I am retired. It always sounds odd when I click that choice on a survey or use the word in conversation. Funny, because I am not old. I have almost two decades to live before I qualify for retirement according to the government’s time table. My hair is not gray (well, mostly). I am still active. I am still open to life changes and life challenges. But, I am retired. Still, today, several years into it, I am surprised just how easily I moved from working seven days a week to being free to focus more on the other areas of my life. How did I go from boss, manager, marketing professional, planner, adviser, buyer, and more to wife, cook, household manager, care taker, and family event planner? I did. And it was actually much easier to switch my brain, change my focus, and adjust than I would have ever imagined, especially considering I am such a goal driven, independent woman. How did I make the change? Well, I am really not sure I made the change. Maybe the change actually made me different.
For many years, I successfully ran a small business. A business that I started from the ground up. I was definitely a hands own business owner, always there and always getting my hands dirty in the business. I enjoyed the challenges even though the work and stress was sometimes overwhelming. When I had successfully conquered every challenge I set before me and reached each goal, I felt the work there was complete. I carefully moved my business back from a growth and expansion phase to one of higher profits and less effort. And then I closed it down. Money was the best ever during the last couple of years of my business, but money was not enough motivation for me to want to keep going. I was ready for change. I did not know what exactly, but I knew I was growing bored. Once I closed my business, I took my little nest egg and tucked it away. I had always been a cautious spender, so living within my means was not a concern. I worked for a couple of years as a consultant, but I never felt I had really found what my new career calling was. It was a decent income and satisfied me while I contemplated what would come next.
What came next was actually marriage. After years of being a single woman relying on myself for income and security and being more than capable of handling personal life challenges, I met the man I love. Soon after, we were planning a marriage. At first, I had no plans to change my current career, but just a week before the wedding we stumbled upon a piece of property for sale in a location that was life changing. We contracted to purchase it and upon return from our honeymoon began updating the house to our tastes. Simultaneous to the move, my largest client began to pull back and I decided to cut my ties. Within a short period of time, I went from single independent business woman living in a city to a married homemaker living in my old home town. I still wonder how and why I flipped the switch, but I have no regrets.
Certainly there are times I miss the business world. I enjoyed seeing the proof of my success laid out on a spreadsheet or with the extra zeros on the bank statement. I liked the challenge of growing my customer list. I thrived on the excellent relationships I had developed with vendors and the respect they showed me. I could see every day that I was capable - that I could do it. And that felt good. Now I have to find little things to shore up my self-image or pat myself on the back for. Maintaining a household is still hard work and still a challenge. But I do not interact with professionals I admire on a daily basis or feel their admiration for me. I do not forecast trends or economic cycles and steer my business ahead based on my assumptions. No, now I anticipate our income based on cost of living increases for my husband as compared to the rate of inflation, project the impact of tiny interest rates on our savings, determine the benefit of coupons and sales on our ability to stay on a budget and yet continue purchasing many of the things we want, and anticipate the many little needs and necessary tasks that keep our home life as smooth and crisis free as possible.
The rewards for success and achievement are indeed different for me now. I do not receive acknowledgment and praise for successfully chairing an industry committee or making contributions to the success of a large event. I do not have employees who have me to thank for a paycheck each week or the satisfaction of knowing together we have developed a good team. I do not have competitors striving to match my service or prices and feeling that little thrill when I know I “won”. My rewards are now mostly within myself. I have to take personal pride in knowing that I handle a hundred little things still, just like I did when I was the boss. But now, when these things are handled well, it is mostly my little family unit who benefits from the effort and no one else knows just how “fantastic” I am. I have to be proud of myself even more now than I was when I owned and ran a business because there are not nearly as many hard proof opportunities to measure my success.
Why am I not bored or why do I not feel like I am wasting my mind and my talent? I wonder about that and I know others wonder about it, too. Many felt I would be miserable and are surprised I never launched another business. I am surprised as well. When I made this move, I felt it would just be a period of time before I found what I wanted to do next. I was open to it. I would think and look around and wait for that spark of an idea that would take hold. It never came. There is still time for that to change. Maybe one day I will step out into the entrepreneurial world again. But so far, I have found an amazing level of contentment in my solitary world of homemaker. Maybe because as a woman who worked so many hours and so many days, I know just how difficult it is to maintain every detail of life and be a career woman, too. I know that something always has to give. Now that I do not have to spend most of mental strength on the challenges of running a business nor the hours it takes to do it, I have the time to focus on the rest. I shop for bargains, I track every expense, I successfully project and plan for major purchases, I plan our trips out with such detail that we amaze people with how many fantastic things we have seen and done even with just a few days to do it and on a tight budget, I have created a home we find very comfortable and very personal, I have used my brain to understand illnesses faced by family members and communicate effectively with doctors, I have a system which makes finding a repair manual or a warranty receipt quick and easy, I never fail to receive a rebate because I follow up, I prepare home cooked meals with originality and variety most every day, and I see daily how my efforts to run the home well have resulted in more opportunities for enjoyment for both my husband and myself. Yes, I do much of the mundane and thankless tasks of cleaning, laundry, shopping. But does not every job have plenty of the mundane, boring, or difficult tasks along with the good?
I feel good knowing that my efforts allow my husband to do even better in his career. He does not have to be concerned about the things I have the mind and the willingness to research or handle. We discuss things, but much like heading up a good meeting, I have the information prepared and we do not waste time when there is a decision to make. He does not have to help with the chores in the evening after work or take a turn in the kitchen during the week. This allows him to put in a little overtime and still have time to relax, unwind, and spend with me. This may sound old fashioned. To me it is very enlightened. I am not a housewife out of default. I am a household manager by choice. And I know I am equally as good at this as I was being CEO. Because I had the chance in life to prove myself in the world of business, I am seldom bothered knowing the arena I work in now is not very impressive to the world outside. I know who I am and I know what I can do. I am finding that doing any job well can be satisfying and rewarding. Knowing I am there to help my family when they need me, knowing I make my husband’s life better and that his peers envy the life he leads, knowing that I approach my homemaker duties with intelligence, preparation and competence has made my “retirement” a pretty sweet deal. I am sure there are many who wish they had the ability to live successfully in both worlds - career and home. I have had that opportunity. And I intend to keep making the most of it. If I continue to do my “job” well, we can continue to live with financial security, time for each other, comfort in our home, and room in our lives for interests and opportunities that come our way.
So how did I transition from business owner to homemaker? I just did it. When you do not worry about what others think, when you do not worry about proving yourself to someone, when you do not worry about being taken for granted, when you do not worry about losing your edge or your skills—when you truly accept that your work, no matter what or where it is, is valuable and important—then and only then is the transition smooth and natural. How very lucky I am. I am able to reap the rewards of my hard work, my insight, my foresight, and my diligence in business and enjoy the other side of life as a very young “retiree.”