Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Climbing Down the Mountain

talhakhalil007 via Pixabay

 Last week, one of my friends got a new job. This inspired a lot of feelings, some of which made sense and many of which did not. As I sorted through them all, I came to a realization that stopped me short. 

I’ve arrived at a point in my professional life where I’m not really looking to move up. I’m on the downward side of the mountain. 

This shouldn’t have come as a shock, but it did. At my age, the math is simple enough: the number of years until retirement is in the single digits. But the difference between the logical, mathematical representation of a life span and the broad overview I step back to take in from time to time is quite different.

And the contrast between the math and the minutiae of the day-to-day on which I focus most often? That was enough to make my jaw drop.

Lately, I’ve been envisioning retirement (for real this time) and even taking steps toward the planning that will make it so. I don’t have anything resembling a definite date or plan but I want to know that when that day comes, I’ll be as prepared as I can be.

I’ve considered what I want my life to look like when my job is no longer what drives my days, and the theme of these daydreams is freedom - both from the clock and from tasks I don’t enjoy that are nevertheless part of the work.

But I haven’t considered any of it from the perspective of what my life will look like when a career is no longer what drives my days. It sounds like splitting hairs, I know, but while a job is to-do lists and responsibilities, a career is personal. It’s bigger goals and a place in the world. It’s striving, improving, and making each day better than the last for personal and professional reasons.

And some days, it’s a calling.

When I retired from public education, I knew it was temporary but, even then, I struggled with my identity. I’d been a school counselor for most of my adult life. In the absence of that career, who was I?

I should probably pause for a moment here and clarify that I don’t feel the least bit melancholy about any of these musings now. I did at first - when the realization first hit - but now, it’s a bit like the horse I was riding stopped short, leaving me with the task of figuring out how to get him going. I know he’ll move forward, but I also know that the path we were on has irrevocably changed. And, as we start up again and head for the scenic route, I need to rethink how hard I want to push him.

And myself. 

Maybe it’s time I rethought the spurs and the crop and concentrated on just enjoying the ride. 

Last week’s epiphany wasn’t just about the future. Like any good epiphany, it should inform the present as well. If I’m no longer climbing the mountain, maybe I don’t need to push so hard. It’s too soon to put away my climbing tools and coast downhill (if that’s even a thing), but there’s also no need to make the journey harder than it needs to be.

Last week’s realization made me feel old but now, I feel energized. Moving forward, I want that feeling to guide my choices. The freedom of retirement may still be a ways down the path, but there are plenty of opportunities to exercise my options between this location and that destination.

It’s all in how I choose to look at it. 

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