The Stepaway

For most of my working life, I thought retirement was a dumb idea. Working was good. It gave me routine, purpose, and a paycheck. My first boss, Larry Powell, worked well into his eighties. My longtime role model, Harold Burson, worked into his nineties. My in-laws retired from the military in their sixties but kept working well into their seventies. All of them stayed lucid, active, and healthy.

Retirement I saw as G-d’s waiting room, a long, slow wait for illness, incontinence, and an appointment with the mortician. My dad essentially retired in his early fifties, was diagnosed with dementia at 64, and died six weeks before his 69th birthday. I had seen others retire, move to Palm Springs, and go into terminal decline. The lesson as I took it was clear, and I swore that I would exit the day they carried me out feet-first.

As with many things, life happened, and my view became more nuanced. My marriage went through a mid-life crisis and, thank G-d, came out the other side. My son, our only child, started dating and went off to college. COVID hit. Burnout happened, and I didn’t even notice.

In the meantime, great things had come into my life. Our move back to the US had proven profoundly positive. My involvement in the Scouting movement became a source of fulfillment. I reconnected with my faith in a way that was more meaningful and sustainable. For the first time in my life, I had activities – avocations – outside of my working life and enjoyed them immensely. And I had begun keeping a list of things I wanted to read, write, do, make, and achieve while I still walked the Earth, and that list was beginning to fill a notebook.

Perhaps as important as all of it, I rediscovered the vocation I had always wanted and never had the resources our courage to take: scholarship.

And my family. Oh, Lord.

One night, as I was adding item #496 into my Bucket List (seriously, not hyperbole), my wife and son staged an intervention. They sat me down as if speaking to an addict. My wife told me that she knew I had been working for many years to support the family and that we were now in a position that would allow me to pursue the activities that gave me the deepest fulfillment. My son put his hand on my shoulder and, summing up, said, “dad, it’s your turn.”

I wept long into that night, overwhelmed by gratitude, humility, and pure relief. Finally, finally, I was able to face what I had been burying for a very long time. And I vowed that this new phase would be anything but a gold watch, golf, gin, and grandkids: I would step away from my career, but what I would step into would be a different kind of post-career life.

After a lot of thought, I reached out to the founders of my company. They were supportive and understanding, especially when I told them it would not be immediate but five months hence, giving the company and I adequate time to plan and adjust without causing disruption.

A load was lifted. There was no guilt, just resolve. The fifth phase of my life would begin August 1, and I was going to do it right.

That fifth phase is what I will chronicle here. Join me as I redefine the post-career life.

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