Some people get lost in retirement. Others find themselves.
What I mean is, when released from the pressures and obligations of full-time work, some of us experience ourselves as different people. The discovery can be pleasant or unpleasant or some of both. But it’s us. We can work with it.
I think of a friend who has told me repeatedly that he felt his years at work distorted him on a daily basis, that he had to play a role, often under stress, and to a large extent he was the person playing the role.
Now retired, he is no longer obliged to act. He’s rediscovering himself, the self he refers to as his “natural self.” He likes that self better. Those around him likely do too, assuming his natural self is less stressed and less distracted and more present.
My friend worked in a very small company. He says that for people working in larger organizations, the role playing is even more pronounced. They have to dress and act in ways that are prescribed by the role, the hierarchy, the field of work, the organization, the work culture, and other parts of the hive.
That’s not to denigrate organizations or work-hive life. It’s merely to admit that we must often adopt personas to function successfully within them. Our work selves.
Work and stress go together for many people. Some of it is pressure to perform and deliver and meet deadlines and expectations, to say nothing of commuting and, for some, manual labor under tough conditions. But a portion of the stress is from having to be different at work, which includes working for a boss (the deference role) and office politics, which seem from the outside to be like a big stage production, a musical maybe, with occasional dark overtones.
There is, these days, according to an article in The New York Times, a heightened drama in many workplaces being called “hustle culture” that is running employees ragged, younger ones in particular, while they are expected to relish it or at least pretend to relish it.
In retirement, that’s all over. The distortions subside. We can finally relax into who we are when we no longer have to be who we are not.
And is my friend right? Are we left with our “real” selves? If so, what are the opportunities? What can we discover and intensify?
I know that sounds like a contradiction. Isn’t intensity stress-inducing?
Not always. Rather than enduring unwelcome intensity, I’m talking about amplifying something desirable. Living larger. Expressing oneself by being oneself, finally, and more intensely.
“Intensification” is what sparked this post, thanks to this quote from poet Ranier Maria Rilke:
“Everything that makes more of you than you have ever been, even in your best, is right. Every intensification is good.”
Everything that makes more of you. Exactly the opportunity.
[If you get a chance to see this post on my site — click on the heading if you received it by email — I encourage you to take a peek at the ampersand in the title. It might be the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been watching ampersands for over 40 years. This one has intensified my love of typography.]