Go it Alone?
During this transition of life from teacher to seeker of dreams, it is very much a solitary trek fraught with missteps and rethinking.
If you’re just heading for the rocker, your choice, easy... if you are making a life change, the supportive partner from the old life is a valuable treasure.
The day in Nacogdoches is magnificent; 73 degrees, brilliant sunshine, bright blue sky, a gentle ten mph breeze making the leaves engage in a graceful dance ... it is an almost perfect day. Unlike the two previous days of gray, gloomy rain which did nothing to motivate the writer in me to put pen to paper; that phrase is antiquated, but sounds so much more lofty in tone than, “putting keyboard to screen.”
My thoughts these last two days have been occupied with what I would usually be doing as a teacher for the previous 30 years. The closing down process of a school year is almost instinctual at this point, except I’m not doing it this time. I feel very out of place missing the emotional state and process that is so memorable to a teacher. No, not the obligatory jamming of Alice Cooper’s, “School’s Out for Summer” out of every school PA system nationwide, which is pretty damn cool. It is one of the reaffirming times that a teacher loves, the visible achievement of making it through the year, seeing kids meet goals and surpass them, the establishing of bonds with young people that will last a lifetime, the camaraderie with colleagues, the farewell to those moving on or retiring ... retiring ... the transition. Truly feeling out of place and time. Despite the braggadocio of so many who proclaim, “I ain’t ever lookin back” ... go forth I suppose, but if you were in education for the “right” reasons you can’t help but look back and wonder. If you don’t ... even just a little, why did you become a teacher in the first place? Ah, I digress... onward and forward with ye vaunted transition.
Many wonder, I did, what makes the transition easier? I’ve discussed ad infinitum the need for a plan, activity, a purpose... of being able to rest (a little bit) on your laurels and find yourself. As a means of a cooperative, communal working through being a dedicated educator to a retired seeker of self actualization; I feel that all aspects are up for examination. I cautiously broach this topic because it somewhat treads upon the grounds of relationship advice. I’m happily married and it was NOT an easy road without potholes and obstacles. Painful, difficult, heartbreaking, frustrating at times yes; but any successful point is only achieved through such struggle. Congratulations Mr. & Mrs. Brent and Kim Rich... you’ve overcome raising three boys, a mortgage, being overdrawn, personal struggles and you’ve reached your 34th anniversary... smooth sailing here on out. Except the arduous process of getting “mature,” empty nesting and the sad passing of family from the previous generation.... AND ... Brent is retiring! Instant gut check. All I have is personal experience, anecdotal observations and arbitrary wisdom that may or may not apply to you the reader.... it also falls under the umbrella of “MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!”
The relationship with your partner is a vital consideration; in for a penny...in for a pound. If your marriage(s) have made it this far, the “R word”... retirement is a joint venture, and, for that matter, a venture that your kids will have input regarding. You might be thinking, “I ANSWER TO NO ONE,” or “I’VE EARNED THIS ... I DESERVE THIS!” Silly rabbit... to quote Clint Eastwood (I love doing that), “deserves got nuthin to do with it,” as you’ll find out.* As I write this, there are three friends whose retirement plans have just become victims of a monkey wrench. I’d be foolish as would my wife if we didn’t know that destiny turns on a dime. “No man is an island entirely of itself. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind,” brilliantly stated by John Donne. ** Now that the intangibles have been addressed, let’s delve into more concrete realities.
You and your spouse, partner, soul mate, fellow traveler must be somewhat on the same page and hopefully have been for a number of years leading up to this decision. If you are uncompromising... then expect fallout from spouses, children, friends and family... not total or irrevocable or permanent... but maybe. Being uncompromising with the intangibles is pointless... being uncompromising with the others in your life; expect a price to be paid. We are all in this together and friends and family are often by choice. On the other side of the coin, friends and family should be somewhat accommodating to your dreams... fate and destiny may not give a whit ... but you’re loved ones should as you should to them.
Let’s move away from unpleasant, confrontational possibilities to those built on a partnership that didn’t grow apart but grew together. Long before you hit your 50’s, this path of common goals should have always been the objective. Raising a family and navigating careers should be an enriching experience, but all too often it can be the reason a couple grows apart. Hisham Matar’s book, A Month in Siena, continues to be a treasure trove of wisdom. He offers this warning for couples and people in general who allow themselves to grow apart:
Growing apart has a consequence which will surely follow. What lies beyond are longings in nostalgia and this needs to be accounted for what it is.... if, what the people thinking here is a true hell is not; the true hell is realizing you are not being recognized by those closest to you.***
If you intentionally keep the commonality of each other’s goals, dreams and objectives in mind, you shouldn’t discover a stranger when retirement decisions come around. The relationships with family and friends and relating to oneself introspectively are to be visited often. You can become a stranger to yourself as well as those close to you perhaps even shutting to yourself off to everyone. Again from Matar:
We met at a place they like appearing to be standing there with the optimism of successful people. An unexpected turn in the conversation began to confess such inconsolable disappointments regarding their lives and careers; veiled sentiments that seemed to conceal powerful criticisms of one another. Each listed with the head of blame and quiet violence that some couples are capable of, all the missed opportunities, the roads not taken and now uncorrectable regrets****
That bleak outcome can be turned inward all too easily. Be open ... to those in your life, many heartaches can be avoided.
So, let’s say that the work has been put into relationships and an understanding and respect of one’s goals have become shared goals or visions; you’ve not only avoided conflict, but obtained support and encouragement for what can be a risky set of plans. My wife has been able to read me sometimes better than I can read myself... with the shared effort given. Without trying, we started to share common dreams; we didn’t plan on that 20 years ago (truth be told 20-25 years ago was a rough patch)... we started sharing what we hoped to achieve, helped each other on the difficult steps we were then experiencing and talked ... who’d have thought? This is our path and is not a guarantee that both sides will depart at point A and arrive at the same point B; but the odds improve even though neither can anticipate those rascally intangibles. You chose each other for a reason, you raised a family together for that reason... don’t hide what you want from each other or from your friends for that matter. Do Kim and I share a common general outlook? Absolutely. Does that outlook appear identical to each of our visions? No... c’mon nothing worthwhile will come that easy. Are we facing compromise? Sure, and is it worth it? To have someone to share dreams, to encourage you when roadblocks appear, to validate your vision... it absolutely is worth it. Go it alone? Not the most desired outcome... we are social creatures, we need each other ... as long as “give and take” is understood, it will be ok in the final picture.
But, I will live in Italy ... you’ll see you will all see ...(end with maniacal laughter)
*Eastwood, Clint; The Unforgiven
**Donne, John; No Man is an Island
***Matar, Hisham; A Month in Siena
****Matar, Hisham; A Month in Siena
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