The Daunting Decision to Retire
To Retire or Not
Well... I did it. I dropped my retirement papers in the mail yesterday. Just like the day I signed my letter of intent, acknowledging that I would not be returning to WF-RH, the school I've worked at for the past 24 years, I took a deep breath (inhale... exhale) and let that puppy fall. Done.
In August when I first started talking about truly not working that 32nd year that I had been expecting to, I began to vacillate: was I really ready? Questions arose that I was not prepared to either ask or answer. The scariest question was "Who would I be once I retired?" After all, I have been Ms. Dove (or some form of Ms Dove) for 31 years. Much of my identity is tied to that name/title. Teachers walk around with an invisible "I AM TEACHER" sign on their necks. Or it permeates their aura. Whatever. There is something about being a teacher that sticks out in our interactions even outside the classroom. What would happen to my aura now. I finally slew that demon when I remembered that TEACHER is not all there is to me. I have much more inside me that is waiting to emerge. If I confine myself to my Ms. Dove-ness, what part of myself will I unintentionally suppress?
At that, I was able to take one step toward a final decision. The question that pushed me backward from that step was, "Who will be my peer group now?" Though I have several very good friends with whom I share a deep emotional bond, the people who form my society of peers are those with whom I teach. That group knows what I mean when I say, "I am sooooo tired." They understand when I say, "I hate dealing with parents," or, " I am sooooo sick of these children." They "get it" when I complain that the powers that be don't give a damn about us. These are things that I don't even bother to say to my non-teacher friends because too much explanation would be necessary. What I'm really doing is blowing off steam so that I can tackle the next stack of essays or sit through the next infernal meeting. I'm not really ready at that minute to chunk it all. My teacher peers know this, for each has been in that boat, and need help rowing from time to time. So without that camaraderie, with whom would I connect? I cringed at the thought that I might become "church folk," someone whose life revolves completely around the activities of the church. EVERY ACTIVITY. Don't get me wrong: I don't have a thing against church folk who love what they do. Those who are striving with all they are to "walk in the way of the righteous." But those other ones... the ones who are involved merely to bask in the power they wield or to gain the glory and admiration of those who are watching them, I can't get with them. Can't get past the hypocrisy (did that sound judgmental? Ok. I'll say a couple of Hail Marys). I knew immediately that I'd have to FIND a society... perhaps a book club or a writer's group. I'd be ok. But that contemplation pushed another to the forefront: The question of POWER.
My power base is attached to both my name and title. Once I retire, when people call me Ms. Dove-Miller, what emotions will be attached: Not the half-fear, apprehension, trust, or respect that has accompanied it in the past. So what will the speaker need or want from me? Because I am Ms. Dove, who shoots from the verbal hip, who won't take junk, who asks the tough questions, and will force the issue, I know the extent of my power. That does not mean that I have any authority at work that nobody else has. It means I know the parameters under which I deal. I know which lines I can ... or want to cross. What will be the source of that power now? That was the next question that gnawed at me. Damn! What if I have to start being nice? Or careful of what I say? What if the next group of people with whom I deal needs me to reign myself in? How awful would that be?
At that point it occurred to me that my power does not come from those around me. It comes from within. I realized that even if I have to "play nice," I will still be that strong and confident person who wields sarcasm like a sword. Who will voice her opinion even to the president if I think my voice needs to be heard. So what if I have to prove myself in unknown territory? "I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me." That is not just some verse I recite. It is a fact I live. By the end of that thought, I was ready for the world. Ready for the change that must occur, and excited about the numerous possibilities. By the time I wrestled that demon and won, I was committed to the decision.
Not many people thought I'd do it. Not even my own parents. They think I am too deeply rooted in education and too vital to sit down. But sit I will... at least for a minute. Gotta bask in that sense of freedom for just a little while. This time, I took the deep breath AFTER I dropped the retirement papers in the mailbox. There was no sharp inhale indicating apprehension. All my questions had been answered... and so I exhaled. Whew! Relief! Joy and exhilaration! Now I know EXACTLY what Terri McMillan's title means (Waiting to Exhale). And I know I will never have to hold my breath that long again, waiting to have time for myself. That in itself is a relief.
Yes, retirement signals old age. But so what? I'm still a tough old bird, so wherever I roost now will simply open a new chapter to a most wonderful and rewarding story...the story of my life. For those of you already in retirement land... LET'S DO LUNCH!
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