One morning in early January this year I woke up with the trembling thought: I could retire! In my 30s and 40s, I stated proudly that I would never retire; I loved my job too much. In my 50s, as I watched my 403(b) grow, I thought “well, maybe someday.” But on May 2 last year a world-rattling event occurred in the form of the death of my beloved son. I was a zombie the entire fall – no one noticed; I fake it well – but suddenly after a two-week stint on the island of Grenada where I had gone because he had loved it when we visited a few years before, I woke up literally and figuratively. I still love my job at the university, but ……… there are so many other things I can do as well. So I won’t really retire, I’ll unretire.
In unretirement, I’m sure I’ll work as much as I ever did but the difference is that now there will be multiple strings on my guitar. Financially, I probably COULD get by with my pension and what pittance I get from Social Security in the far future (I just turned 60) plus scheduled withdrawals from the 403(b) and associated funds. But why would I want to do that? I don’t want to spend less; I want to spend more! I want to travel the world, buy a house in the Caribbean, take long summer vacations in northern Europe where my family is, and fund my little business of craft jewelry. Let me tell you about that craft impulse and how it fits in (when it doesn’t take over, that is).
As my son Bryan got sicker and sicker and in increasing torture from the unrelenting neurological pain of chronic Lyme disease, I was with him at home all the time I wasn’t at work. But he didn’t want me in his room all the time – a grown man needs his privacy of course. I had seen a photo in a fashion magazine where the model wore an interesting piece of jewelry, and I walked into a bead shop and asked “Can you teach me how to make that?” Well no, they couldn’t because I had no skills at all. But I started learning, took classes, watched YouTube, and made a thousand mistakes. And the quality got better. Friends wanted to buy them (“You’re reducing my inventory!”), and then I got asked to show some pieces at a craft fair. So now I’m getting serious: starting a blog and a twitter feed, designing a web site, getting a California reseller license, looking into being an LLC, setting up an Etsy shop, planning fulfillment and insurance, and all that jazz. But that’s really just to fund my art addiction: now I finally understand what being in the flow really means. Hours can go by and I never notice; I’m happy as a pearl in an oyster.
But my unretirement also needs something where I can use my grown-up intelligence and skills developed over a 30-year university career. I don’t want another full time career job; I just want limited time consulting gigs. I have one lined up so far and another on the horizon. Another kind of “consulting” is actually going back to the university part time. There are rules for that (thank goodness), and I have only promised them until Christmas. And did I say writing? When Bryan finally got some sleep, I took my mind off the agony by writing a detective novel. I got some feedback on it from a publisher and realize it needs some good editing. Once my official retirement gets there, I’ll schedule at least some set hours a week to work on that editing. And then there’s the gym, and kayaking, and friends’ anniversaries, and the neighborhood kids who ring the doorbell and ask ingeniously “Is Max home?” (Max is my dog.) There are just not enough hours in the day! I’m going to need a vacation from unretirement.
Unretirement could be scary for those who want life to be predictable. And I’m not really a completely spontaneous person, I do make plans. When I talk about relocating to the Caribbean, some people look shocked and say “But you’d be leaving all your friends!” Well, yes, but I have to tell you that the first thing most of them have asked is “How many bedrooms will you have?” I don’t think I’ll lack for visitors. I make friends easily.
I think the only barrier is the simple fact that I am getting older. Still strong and vibrant, but I have seen all my relatives of the generation before me wither and die, and it’s not a pretty process. It’s a plain fact that I will get weaker with time. The fully paid up health insurance that my unretirement carries with it is balm for the worry, of course. Still, there is only one way out of here.
I’m so excited by my unretirement that I can hardly wait.