Have any of you who are still working in your sixties ever had the distinct impression that everyone is studiously watching you for a signal that you will retire…soon? Unlike the ban on asking people their age, the question “when are you planning to retire” is a permissible question that anyone and everyone- from your colleagues to the person who empties your wastebasket- feels free to ask. Are they eyeing my office, my computer, my title?
Sometimes it feels a little like a scene from Zorba the Greek where the village women begin ransacking the home of a woman who is not yet dead. But I do understand the mentality. I asked the same question through the years of various colleagues and associates without a second thought. I am considering retirement, yes, but in my own way and time. I don’t want to be pushed and prodded to leave. I don’t want to feel like a lame duck who isn’t invited to the committee meetings or isn’t in on the inside discussions because “She probably won’t be there when we start this project.” And yet, I do understand a boss’s thinking when she selects people to work with who will not only envision the future, but will set up shop in it.
There was a scene in About Schmidt where the protagonist, having been celebrated on his retirement and awarded a gold watch, drives back to his place of business after hours and sees all his files and boxes dumped unceremoniously in the trash. What does a career of 30 years amount to? What legacy do we leave behind? What do those years of multi-tasking, balancing home and work commitments, taking work home in the evening, and meeting clients’ needs day in and day out add up to after all?
All I can come up with is the quote from T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday: “Teach us to care and not to care.”
Your writing brought back to sad/sweet conversations we had earlier but also reaffirmed for me that work has its legitimate place and purpose in our lives yet doesn’t define us. I know several colleagues who see themselves as indispensable, irreplaceable and are devastated when they find their boxes in the hallway. There must be gracious ways to enter into retirement – Judy Greene’s party was one of them – where we reflected on her contributions to UD together and also celebrated the exciting new tasks awaiting her. I miss her. Thank you for bringing back these memories. Gabriele