Gloria Schramm – Flying on My Own

I wasn’t fired. I decided to fly away myself in 2015 from a job I loved for almost 22 years.

I had a great run and saw changes coming afoot, like with everywhere else, and decided to join my husband in retirement. He had already retired nine years before, and though I loved coming home to a clean house, a well-stocked cupboard and fridge, wine and dinner on the table waiting for me, I felt it was time. I left on a high note and the office gave me a wonderful sendoff.

I was a career counselor in the Town of Hempstead’s Department of Occupational Resources—HempsteadWorks—helping people from all walks of life, from laid-off executives to disadvantaged youth and public assistance recipients one-on-one with their training and employment needs. It was a very satisfying role, one in which I pulled strings sometimes, schmoozed with other institutions and generally cut a wide swath in the community, obtaining resources and information that could aid my customers. I became my customers’ advocate because I soon realized that people don’t just come to agencies like mine for a job, and some aren’t even ready to get a job. They bring a variety of life problems to the table along with urgent basic needs. Consequently, I tried to do more for them. With a telephone in hand, I helped some save homes with mortgages they couldn’t pay; helped a laid-off gentleman successfully appeal a large medical bill when his insurance refused to pay for treatment; found community resources for heart and diabetes medications and no-cost physical therapy for others. A sixth-grade honors graduate went on his end-of-year class trip because I remembered schools have petty cash for students in need and I called the principal. His mom was receiving public assistance and just couldn’t afford it. I felt, if not me, who else might do this for them?  I had the knowledge and the capability and used them. If I helped ease their burdens, they might succeed at school and job searches with my help. I helped them to respect the “system” by surprising them that they were not just bodies or “numbers” when they sat at my desk.

Senior magazines, adult education, and other classes suggest you have a plan. Don’t retire to nothing. Have a purpose. I have to tell you that certain things I thought I would do, fell apart. Either opportunities ended or fizzled, and two dear friends died, with whom I would have enjoyed spending more time. While I enjoyed my hubby’s company tremendously and we planned to travel extensively with tour groups, I wanted everyday life to matter beyond looking forward to seeing Judge Judy on television and blowing dust balls around the house. I did not want to be busy just for the sake of being busy! While I was happy not to have to be somewhere every day at a certain time, I still wanted activities to sink my teeth into.

People feel the need to stay active today—or even work part-time. Some have to continue working. It’s all in the attitude. My job was therapeutic after one of my grown sons died. I could have left much earlier than I did, but after some time off, decided one morning to sit up in bed and then put my feet on the floor. I knew if I didn’t do that, I’d never return. I wound up staying another ten years and I’m glad I did. The old job still has my testimonial letters on their website and I continued to plod on, helping people in crisis. It also helped me to forget my own and move forward from the profound blow of losing a child.

My “plan” for retirement is still evolving. Because I loved my work, I continued it on my own terms as an adult education instructor for a course called, “Finding Your New Job.” I continued to stay in touch with my LinkedIn network, which consisted mostly of former customers who sought me out to invite me during the economic crash of 2008. You can continue doing your work as a consultant in a different capacity than sitting at a desk all day long.

Most surprisingly, along the way, I found passions I never, ever knew I had! I discovered I loved horses, after having met Triple Crown champion American Pharoah on a road trip. My husband and I now volunteer for HorseAbility, in Old Westbury on Long Island, New York, an equine-assisted therapy program for children and seniors.

Additionally, I began writing plays by dusting off unpublished short stories from years ago, that were forgotten during my full-time working years. A former customer inspired me. I soon found a black box theatre in New York City and have produced three plays there! It’s creative and cathartic because you express what you know and what you feel about your life. It comes alive right in front of your eyes. Who knew? I have officially stretched out of my comfort zones. It takes a while to feel comfortable with that. But it beats boredom, self-pity, and the ho-hum status quo.

The one thing I found about retirement is that you have lots and lots of time on your hands but it is just as easy to wind up with no time or fill that time with only busy chores because you no longer have the daily structure of a 9-to-5 schedule and commute. AARP has “encore” career advice and lots of ideas for working into retirement and even a self-assessment quiz.

My advice is to give yourself time to discover a new you. It is a process that evolves but don’t stress out if you don’t immediately find what it is you like. Some people are happy to spend time with grandchildren and some babysit while their adult working children go to their jobs. It may be quite enough if that gives you immense joy and purpose. Others are content to grow and tend to gardens and home. Some are content to travel occasionally. Without having grandchildren, the decision was easy for me: I had to find something else to fill the long day in a meaningful way.

Just live your life open to ideas. You’ll know when something clicks.

Leaving a full-time job after so many years might feel a little strange at first. You might be glad on bad winter days. There are pros and cons in every lifestyle, working or not. I like to consider myself still working. I’ve flown the coup of an office and am working on ME.

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