After all the messages about getting a secure job with good benefits are given and received on the deepest level, after all the years of learning to enable addiction as a matter of pragmatism and safety, the messages become the “go to” dogma and the enabling becomes the default behavior. When the messages and behavior lodge somewhere in the solar plexus of the soul, fear begins. Fear of ignoring the messages, fear of stepping outside the ring of comfort and safety however troubled. Of anything that doesn’t speak directly to security and anything that isn’t the odds on favorite for limiting risk.
But underneath that fear is the philosophy of scarcity. There were times, most of them as I remember, when scarcity was all we knew. My parents started out hopeful but as the economy worsened in our town, they worried about their own job security. Jobs gotten but ultimately lost. Any appliance purchase had to be set up with monthly payments. And as the years rolled on and my father’s alcoholism consumed him, we pretty much descended into poverty.
It’s not a stretch to see that all the fear was grounded in scarcity and a chronic concern of what to do next as options became increasingly limited.
Fear sucks. But it’s the foundation of many a sin.
We can be so grateful for the determination we showed in order to find those good, secure jobs that scarcity and fear provided the impetus for. We no doubt are grateful for the fruits of those jobs: our homes, our cars, the ability to visit loved ones in faraway places. But heavy tolls have been paid by many of us: years of self-denial on virtually every level; abusing our bodies and ignoring our bodies’ needs for good food, rest, and stress reduction. Feeling so flawed because we didn’t fit in but desperate enough to belong somewhere, even if the “somewhere” was so toxic that it killed slowly and inexorably, from the inside out. The self-flagellation and self-destruction that resulted because we drank deeply from poison wells, so strong was our thirst. Years of never even knowing what our souls needed, given that the messages and enabling began at such a young age.
A few weeks ago, during a week’s staycation. Unconsciously, I felt fine. I fed the wild birds and squirrels, enjoying their antics in the water bowls and baths. Consciously, it was a very different story. My mind, running through the familiar litany of looking for some way — any way — forward, kept bringing me back to the same point of feeling trapped in a life that had never bloomed.
Shortly after my time off ended, on a Friday afternoon driving home from work, my perspective changed, not with the elation of an epiphany or the drama of a seismic shift. It came as a deep sigh, the kind that happens when sleep arrives and the tension in a body eases, a release from the internal grinding away at something that no longer fit.
“I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.”
And a gentle calm came over me, like a low tide lapping at my feet.
I would make every effort to retire next year from my good, secure job with benefits. I know my work has allowed me to bring joy to others, to those I served and those with whom I served. I enjoyed some days immensely. But I am tired and nothing I can do there would matter much personally.
It is not my real work. It never was. And many of us find ourselves in the same dilemma, doing work that doesn’t fit us because of the need to provide for ourselves and others.
But the work we’ve done and the lives we’ve led bring us to these points of self-awareness. In my life, I find that I have to speak my truth now, on my own terms, without resorting to “government speak” — that odd way of saying things in person rather than in writing so that the listeners have plausible deniability, resorting to written documentation only if I needed to cover my ass. I don’t want to be a partner in that dance. It’s time to move on.
Maybe the lesson is that retirement is a time of redesigning our lives. For some of us, it can be a time of designing our own lives for the very first time; for others, it may simply mean focusing our lives to sharpen the vision. It can be a time to share the nuanced knowledge we’ve gained or to offer ourselves to something new, something expansive, something of our own.