By Suzanne A. Marshall from the November 2013 Edition
Four years ago I finally decided that if I didn’t stop working soon I would be shortening my life. Phantom chest pains, insomnia, adrenal fatigue were all taking their toll. It didn’t help that I was a certified and diagnosed ‘over achiever’. At the time I thought that was ridiculous but now I can safely say I definitely lean in the direction of ‘anal retentive’ another not so nice way to put it. (Laugh track- please)
The stresses of an executives life on the treadmill and the never ending rounds of nonsense repeated regularly by newly empowered committee members or board members on a fresh management cycle or brand new graduates out to set the world on fire and be part of meaningful change came at me one time too many. I didn’t feel financially ready , but do most of us? And besides, what’s the point of being financially ‘ready’ if you’re going to drop dead before you enjoy it? And that was it. I stopped.
Thankfully, a little perspective has allowed me to understand that I was a burned out, frazzled mess with a real need to be motionless, quiet and introspective for a while.
Who was I when I wasn’t charging down the highway on my daily commute, putting up with idiotic drivers and road construction, being assailed by staff needing direction or getting meetings together or writing policies or dodging political interference from many sources? Then I would be dragging my butt home on automatic pilot, (sometimes I barely remembered the drive) throwing a meal together (and maybe a load in the laundry) catching the news, falling into bed and then rising the next morning to start all over again. Many of you will no doubt relate.
Of course this is a much abbreviated summary of my working life after 44 years on that treadmill, most of which I am proud of and feel was a meaningful career. I was also a mom, took care of my aging parent and never allowed myself to even think about it all. Automaton is a word that comes to mind. But one day you just hit the wall and you know you just can’t keep going that way. Perhaps it’s a kind of built in barometer that says the weathers changing and you’d best batten down the hatches.
As we live in a small village lake resort area outside the metropolis, the first thing that struck me was the incredible quiet. With no city noises or humming power lines to camouflage the sounds of nature, I began to hear all of the subtle things going on around me. The endless chirping of birds, wind in the trees and even the sounds of children walking to school giggling and laughing. (No this is not where the angels show up and start playing harps), I was actually alive and noticing these things for the first time in many years.
My first impulse was to spoil myself with a true luxury. Reading. I love reading and there was never enough time or energy to really dig into my novels and classics which were collecting dust and just waiting for my retirement.
But first, the biggest treat of all. I would get up when I woke up, put on a pot of coffee, grab the morning newspaper, then head back upstairs to read the paper in bed from cover- to- cover, with my steaming brew. Absolute heaven!
I did this, for literally months. Why let guilt get in the way? I was now retired and I could do anything I wanted and this was something I had jokingly talked about for a long time. Sometimes I’d even make toast and bring it back to bed with me half-way through the morning. And yes, I do have a husband, who thankfully didn’t seem to mind. Since he works from a home office (thankfully located over the garage) he was usually buried in his computer most of the day anyway. This gave me the rule of my household ‘kingdom’ so to speak.
Here I should add that my husband and I had thrown all caution to the wind and bought our little dream condo on the beach in Manzanillo a year earlier. When we took possession, we literally had a couple of hours on the terrace and headed home to our jobs and commitments. The next year we managed to stay for six weeks and this was no small temptation regarding retirement either. So I seriously suspect that a subliminal force was pushing from behind as our big dream was to spend 6 months in Manzanillo each year.
In the meantime, I needed to get on with life in Canada for the summer and fall and had finally finished the morning paper gluttony and decided I should probably begin to do something more tangible. This began the
‘WHIRLING DERVISH’ phase of my new life.
I had so many things to do that I had never had time for. Shockingly however, I felt myself quite unhinged by the huge void of time previously occupied by my work. Like a skydiver without a parachute or a jockey without a horse. I was well trained for many things but not for ‘freelancing’ so to speak. I had lost all structure and I didn’t know where to begin!
So I sat down and in my well-trained time management persona, began to make lists of all the projects I wanted to do. These included such things as closet clean ups, yard work, painting and so on. Then I tried to dig in, but this was all new territory for me. It sounds easy but I found myself going in complete circles. I’d start something, run to get the broom or hammer and find myself distracted by something else. I’d be standing in a room asking myself ‘what am I doing here?’ Sound familiar? By the end of the day I hadn’t really finished anything I started. I now understood the importance of structure and simple plans. But I have to confess that it took me a year or two to finally figure out that I had to relax, stick to one objective a day and be flexible. Slow down, take your time and stay on task.
I can totally relate when people say they don’t know what they will do when they retire. Hang in there, the time starts to fill in and eventually you begin to wonder how you ever managed to juggle everything in your life before, because you are so ‘busy’ now. But for the most part, I think I’ve learned to enjoy the simpler side of life, appreciate the things around me and be ever so grateful for family and friends.
Now I can sit and listen to life, spend time with recollection, have company for dinner during the week and leave the weekends to the throngs. Think about weekday matinees at the movies and grocery shopping off hours when there are no line -ups. It’s a rite of passage and we’ve earned it. Color me happily retired. By the time this article is published we will be in Manzanillo soaking up the sun and ocean breezes and thinking we are the luckiest people on the planet.
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Suzanne A. Marshall hails from western Canada and has been living the good life in Manzanillo over the past 8 years. She is a wife, mom and grandma. She is retired from executive business management where her writing skills focused on bureaucratic policy, marketing and business newsletters. Now she shares the fun and joy of writing about everyday life experiences in beautiful Manzanillo, Mexico, the country, its people, the places and the events.