Retiree searches for purpose and answers
Q: I retired over a year ago from a fairly high-powered job that gave me worldwide recognition in my field. The decision to retire (in my mid-70s) was a very difficult one because I was not sure I could fill my time with engrossing activities. I’m still trying, but haven’t settled in comfortably, and I find the situation emotionally difficult.
Everywhere I go, whether meeting with old colleagues or strangers, I get the same question: "So what are you doing in your retirement?" I wish I could answer honestly: "I haven’t settled in yet, and I’m scared." But of course I can’t.
The questions are all well-meant, but I’m afraid the questioners expect me to say, "Oh, I’ve become chairman of Such-and-Such." After a year, the repeated questions are weighing on me. Should I just answer, "Eating bonbons"?
A: If that’s what you want to say. Or do.
You can also tell them, "I haven’t settled in yet, and I’m scared." You can be as vulnerable as you’re ready to be.
What people "expect" you to say is not only not your problem, it’s also, very likely, an expectation that exists only in your mind. Or, perhaps more accurately, in your fears.
Since this is really about you, here’s the main question you need to answer before you’re ready to answer everyone else’s: What do you want from these exchanges?
If you want people to leave you alone, then you’ve got the right idea with being quippy. Smile, laugh at yourself, reveal nothing.
If you want connection, ideas, support, "engrossing" conversation, then you’ll need to share your ambivalence. It isn’t a sign of weakness; it takes serious guts to admit you don’t have it all figured out. Yours is a brave truth.
And, an interesting one. What it elicits from others might prove interesting to you as well. Imagine what bright people who know you well and share your membership in the achievement ranks might come up with if you dig around in this topic together.