It’s a Wednesday morning, 8:00am, and the traffic comes to a standstill on the highway between Hendersonville, where I live, and Asheville, where I recently started a 20-hour per week job as Director of Development for a small non-profit. The sun is in my eyes, my bladder is full, and I know I will be late for the weekly staff meeting if the traffic doesn’t start moving soon.
Wait. Didn’t I joyfully give up this 45-minute commute a year ago when I retired? Didn’t I feel I was no longer recognized or appreciated or needed as the grant writer for the huge non-profit where I had worked for 20 years? Didn’t I relish the freedom of time and choice I gained when I walked away from it? Yes, yes, and yes. So what am I doing slurping coffee from my travel mug and making this commute again?
Truth be told, there were moments during that first year of retirement when I felt adrift. I did yoga, exercised at the gym, engaged in crafts such as weaving and rug hooking, and spent time writing. I adjusted to being on Medicare and social security, and felt fairly secure about my financial health. But sometimes, when I let myself feel it, I felt a little bit invisible, a little bit restless. And then the opportunity to work part-time was dropped in my lap, doing fundraising for a cause I believe in, with people I genuinely like. I don’t know how long I can do this, I told them. That’s okay, they said, we just really need you right now. It didn’t require a special wardrobe, and I could work mostly from home, except for a few on-site meetings each month. While 20 hours a week suddenly seems like a lot, the padding of my bank account feels good, and even better is the recognition and appreciation for my skills and experience.
“So this is your encore career,” someone comments at a party. Well, one thing I know for sure is this. When the applause from this encore fades, or it no longer feeds a lingering desire for more structure and definition to my days, I will take my last bow and gracefully exit the stage. I will return to the freedom and self-determination I tasted when I first retired, and maybe, just maybe start on that novel I always said I would write.
Lee Stevens is a joyful writer and mostly wise elder in Hendersonville, NC