Considering the Purpose of Work in Retirement

The alert pinged on my phone as my screen lit up. I couldn’t resist the urge to click and release the distraction that I knew would take me off task. The message from a former colleague alerted me to a posting for a school counseling job. My mind wandered to consider the possibilities. After three years free of a schedule and the stress of work, I pictured myself waking up to an alarm, battling traffic, packing a lunch, and dealing with co-workers. Nothing about the images appealed to me, but I searched my computer files for a dusty, old resume to update.  

I was surprised when Schoolspring, a clearinghouse for all school-related work opportunities,  remembered my log-in information because I didn’t. It had been years since my last job search. I avoided Schoolspring once I retired from public education. My pension made it’s easy to “just say no” to employment. I ended a pretty good twenty-year career with an anticlimactic thud, triggered by an ill-fated job change. Although I am not sure I want to dive back into the job pool, especially with Covid rampant in schools, I won’t deny I’m intrigued.

My stored documents on the Schoolspring site provided a snapshot and a time capsule of my former work life–resume, transcripts, recommendation letters, licenses, and cover letters. I thought looking back on what I had accomplished before leaving my career in education in 2019 might ignite the spark I needed to do it all again. It didn’t, leading me to wonder if my career was in the rearview for good. Nevertheless, I updated my resume and created a new cover letter–a short and direct statement of interest. I added my latest educational endeavor, an MFA in Creative Nonfiction, from which I am now taking a leave. Without coursework, I had the time to take on a job. I hit the button– “Submit.” 

As I sift through the possible scenarios, I imagine my reactions. If I get a call for an interview, I will go. If they offer me the job, I’ll say “no,” or maybe “yes.” Or maybe they won’t call me at all, solving all my problems. They’ll do the math based on my work experience and decide I’m too old. They’ll see a work interruption and worry I’ve been out of the game too long. I’ll wait for the call and obsess over no call, taking stock of what I’m willing to give up and what I will gain with each possibility. 

Comfortable in my non-work life, I enjoy my free time writing, playing the piano, and reading. Do I want to screw that up? Probably not. But there is something that awakens a sense of mortality in a late-life job search, even for someone like me on the early end of elderly. Perhaps the idea of “retirement” lacks a sense of a tangible purpose or a reason to keep busy. Maybe work-life helps us to retain a link to youth as it slips away. As much as I enjoy my flexible lifestyle, I wonder if I haven’t put myself out to pasture prematurely. Given a choice, will I disrupt my plan and return to work? I’ll wait to decide until I’m given the choice.

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