It took me by surprise, when I first heard myself say I was “graduating.” But the more I lived it, the more I realized it was true.
I hadn’t always felt this way. When I first considered “retiring”, I was mostly thinking of it as a long vacation. Then I realized leaving work could be a real choice, and I was terrified. “You matter here. You have a role, a purpose. Why would you leave it all? You’d be nothing!”
And that’s when I began to realize the truth. I wouldn’t be ‘nothing’. I’d be who I really am. With time and opportunity to dance my own dance in new and exciting ways.
I was getting ready to graduate.
And that is the truth I live in now. I move in the world on my own terms. I can engage in the areas I choose, free to access all the skills and abilities I have ever developed. I can travel new paths, contribute in unique ways, moving toward unknown destinations. Building, growing, changing, myself and, I hope, the world.
That’s graduating, not “retiring”.
Many people see leaving work as leaving life. To them, I’m no longer “in the game”. To them, “retiring” means moving out of the action, where the winners and losers are determined. As Joan Chittister says in her book The Gift of Years, “Even to use the word retired makes employment the center and fulcrum of life.”
Now I am independent. I have the freedom to do those things that truly matter to me. And I can let the rest go. I choose the amount I do, the times I do it, the places I want to focus. I know what I do well, where I believe I can contribute. Now I can discover and focus on those places where my involvement is needed most.
I’m in the stage of fruition, where I have the experiential depth to put into practice the life skills I’ve been working toward. Now I get to live that reality in new ways. I can look at things with a broader perspective, and act into the situations I encounter with more patience, more love, even occasional wisdom. Not always, no! But I’m not finished with this time of fruition, either.
The whole world is open to explore! I’m overwhelmed by travel options and destination choices – but I love the struggle. My spiritual life is flowering amazingly, with new learning, new relationships, new opportunities to grow opening constantly. I’m living the results of lifelong exploration, in ways that reflect my deepest beliefs.
And there is a lot of just plain fun, too. I even wore fancy high heels this week. I’m almost 6 ft. tall, and I never felt comfortable wearing them before. Now I wanted to – and I loved it!
So. I’ve “graduated.” I have graduated from needing to make a living while I live. I continue to graduate from “proving myself,” into the freedom of accepting who I am and who I am becoming. The freedom of doing the things that are important to me, that reflect who I most truly am. Now I am free to celebrate the various flavors of my life.
This time is a blessing and a joy that not everyone get to experience. As Chittister reminds us – death will certainly come, but growing old is not guaranteed.
You may decide you want to graduate, too. There may come a day when you no longer want or need to work for other people. Instead, you can engage all the skills, knowledge, judgement, insight and wisdom from your life-school experiences, and put them all to work in new and meaningful ways. In the places YOU choose.
Yes, it’s a big task! It demands that I be all that I am. I’m terrified at times – how in the world do you do justice to the rest of your life? But this graduation journey is also exciting, and renewing, and the very best kind of challenge.
It’s an adventure worth living every day.