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When a Person Retires, Does She Still Exist?

Once retired, our existence is defined by what we once did

By Brenda MahlerPublished 4 months ago 3 min read
When a Person Retires, Does She Still Exist?
Photo by Zhanjiang Chen on Unsplash

Growing up my identity shifted with my environment. I was a daughter, student, friend. Then I married and morphed into a wife, adult, mother. Now, at the age of 60, I am retired so I am . . . Well, still all the above, but someone new and undefined.

Currently, the word retiree labels me. A list of activities illustrates what I do, but somehow this list doesn’t define who I am; it simply outlines what I do. In society, labels provide people identities, and individuals are defined by what they accomplish, their occupations. My past responses when asked to introduce myself were easy to state and easy to understand.

“I am a college student.” This statement prompted further questions about future potential, “What is your major? When do you plan to graduate?”

The response, “I am a teacher,” caused heads to nod indicating respect. A dialogue occurred naturally by elaborating on the age and subject taught. Acquaintances asked insightful questions, often ending the conversation by congratulating and thanking me.

When I said, “I am a mother of two daughters,” and continued with stories describing their ages, activities, endeavors, and dreams, smiles were shared. A bond developed between others who experienced the joys and trials of parenthood. We shared a common background.

Now, in response to questions I respond, “I am retired.” This announcement provokes a pause, causes confusion and leaves the questioner questioning. Profuse adulation congratulates me on this achievement but is countered with another question, “What do you do now?”

When I think about a response, I wonder how to answer. When asked by a stranger, my immediate response is to explain what I used to do. “I worked in education as an English teacher and for nine years a middle school administrator.”

This provides a beginning for our conversation which usually includes a statement about the challenges of education, how teachers deserve more respect and should be rewarded with higher salaries, or that English was their worst subject. Eventually, the conversation circles back to their original inquiry, “What do you do now?

Apparently, my existence now is defined by what I am not anymore. This makes me feel less valuable in retirement or that I am no longer active. As I focus my efforts to reinvent myself, I am examining who I am.

The dictionary provides definitions of the separate parts of the word Re-tire-ment.

Re: “pertaining to or relating to”

Tire: “exhaust, fatigue or wear out”

Ment: “the result of an action”

According to Noah Webster when all the pieces are assembled together, retirement is the result of a life that leaves a person exhausted, fatigued and completely worn out. Yes, when I first retired, I felt worn out. But now I feel challenged, invigorated, excited.

Since childhood opportunities to do nothing were nonexistent. I woke each day needing to achieve a specific goal. My objectives changed depending upon which role I represented: mom, teacher, wife, daughter, student . . . None of those roles have disappeared but they have altered. Now when I wake up to my dog licking my face, I have choices that are not dictated by a script. Decisions are made based on how I feel — not on what I must accomplish.

Hours are spent in pretend to play with my grandchildren. Long walks with my dog consume warm parts of my days. I bake, paint, exercise, and visit with friends over drinks. Then in the quiet of mornings, when nobody and nothing needs my attention during the day, and when the dishes are done at night, I write.

I love words: plethora, existentialism, passion, rational, gestalt and donuts. My passions circle around the power of language: watching movies, talking, reading and writing — activities that provide snapshots of life. However, these activities have always been synonymous with relaxation, leaving me feeling guilty I am in a perpetual state of relaxation.

I think I might be a writer but when is that title bestowed? What amount of money must be earned? Is being published a requirement? These questions hover over my head with no definite answer. I call myself a writer but for now, my response is still, “I retired from education.”

However, just to fill the gap, when that question is asked, to increase my confidence and be able to hold my head up in respectability, I now have business cards. I am a professional retiree.


About the Creator

Brenda Mahler


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  • Anne Eliza4 months ago

    As a woman who has worked her entire life and now retired I too have realised how much my identity is tied to my work. I write now too but purely for pleasure. I am not working on a novel, book or story but I love putting my thoughts down on paper. I am not a "writer" but a user of the written language to convey the thoughts and feelings, musings and explorations of imagination in my mind.

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