shelves, still, of unread music books. And I have a variety of genre fiction like sci-fi, westerns, and mysteries. I also have numerous poetry collections, and a stack of quality short story collections. And I want to read all of it before I die.
There’s music to experience for the first time and even more music I want to re-experience. That’s also true of films, and television.
I want to spend quality time with my wife because for the first 33 years we were married, quality time was at a premium because of the ridiculous demands of our jobs – hers especially. If I’m lucky, my dog will live as long as our last one did, and I want to enjoy time with her, too. I also hope to do a considerable amount of writing. I have so many ideas now for short fiction that I’ve begun making a list of story ideas, and thinking about outlining the best of those.
I expect to remain healthy. I’ve generally been blessed with good health most of my life, and I’m going to continue doing what I’ve always done – in moderation, and using good common sense. There are no guarantees when it comes to health. You can only do your best, and hope for some good luck.
Perhaps the smartest thing I’ve done in transitioning to “old age” is to make peace with all of it – however it turns out. To make peace with the knowledge that the years you’re living are numbered, it’s necessary to accept death as a reality, and not to fear it, but to embrace its possibilities. It’s the great unknown, of course, so no matter what you believe, you’re free to sketch an afterlife of your own choosing. I’ve written before in these pages that I hope to retain some sort of spirit that is free to move about the universe, or remain on earth simply observing people after I’m gone. I like the idea of being present wherever I choose to be and having complete freedom to go anywhere and see anything. If nothing else, it’s fun to think about. And if you can say that about an afterlife, why fear death?
I’m just a week into the new job, and I don’t know how it might turn out, but I feel certain I did the right thing given the circumstances in which I found myself. I already feel a sense of renewal, and a shroud has been lifted. When I think where I was and how I was feeling just one week ago, I’m grateful I had the good sense to put my life before my job. If you can do it, I recommend it.