Friday, August 5, 2022

Early Retirement and the Great Resignation

        At the age of 57, I stared at my 35 year career, whispered a polite thank you to the heavens and hit the send button on my retirement application.  My mind raced.  What was I thinking?  I made six figures. I was content.  The problem was the dark circles under my eyes, the feeling of missing out on my real passion, and the need to focus on “me” for a change.  The decision did not come lightly.  I studied my options, requested financial analysis on my investments and read everything I could about the do’s and don’ts of retiring.  Millions of people had joined the great resignation in search of fulfillment and it called to me like never before.  Life as I knew it would change forever and somewhere deep down inside, I knew it was for the better.    

I promised myself that I would make great use of this gift of retirement and would take time each day to focus on self-improvement.  I bought a yoga mat.  I was obviously prepared.  The schedule I crafted in my head included yoga time, prayer time, meditation time, healthy cooking and 30 minutes of walking or biking each day. I promised to return to writing, a passion that had been simmering on the back burner for years.   I would not waste a minute of retirement.  

The first day as a retiree felt like a vacation day.  Work matters lingered in my head, but I knew to keep them there and not call the office to offer unsolicited advice to people who were well trained to move forward without me.  My job now was self care, so I mounted my Peloton bike, updated my subscription that had quietly lapsed during years on nonuse and immediately became self-aware that I did not own any proper exercise clothes like the instructors on screen. My ten year old cotton sweat pants were a sad reminder of my neglectfulness.  Preparing to ride included clipping in my biking shoes which left my feet securely attached to the bike. This is a great feature for those with the ankle strength and agility to easily unclip from the pedals.  Sadly, I had neither and my anxiety level increased and kept me from truly appreciating the 70’s ride with Fleetwood Mac songs motivating me to make it to the 20 minute mark.  At the eleventh minute, I managed to get one foot free and lay on the floor with the other foot still clipped into the bike, Googling, “How to remove foot from Peloton”.    

My attempt at exercise demanded a reward and I reached past the week old kale in the refrigerator and grabbed a handful of Hershey’s Kisses perfectly chilled at 38 degrees.  The phone rang and it was work.  I have to admit, I was excited.  After catching up on all news that no longer involved me, I grabbed the yoga mat and went outside.  I had seen those beautiful people at the lake doing their downward dog poses early in the morning and I was determined to join their ranks.  I rolled out the mat and stretched out as if taking a Kindergarten nap.  The position was familiar and I closed my eyes, taking in the yin and yang that surely must be surrounding me.  I remembered that breathing was important and began a series of deep inhalations, counting to three and visualizing the oxygen pushing goodness through my veins.  As comfortable as this little spot in the world was, I knew I had to move and attempt some of the few yoga poses I knew.  After a warrior pose and stretching my arms to the sky because it felt like something I should do, I returned to my Google searching to find basic yoga poses.  I found several, but I also found a coupon for 20% off a robot vacuum cleaner and I sat up on my mat and took deep cleansing breaths as I jumped to Amazon Prime and ordered a new vacuum with one click purchasing.  Yoga was fun!   

An article popped up on my phone that said the ability or inability to stand on one foot for more than ten-seconds was a good mortality predictor.  My mind raced and I had to try it. I stood tall on my mat, lifted one foot and attempted to place it against my other knee.  This was not possible so I gently pushed it again my other leg, about calf high, and immediately fell over.  My years of retirement seemed to shrink before my eyes.  I grabbed a nearby chair and balanced myself as I focused on standing on one foot, defying mortality.   The Fleetwood Mac song played in my head, “I climbed a mountain and I turned around…”.  I was doing it.  I was extending my life by years as I stood outside on my yoga mat, in a one footed balancing act.  

Two yoga poses and one robot vacuum later,  I moved to a wooden rocking chair that sits on my porch.  It was my mother’s and she used to sit there each morning for her prayer time and silently called out everyone’s name.  Prayer time was on my schedule, so I would carry on that tradition and took my place in the prayer chair.  I have to admit, I have a secret problem that I have never been able to close my eyes for long periods of time unless I’m sleeping.  I’m that girl who looks around the church during prayer while everyone else is looking down, deeply engaged in their thoughts.  God knows my mind races and I know He understands my issues.  I sat in my prayer chair, thanking God for my family, my health, my home and my job.  It was at that moment I realized I don’t have a job and my eyes flew open again.  A quiet panic moved through me and the only known cure was another handful of Hershey’s kisses.   I raced to the refrigerator, threw the wilted kale in the trash, downed the chocolate and made my way to the couch where I would review my retirement estimate once again.  

The monthly annuity seemed small compared to what my salary had been, but I was comparing apples and oranges.  I would no longer have many of the big expenses such as Social Security, Medicare, higher taxes, and more.  If I did the math different ways and considered the dollar amount of what I would no longer have to pay, I was now making somewhere between $40,000 and $80,000 a year to stay home and do bad yoga. The swing in calculations was troubling, so I abandoned my search for determining my comparable wage and mapped out a plan for the next day of retirement.  With my new ability to stand one footed, it was going to be a long retirement, so I had to make good use of every minute of it.   At the end of the day, I stood strong knowing my decision to retire early was the right one.  Tomorrow would bring day two of retirement and there was a whole world out there waiting to be explored, enjoyed and celebrated.  57 seemed just the right age to begin.  

Friday, February 18, 2022

The Woman in the Dryer

  I stumbled across a video of a tall woman trapped inside a dryer.  I watched in amazement as the fire department maneuvered her this way and that to free her from the metal drum that ached to spin left or right with each movement.  Several questions immediately came to mind and I wished for the prequel to this story to help understand how a woman finds herself inside the drum of a dryer.  That video would most likely include alcohol and encouraging friends.   Sadly, no answers were to be found so I moved on to watch other things such as videos of pigs wiggling their ears in unison when their names were called and brave youngsters jumping off of cliffs into the deep blue waters of places that whisper my name in my dreams.  

   That night, after an hour of trying to make a nest in my bed and finally falling to sleep, I did not dream of far away seas or beautiful waters.  The lady in the dryer filled my thoughts, leaving me anxious and wide-eyed, once again.  As I lay there with one foot out of the covers, I realized that I may have a touch of claustrophobia.  The signs have been there all along. I just haven't paid attention.  Incapable of being pinned down by the weight of my own bedding,  I thought back to a time as a child where I found myself locked in a gas station bathroom.  I'm sure I was probably only in there for minutes before my family found the garage owner and the door was opened, but I remember the panic to this day.   Years later, my daughter and I would find ourselves trapped on an elevator in Washington D.C. for several minutes.  In those few short minutes, I remained outwardly calm, while my insides tumbled like the very dryer that tall women crawled inside.  My body filled with heat, my heart raced, and I assessed if I could actually jump 8 feet to the trap door like some super hero.   I could not.  I thought about how I could lift my tiny tot to the trap door if needed and quickly realized the flaws in that plan because certainly a 60 pound child could not lift her mother up into the elevator shaft and who in their right mind would allow her to try.  If she had that power, she could rip the doors open and we would be on our way to the pool as originally planned.  As my respirations became rapid, the doors opened and we were free.  The adrenaline rush carried us quickly down the hall to the blue waters and open air where we were safe, once again.

  I've spent my life unaware of my fear of closed spaces.  On another family trip, I was quick to sign us up for the Mammoth Cave tour.  It was the height of summer and the cool air that rushed forth from the cave entrance was welcoming and exciting.  We were half way though the tour in the dark, when the guide informed us that the cave ceiling to our right had collapsed the year before.  It was at that very moment that the tour was over for me.  The group moved forward and I stood still, unable to move deeper into the dark.  Of a cave.  A cave where the ceiling can suddenly collapse.  With no warning.  Unfortunately, the only thing scarier than moving further into a dark, unstable cave, is to be left behind in a dark, slowly, crumbling million year old cave.  My husband took my hand and pulled me forward.  He had one child on his shoulders and another one dragging their feet behind him.   I immediately began mapping out emergency plans in my head.  If only I had breadcrumbs, a long rope and some extra lanterns.  I had none. The guide told stories of those who had wandered into the dark only to lose their way and never leave the tight confines of the damp, dark cave.  And I paid for this, I thought.  I was not there seeking refuge.  I had not entered because circumstances deemed this the safer place for me.  I had picked up a flyer in Shoney's restaurant and while downing a Big Boy Burger, I believed that I could be an adventurer, too.  I might as well have been trapped in a dryer.  Everything in me tumbled into mush and I closed my eyes and held on tight until daylight returned.  

  Finding oneself in a tight space is one thing.  Thinking it's a good choice to go there in the first place is another thing.  I wish I could have spoken to the tall women in the dryer before she made choices with an adventurous spirit.  I would have told her I commend her desire to venture into unknown territory, but perhaps she should choose a location that doesn't spin freely or have tumbling sides.   Most importantly, I would tell her if she has friends who want to film her headed towards danger, she should most likely choose better friends.  She needs friends who will take her hand and lead her away from danger, not towards it.  Then, when the drum rolls or the sky falls, she will be safe in the care of those who actually love her.  




Early Retirement and the Great Resignation

        At the age of 57, I stared at my 35 year career, whispered a polite thank you to the heavens and hit the send button on my retiremen...