Skirting the Issues: Non-Retirement
Photo courtesy of BigStock/PhotoSpirit
I’ve been thinking about retirement.
As in, “I’ll never retire.”
I write those words as scores of my contemporaries are easing out of careers in favor of post-Covid weeks-long vacations, habitually sleeping in, four o’clock cocktail hours, and much-needed afternoon naps. Certainly, I’m a bit jealous; on the other hand, I know myself well enough to understand that retirement would drive me completely nuts.
I’m just not wired for a post-worklife existence. No. Nada. Never.
I come from a long line of workaholics who found great meaning and value in their work. Because of my role models, I thought nothing of starting my first job as a fry cook—a couple days after I turned 16—with a training schedule that had me working two 56-hour weeks back-to-back. Later, during my entire senior year in high school, I worked as a drug store receiving clerk forty hours weekly (the school called it “work-study”; trust me, it was mainly “work”). A couple decades later as a civil trial lawyer, things morphed into seventy-to-eighty-hour workweeks (during trials it was easily 100 hours).
In 1974, Studs Terkel, the legendary free spirited oral historian and notable smartass, wrote an entire book about people like me. Titled Working, Terkel’s book was replete with stories of people who found profound meaning in their daily occupations.
To be honest, my workaholism has come in quite handy. Back when I still lived and presented as a dude, work allowed me to overload my mind as a way to suppress thoughts about being female. (I’m here to report that the overloading didn’t work…)
Putting in long hours as a lawyer also meant that I earned more money—something that made it possible for my two daughters to attend college debt free. Yes, for sure they had great privilege; among other things, that privilege was due to the fact that I often walked into the office at five in the morning.
I don’t share that to brag or for martyrdom. Rather, it’s simply proof that workaholism has served my multiple needs over time.
On the other hand, plugging away at my law office desk made came with a price. I missed a lot of time with my daughters—as they say, time that one can never get back. All that work also made me a pretty crappy manager and colleague; with the boatloads of pressure that I gladly took on, it got easy to put some of that pressure on those I worked with.
All of that I regret.
Still, here I am, at sixty-four, plugging away to solidify my third stab at creating a business and desperately trying to save for the future. My current profession—training on diversity and inclusion—is solitary work, not the kind of stuff that I can delegate out. That means it has to be me standing in front of audiences (either online, or hopefully very soon, back to in-person) doing the work.
For sure, that’s just fine since there’s wonderful satisfaction in watching facial expressions and body languages change as some audience members come to understand, and maybe even embrace, the things I talk about. That affirmation fuels my idealism about wanting to make a concrete difference in the world, something that I’ve sought to do my entire life. Only now, at this late stage, do I actually get to do that. Yahoo!
It sounds like a joke when I say that presently working just the fifty or sixty hours a week really is my retirement. The truth is I’m serious when I say that—I wouldn’t know how to relax or sit still. No, I always have to be moving, always plotting this or that speaking engagement or the angle on another column, or when things are incredibly slow, working on the second installment of my memoir.
Maybe it would be different if I had a partner or lover or grandchild—someone to tug at me, to remind that all of my work can wait. Soon I will have a golden retriever puppy, so who knows, maybe “Jack” will slow me down. We shall see.
I continue to come back to one key thing: I got to womanhood so awfully late in life (at age fifty- two). As Ellie Krug, there’s so very much I want to accomplish, like getting that second book published. None of what’s on the plate will get done by others; instead, it’s all on me.
I’m really good with all of that, even if it means forsaking vacations or a boatload of naps. (Note: I’ll always make time to ride my bike.) The goal is to get as much done with the relatively little time that I have left.
I’d write more, but I’ve got to go.
My “to-do” list is yelling at me.
Ellen (Ellie) Krug, the author of Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change, speaks and trains on diversity and inclusion topics; visit www.elliekrug.com where you can also sign-up for her monthly 9000+ recipient e- newsletter, The Ripple. She welcomes your comments at [email protected].