Reflections on stepping out of the stream
Hey Tom -- was just thinking last Sunday that it's been a few Sundays since we heard from you!
I'm in the middle of my work day, so I could only skim. But glad to see you back. I'm certain that wherever your quest eventually leads you, it will be a success. (At first blush, I'm not sure how to reconcile the "you mattered to people" comment from Sara, and the "I am utterly unimportant... always" comment you close with. I probably have to re-read more closely, but I suspect that Sara's observations are closer to the truth...)
What a great article Tom, that was genuinely fun to read about your journey and I really appreciated it. It's a nice feeling to have played a small role in your recent life, and I have to say that I do hope we have the chance to interact again, even if just to shoot the breeze! Best wishes to you and your family, and I can absolutely assure you that you still "do matter" to a whole bunch of people!
Tom, I hung on every word of this and feel like we’re blood brothers in this search for continued purpose and meaning! Thank you for sharing such personal feelings/longings/disorientations. Seems we spend so much of our lives building the castle of ego and then, BOOM. What now/next? But I do love your current pursuits! Simpler ways of doing and being can offer a lot, it seems. I’ve long been a big fan of the art of subtraction, which served me well as an ad agency creative director - even more so now in my personal life. Which, to your title, might be one valuable way to transform free fall into newfound freedom? Yadayada. Keep up the great work! So glad Meg connected us.😊
We retired weeks apart. I was in a similar situation. What I found eventually was that although all the positives of the job were gone, I was not. This was the best job I ever had. Well paid, rewarding and able to help people everyday. I miss this part. My job did not define me. When I retired I became just an everyday person. That’s ok. Now I am on an endless search to find and discover things that may be interesting in the next stage of my life. All will not be. That’s the joy.
By the way, I haven’t given up cars or the track just yet!
Great piece Tom - very honest and courageous introspection. As the other comments have already said, you matter immensely to a lot of people, myself obviously included! It's been fascinating for me to watch how you've navigated retirement. From my perspective, the way in which you've filled your time is impressive. I'm sure most people would not have been nearly as active and industrious as you. And those bagels - need I say more?? ;)
Good stuff, Tom! I dunno, but perhaps Ego gets in the way of the pursuit of meaning. Looking forward to catching up when we get back from Tucson. There are tales to tell.
Thoughtful and interesting Tom! Will be fun to follow your continuing progress!
This is the best article yet. Your honest introspection serves you well. Just wait til you see what’s around the corner! Nicely done.
Decluttering your life is a challenge, I'll give you that. We retire and feel the need to be busy, busy, busy... as a way of avoiding unpleasant thoughts.
Hey Tom, great piece of writing. It's interesting you mention the working with your hands bit. That's something I've found to be true as I get older and closer to retirement as well. I suspect some of it has to do with us living on our computers by day and night, and finally needing a break, but I also think there is something deeper to it. I'm not sure what, but I'll figure it out eventually. I'm looking forward to hearing more about some of your future side jobs. Happy Thanksgiving to you and Sara and the family!
Tom, Maybe there is a middle path. Have you considered being self-employed? I've had my consulting practice for 14 years. I love the work, it pays well, I have no co-workers, I make a difference to my clients, and I have a 'no assholes' rule for my clients. I've helped others into this transition. Let me know if you want to talk.
A few observations based on my retirement about a decade ago with the resulting loss of "society's meaning," and the subsequent search for more personally-authentic meaning. As you'll see, I look at things through the lens of science and geology (deep time).
Biologically speaking, we are here to get our genes to the next generation, period. That is the meaning of life. We are also animals with a nature, human nature. We are uniquely a "eusocial" creature, meaning we are extremely social. There are only a handful of species that have this as a particular aspect to their nature. We are always looking for where we fit in the social hierarchy, especially because it directly relates to breeding rights. Castes and tribalism fit into this narrative -- Alpha males and all that. Will Storr recently wrote a nice book on this -- The Status Game. I say all the above because I don't think you should dismiss your actions as simple "egoism" in some negative way. It is intrinsic to who and what we are. I think status, along with the drive for procreation (which, as I noted, is related to status) explains 80% of human nature and actions. In any case, in times of yore, a man of your status would have been asked to sit with the elders to decide tribal issues. In other words, you would have still been valued and would have provided intrinsic meaning to both the group and yourself. No more. So here you are. What do you do now?
Supporting your genetic lineage is clearly of biological value. It's been shown that families with active grandmothers have much better child survival rates. I think men could play a similar role, but this behavior may be less of a driver for the male of the species than the female. Certainly it depends on the individual. Most men, I would say, seek more of an elders circle / hero role as that role more directly displays status. Watch out, though, as some individuals go down the wrong path when pursuing this end. I say that because I think Trumpettes like Giuliani did what they did largely to regain status.
So what do you do if you have no children or this is not the path you feel drawn to? The Hindus might say that you are at the stage where you have fulfilled your family and societal obligations (the earlier stages of a normal life as they see it) and now you start a "spiritual" pilgrimage. This could be simply giving back to the community, akin to what you are doing, or maybe more of an inward journey. I think there is a lot to this thought.
My search has shown to me that society is, on one hand, profoundly misguided and approaching multiple catastrophes ( just read the headlines), but also that this trajectory is OK. This is all playing out as is to be expected. We are not a "bad" species -- we are just acting out our base nature. Few exert any degree of free will to depart from this base nature. But if you are to do that, this stage of life is the easiest time to do it (though still not easy.) You can now see the role you were playing before, or, maybe better said, how what you were doing before was simply role playing using somebody elses script. Now you have the possibility to exert free will and mindfully choose your direction and end goal. Note that although many people believe we have no free will, I don't agree with that. I think we have the ability develop good character and apply self control at critical moments, which amounts to a form of free will.
It seems to me you are doing a bit of that now by taking on roles in the local community that directly touch people lives in basic ways. How much more basic can you get than providing bread to people? Ever see Short Cuts?
So now you have freedom to express yourself in your own way. Its like having to learn to ride a bike (define and choose your own path) after many years of using training wheels (being guided by society's expectations.)
Anyways, when I read what you wrote that is what I thought about.
You speak a lot of truths here about yourself and a lot of other people. My mom said when she retired she struggled a lot with the figuring who she was without Boeing. I think that's part of that next chapter of our lives. It keeps you going for sure.
As for the small company that appreciated you, that part is spot on. That will be the one job I look back and and am very proud of the contributions I made and the value I felt. So many great people working there it made it easy for the sucky ones to stand out.
This was most interesting! I just turned 50 two weeks ago, and I have a 10-year old and a 15-year old. So I’m in no position to retire, and I’m an older mom to boot. But I’m also...tired. I think my dream for retirement is to maybe work in a coffee shop and really dedicate myself to art. I think you’re in the right track here. There doesn’t have to be “no work” or “all work.” There can be middle ground.
And also a Viking River Cruise... those ads with with gray haired people sipping wine on a deck are on point. Sign me up.
What an excellent read, Tom. Though retirement isn’t on my radar anytime soon, my father and his oldest brother are currently living your experience. I couldn’t help but think of them. My uncle was retired for two months before choosing to go back to work full time for the same company. My father took on a job part-time down in Northport, FL working security at a baseball stadium. (The name isn’t coming to me, but it’s the Atlanta Braves’ spring training facility.) He loves this new chapter of his life and investing in the community where he now resides. I think there’s something to be said for this, both in his case and yours. Take care - hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
You know where to find me!