Retirement Ambivalence: Who's Afraid of Getting Off the Career Track?

by Ruth Wooden • Member { View Profile }
Photograph: iStock

It would be disingenuous to say I am not anxious about the “what’s next?” question.  I get anxious just being asked the question without having a ready answer.  I have always had a good response to that question, or at least I pretended to know and gave a socially acceptable answer.   A friend once told me that I had great timing, e.g. knowing when to buy and sell real estate, when to take a new job and when to move on.  But now my secret fear is that I will let too much “game time” elapse  and I will be” out of sight, out of mind” when I am ready to pick up the briefcase again.  Last week I told a very considerate man that as my next thing I was thinking about buying a new bathing suit.  I figured that would stop his questioning (it did), but my snarky response revealed the depths of my own anxiety, especially my worry about being too leisurely as I try to figure this all out.  

The ironic thing for me is that I have already spent a lot of time researching the retirement question.  I’ve been a board member of Civic Ventures for nearly 10 years and we have interviewed any number of retirees and near retirees, looking at what it would take to encourage the country’s upcoming baby boomer retirees to consider starting “encore careers” to take on the social problems that so many of us have the experience, skills and interest to address.  I’ve heard this yearning over and over and feel it myself, but I am not yet sure exactly what it is I want to do in my encore.  I know enough to know I’m not moving to Florida to play bridge or golf, and I doubt I’ll be joining the Peace Corps , though that was the encore career my own mother chose, going to Yemen of all places at age 70.

I guess what I want more than anything is to feel free to live for some decent amount of time in what my fellow Civic Ventures board member, Suzanne Braun Levine, refers to as the ” fertile void,” which she says could last a year or more.   It’s a “prolonged state of confusion… feeling the energy and spirit of adventure stirring, without knowing what type of action to take.”   I need to clear out the years of noise in my head and listen to my inner voice so I can truly know what I want to do next.  Correction:  I think what I really want from my time in the fertile void is to figure out what I don’t want to do and to finally give up on all those socially acceptable things I think I should want to do.  
So for now when I get asked the question “what will you do next?” I plan to say with as little anxiety as possible, “Ask me next year.”  

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