After leaving the corporate world, the central question is, ‘am I different person in retirement?’ At least for the blog post I was reading, where various retirees were commenting about their experiences. Even a person who had not retired yet, but was preparing and changing in anticipation. I suppose that was me, years ago.

My pre-retirement from corporate life was a six-year process. From about the time I turned 40, or the period of my life when I started to ask ‘why?’ again. As a child I felt I was entitled to ask ‘why’ about a great many things. Adults thought I was intelligently cute and would take great pains to answer my varied queries. But once I reached adulthood and a certain level of competence beyond my formal education, I was expected to know stuff and apply myself to the tasks at hand without asking too many questions.

As I eased into my forties I felt a need to make changes. Nothing huge like quit my job and travel the world for a year. No, that would come later. In the beginning it was more simple. Take a class, buy a hot tub or go on a big family vacation. Take up running, do a 21-day cleanse or write a book. Start a blog, or two. As I accomplished each thing, I gained more confidence. And people around me noticed the changes in my personality. I was becoming a somewhat different person. But, I didn’t feel it.

I still woke up each morning with a jolt of cortisol, coursing through my body. My first thought was about work. What happened as I slept that I would need to attend to? What priorities were at the top of the list today? How many different problems or issues had filled up my email box? Sometimes I would go through my whole inbox while I was still lying in bed. Just the glow of the phone guiding me through the list. Other times I would wait until I got to work to start my email processing, but often taking a call on the drive in, as something could not wait.

I would get through the day and clean up everything. Tie up all the loose ends and head home. But work didn’t stop just because my office hours were over. In fact, my day would be far from done. Projects were brought home, piled up on the table for after dinner. If I kept my phone near me, I would continue to see emails through the evening. Adding to my to-do list for the next day and sometimes demanding immediate action on my part.

As the years went on, I gave myself a bedtime. It happened to be the point in the night when I could not keep my eyes open any longer. Luckily, I have always been blessed with the ability to fall asleep and stay that way through the night. What my subconscious puts me through is another matter. I think through all my problems as I sleep. I wouldn’t say these are nightmares, but they sure don’t feel like dreams, either. Throughout my first career, I was incapable of turning off my work life and switching over to anything else.

No one is to blame. There was no handbook that told me this was how I needed to behave. Working constantly is not what anyone is supposed to do. Thinking about work all the time is a habit of my own making. But once these routines were set in place, they were extremely hard to break. Even when I consciously tried to. Even when I left work!

I wrongly assumed that I could leave all my corporate responsibilities on my desk with my keys to the building, on my last day of work. While that is true on paper, it was not how I felt. Instead I hardly felt any different for months. I attacked my new life with the same vigour as I used in the corporate world. So while I was doing different tasks all day long, I was going about it in the same way. Not surprisingly, I would go to sleep and my subconscious was holding me in the grip of my old life. It was crazy!

In many ways, the stress I had hoped to get away from was gone in the day time, but I had a new problem. My night-time mind was creating a new kind of headache, one which I was ill prepared for. Something had to give. So I set everything I was working on aside. I turned inwards, almost into a survival mode. I knew I had to be well rested. My sleeping hours had to let my body and mind do all the regeneration and flushing toxins that was healthy and normal. I could not start my new life while still halfway living in the old one.

I didn’t have a master plan, but here is what I tried. This is not a proper experiment or test with controlled conditions and changing one thing at a time. I was a little too desperate by that point. I was throwing stuff at the wall, seeing what would stick. In no particular order, here is a quick overview:

  • Books – every few days, I was back to the library exchanging arm loads of materials. Magazines, fiction and non-fiction books, cookbooks, knitting, other crafts, gardening, entrepreneurship, biographies and travel. Every topic I was remotely interested in and had never had the time to explore deeply.
  • Podcasts & Video – every moment I was not reading or in conversation with someone else, I was watching or listening. Consuming information like a sponge. Meandering down a road of content, whoever my curiosity lead.
  • Knitting – was often done in the evenings with Netflix and wine. Sometimes I knit in the day, but listened to podcasts and drank coffee, I drew the line there. Day drinking was not going to help anything.
  • Travel planning – we had the big year starting in Q3, (post retirement) and a few smaller trips before then. Creating a master plan of everything we had to do, scheduling it all in and making sure everyone did their bit, tracking the progress and adjusting the timeline – started to feel like I was back at work again. Same type of tasks, different project and people.
  • Leaving our home – should have been the biggest shake up to my psyche! Not so much. I was still me, carrying around all the heavy bags. Just because I had my physical possessions down to the weight limit of 23 kilos, did not mean my mind had fully participated in the exercise. It was a startling realization to find myself knitting, watching Netflix and drinking wine in Barcelona!
  • The Morning Pages – finally started July 1, 2017. Canada was 150 years old that day, my husband turned 50. I put down my first 3 pages. After 246 days, I am still writing my pages each morning. It is a date with myself that has become extremely important to me. It is my mental flossing. Something about writing by long hand on paper creates a flow out of the brain which a digital connection cannot. There is science to back this up, but it seems too far-fetched to be true. One has to try this and personally experience the transformation. I can’t predict what anyone else will experience and I’m not sure if the morning pages is the one key to my success.

Finally, after 5 financial quarters and 16,000 kilometres I am starting to dream of other things, on most nights. I rarely feel as if I worked all night long at my last job. My day thoughts don’t turn to some situation at work as my only reference point. I am building up my own life again. Is this some kind of post traumatic stress disorder? Maybe, but a first world problem if it is. While it was a big deal to me, it was probably made worse by my expectations. I felt a little cheated out of the bliss which was not mine in my first year away from corporate life.

Am I a different person now? Yes. At least, in the making. I am becoming a woman of substance. I’ve always had strong ideas and opinions, but now I am gaining the wisdom and grace to express them more appropriately. It is a dance moving along with different tunes. Some days are slow and rhythmic, wonderfully sensual even. Other days are a jarring rap beat which leaves me feeling as if I’ve driven down a gravel road for 2 hours. Such is life, such is the road I am on. I’ll take what comes, both the frenetic energy and the peaceful slow harmony. I can appreciate it all and move with it, rather than getting trapped in a place of worry and stress.

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