I Am a Retired…Me

§  I read an article claiming the importance of outside work, employment, to each individual’s self-concept.  I don’t agree!  §

Not long ago I read an article stating how important outside work, employment,  is to each person’s self-concept. People never, the essay claimed, say merely, “I am retired”.  No, the author asserted, these individuals state “I am a retired (whatever).” Architect, programmer, office support staff, police officer, pilot, teacher, activist, politician….

That’s not true! I thought to myself, putting down the magazine and never finishing the article. (Well, actually, what I thought was, “What a crock!”)

When asked, I tell people, “I am retired.” If they request more details, I reply that I worked for the State of Indiana for 37 years, and briefly for a few other companies prior to my career with the state. In response to those who are nosy enough to ask, “What did you do there?” (What business is it of yours? If  I’d wanted to say, I would have told you!) I tend to get a bit touchy and, yes, perhaps just a wee bit snotty. (Okay, a lot snotty.) Although I have been heard to snap just, “I worked!”, I sometimes reply, “Well, I was a file clerk, a clerk typist, a low level secretary, a high level secretary, an office-group Working Leader, a low level Administrative Assistant, a high level Administrative Assistant, and finally, an Office Manager.”

This usually shuts them down and me up!

The truth is, all those titles, all that employment, really had nothing to do with “me”. They were just jobs that I held to support myself and later my daughter—to put a roof over our heads, food on our table, clothes on our backs; to buy our cars and insurance and occasionally even a meal out or a movie, while still paying taxes and purchasing necessities and settling medical bills. Sticking it out in unpalatable jobs, working for often-unreasonable, difficult and sometimes downright obnoxious supervisors (and, in all honesty, a few really great managers, too), was the way I functioned as a responsible adult. My work was never a career, and, other than drawing upon my strong organizational skills and caretaking core personality, it had little to do with who I was, or am. Perhaps had I been able to follow through on my youthful desire to become an English teacher and a free-lance writer, I might have considered my employment a career. (Then again, knowing how schools and teaching have changed in the years since I was a child–then again, perhaps not.)

These days, this blog suffices as an outlet for the writing that I never found time to do while raising my daughter and working in situations that were sometimes humiliating and occasionally even soul-destroying.   The book reviews that I now write so continually also fill in that gap, too; I sometimes consider myself an unpaid literary critic (and probably am as much hated, and with as much justification, as most such critics are). I strive continually to educate myself, compensating for the higher education of which I was deprived, reminding myself that education is not something one gets, but a gift which one gives to the self.

But the simple truth behind all these occupations remains: I have not, will never, retire from the true work of my lifetime. My greatest life’s work was and still is to be a mother (and anyone who denies that being a parent is the most difficult and most rewarding job they’ve ever done, well, that person is simply not a very good parent). Over the years, though, my work has also been to be a wife for the time I was able to do so, before my spouse’s affairs and drug addiction put an end to our relationship. My job was to be a “working mother” (show me the mother who doesn’t work, whether she holds an outside job or not!) a good homemaker who also held an outside job to support my family. My work has been and still is to grow emotionally, to continually mature, and to become more truly spiritual. My work has been to constantly question all that I have been taught, all that I believe, and from that questioning, derive my own, firmer, beliefs; my morals, ethics and complete value system.

I am genuinely a work in progress—and from that, I hope, I will never retire, not in this lifetime, nor the next.

If you enjoyed this post, you might want to check the archives for
“The Retirement Guilt Monster”, from 01/12/2018, or
“Retirement Is…” , posted on 03/13/2019

Administrative Professional (or, A Tale of Popularity)

I became popular in my 50s.

This may sound incredibly silly and shallow; unlikely, even. But there you have it.  I, who was the most unpopular teenager imaginable (and very little is more important to a teenager than popularity), achieved and gloried in the popularity that I achieved in my 50s—the liking, the appreciation, the respect, the “known name”—all at the office where I worked.

I was at that time, and had been for many years, an administrative assistant for a large office. At its height, the office consisted of 105 workers, both permanent and temporary.  There were considerably fewer employees at the point when I retired, but I was still responsible for tending to the daily requirements of a large number of people of varied ranks and classifications, who were quartered in two separate rooms.  Along with this came responsibility for all the attendant office machinery, supplies, and even office social activities.  Additionally, I was frequently co-opted to assist with work for the human resources office, which had no assistant.  Suffice it to say that I was incredibly busy.  But there is no better personality fit for an administrative assistant job than that of a caretaker personality with OCD tendencies, and so the work suited me to a tee.

And I did a bang-up job. I can say that without qualification, especially as I know how badly I was missed following my retirement (as attested by the many desperate e-mails, phone calls and texts I received assuring me of that fact.)

But what the work also gave me was the aforementioned popularity. Because I took care of the needs of so many individuals, from ordering them that exactly-right mechanical pencil to knowing whom to call for every minor or major disaster, I was both widely known throughout the agency, and greatly appreciated.  The copy machine jammed?  I knew how to clear it. Someone needed a database programmed?  I was the go-to person. The restroom next door to our quarters overflowed beneath the wall and disgustingly soaked the carpet?  I knew how to get help.    We needed to arrange an employee baby shower?  Talk to me, I’d get the ball rolling.

People, I learned, are genuinely grateful for and thankful to the person who helps them out of a jam, who smooths the path along the daily grind, who pulls their behinds out of the fire, who says, “Yes, I’ll help”, or who knows (when the answer is unknown) how to find information. They value a smile, a helping hand, a pat on the shoulder, a kind word of encouragement when they are slumping over in despair.  They respond positively to the person who makes their job easier–or at least bearable.

In the 37 years of my career at that office, there were very few people with whom I could say I failed to get along or who did not like me; perhaps a half-dozen, in all. In most of those cases, it was because I called them out on inefficiency or downright slacking: the woman who gummed up a brand-new copy machine because she failed to take the cap off the fresh bottle of toner when installing it; the employee who sat in another employee’s cubicle, knitting, instead of doing her work.  Those people despised me, and I wasn’t too fond of them, either.  Happily, I can say that I outlasted each and every one of them, and achieved something which none of them had when they left our office:  Popularity.  Appreciation.  Approval.  Friendship. Respect.

Karma is a bitch, the saying goes, but (returning action for action) karma can also be a kind and caring mistress. The popularity, the liking, the acceptance that escaped me in my teens was bequeathed me in my 50s.  And I was, and am, incredibly grateful for that brief and shining moment in the sun.

Wishing a happy and fun Administrative Professionals Day to all of my compatriots in that field!  May you be truly appreciated!