I’m starting with a disclaimer: this isn’t actually an essay on retirement, it’s more a metaphor for things like: where do I find my value, how do I spend my time…It’s also about the word No…one of my favorites.
I recently took an early retirement. And by early retirement, I mean, it’s temporary. And by temporary, I mean, I am unemployed by choice for an indefinite amount of time. Doesn’t the term early retirement add a semblance of maturity? You automatically assume it was well thought out, that I have all my finances in order, and if it weren’t 20 degrees out I would be the proud owner of a pimped out golf cart. Not all of that is true…but I am OK if you’re OK.
Some nine years ago between a stressful job and some serious outside emotional factors, I had a mini breakdown. You can stop picturing Britney Spears circa 2007 – it wasn’t that kind of breakdown. It was a perfect storm of emotional stress, which turned into physical stress, which exacerbated into workaholism (not a word, I know this). Because, when you feel out of control…you just hold on tighter, right? Makes total sense. To keep it brief – I had severe chronic fatigue. I would leave work twice a day to take a nap, I would go to bed no later than eight, and I couldn’t eat anything. My health was crashing quickly and it needed to be addressed. I went to see a nutritionist who, over an entire year, helped me turn things around. I continued to work full-time at this point, but with a supportive boss and office mate, I was successful in healing and not getting fired (even if it meant a 12 week liquid diet, very little socializing, and saying NO – like all the time, to everyone) . Once I was clear headed, all biological systems firing accurately, I started to assess life: who I was, how I handled stress and what that meant for my future. After a lot of analyzing, talking it over with Mick, I quit my job and went back to school. I did not know it then, but this was the first step on a very interesting, possibly indefinite, adventure. My two biggest lessons were: learning to say NO and setting boundaries.
There is so much power in the word, NO. It takes a lot of practice to use it and I am still learning how to do so gracefully. A wise woman once said (yea, you know it’s Brene’ Brown) – choose discomfort over resentment. Choose the momentary discomfort of saying No to someone, than the long term resentment you will carry by saying Yes and not meaning it. GLORY! YAAAAS! I’ve been saying no for a long time, but hearing it put in that context, that is exactly what I’m talking about! It takes courage to say No, but it is incredibly freeing. Growing up, when I would ask my mom for something – her first response was a question: are you prepared for both answers? It used to drive me nuts because I was never prepared for both! I wanted exactly what I wanted, how I wanted it, and had zero flexibility – which obviously guarantees a meltdown. But she was on to something! Her response has evolved into a different question. Instead of preparing to hear the word No, I have a barometer by which I choose discomfort over resentment: Does what I’m doing/being asked to do have eternal value? If it doesn’t, I say Nope. When I use the word eternal, I don’t mean it strictly in a spiritual sense, but as something tangible. Meaning – did working those 12 hours, meeting that deadline, or solving that staffing issue make me a better wife or friend? Is this TPS Report going to alter the course of my life? And better yet, is staying up all night worrying about it or taking it out on my family making life easier?
Other than getting giddy using the word NO, I also made myself a promise. I promised to never sacrifice relationships or my physical/emotional health for ANYTHING. This meant setting boundaries and being honest about what I could handle. It meant sharing aloud how I felt, instead of internalizing. I realized I was responsible for 80-90% of the pressure I felt. Stress was a tactic I used to avoid tough things in my own life, a cycle of proving myself…to myself, seeing life as a challenge instead of something to enjoy. Growing up I was surrounded by people who chose work over self; play and relaxation were foreign concepts. I had negative associations like, a career was 100% about success even to the detriment of a personal life. When I adjusted my thinking, added balance, joy, and self care – success became something different entirely. Success became: quality time, getting a 4.0 in college, laughing till I cried with the BEST people, doing things for myself like being creative, singing, pilates…etc. Also, being deliberate where I spent my time and with whom; turning down social events, was another huge thing. Life.Changing.
I am NOT saying everyone take an early retirement. Remember, this is a metaphor. Do not destroy your computer to Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangster, please! I am just saying, our eternal success is far more important than any dollar amount or lifestyle! Actively choosing eternity over all else, only enriches our lives and the lives of those around us. Finding value in relationship, learning to say no and setting boundaries changed the course of my life and continues to do so. I will always walk away from the things that deter these achievements. Hopefully this will prevent some of you from making the same mistakes I did. If you don’t, please, above all else, avoid umbrellas and white vehicles in the midst of your breakdown.