Giving up my own ideas
A couple transitions from career to retirement
By Linda Specht
I had said I would never retire. I loved my work, my colleagues and my university students. Then, I tried to retire a couple of years ago. I honestly did.
I say “tried,” because I struggled to stay in the present moment. I would say, “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will,” (Heb 10:9) but struggled with the sense of loss and disorientation.
While I asked the Holy Spirit to enlighten me about the next stage of my life, I would often find myself choked with emotion when friends or family asked how I was making the transition.
After three difficult months, I received a call asking me to return for the next academic year and resume my role as chair of the department. I was filled with joy at this new manifestation of the “will of God.”
My second retirement coincided with my husband’s retirement. We both celebrated with former colleagues and began the new phase of our life together. Although I had a great deal of peace (and gratitude for the bonus year), the transition was a little rocky at first.
We had gone from independent roles with a significant degree of authority and responsibility, to a 24-7 unscheduled future. True to our nature, we both tried to run things on our own schedules.
While we share a number of volunteer and recreational activities, we also have had to learn how to be sensitive to one another’s preferences. For example, I want breakfast right away in the morning. My husband is in less of a hurry for breakfast, but then he wants to leave for the gym to work out shortly afterward, while I would prefer to go a bit later.
He also assumed that I would run all of his errands with him afterward, while I had planned something different. It took some time to achieve a balance of our together time with our independent time.
I see now that the transition was really about each of us giving up our own ideas. It was difficult for me to do so, because I felt that I had already lost my professional identity of 30 years. While I sometimes struggled to stay in the present moment, my husband never looked back longingly, as I did.
I also had to “cut” with some of my deeply ingrained personality traits, such as rushing in to help in circumstances when no help was needed or desired. Whether my helping actions were driven by desire to help, ego, or the patterns of a lifetime of “teaching”, they were not helpful to our new roles as retired spouses.
Ultimately, I think what has helped us most in making a joyful and healthy transition has been our reaching out to others. We work together in our parish St. Vincent de Paul food pantry every other week, but we also have care receivers who take some of our “independent” time. My husband spends many hours helping his handicapped brother, and I spend time with my Stephens Ministry care receiver, a Word of Life group and with others who live the spirituality of unity.
After 18 months, I was beginning to think that we had settled in rather well. Then I was asked if I would teach a graduate course this semester. It was a course that I loved to teach, and my always-supportive husband encouraged me to do so, if it was what I wanted to do.
My initial reaction was of great enthusiasm and excitement, but upon reflection and prayer, I realized that it was no longer the will of God for me. He had given me a wonderful professional life, but he was calling me to build unity elsewhere now.
Saying “no” to the teaching opportunity did not carry the sting that I would have anticipated, but brought with it the joy of embracing my new life and anticipating a shared future with peace.
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