When I talk about retirement, I talk about how blessed I feel. I say this for two reasons. First, although we are not wealthy, my husband and I had the means to retire from our longtime careers. I worked for over 30 years at a California State University and raised four kids. My husband worked in high tech in Silicon Valley. I know, of course, that many people around the world, as well as in the United States, are not so fortunate to have the luxury to stop working and still live a comfortable existence.
But the second reason I feel so blessed is that I have a passion which consumes me and makes me feel lucky that I have the time to pursue it: writing.
Recently, I was having coffee with a man I was just getting to know. I was interviewing him for a newspaper article I was writing about finding a fulfilling retirement. Sid, recently retired, was an easy guy to chat with. But he said something really surprising.
To the superficial observer, Sid looks like a man who has it all together. After obtaining a degree in Civil Engineering, he worked for the County Planning Commission. Then he embarked on a career in the private sector, seeing folks through the process of completing projects. Although Sid is a problem solver and liked his work, he says it wasn’t his passion.
There is even more about Sid that would make people think he’s got it all together. He’s had a long and happy marriage to his wife Karen. Brothers and sisters are nearby, forming a nice, agreeable family support system. He’s also got three grown children and a few precious grandkids.
All good, right? Besides a long career and loving family, Sid also has hobbies and is an active volunteer. He’s a member of the Hospital Board and plays in the local wind ensemble.
Good career, supportive family, meaningful volunteer work, and a hobby of music. What on earth could possibly be missing from Sid’s life? He says he wishes he had a passion.
Passion? He says he’s always wished for that certain something you can’t live without. He likes many things, but still feels there is something he hasn’t yet found. In fact, he says that part of his definition of a passion is that this something finds you; you don’t find it. It’s that thing that means you don’t ever look at a clock or check your phone. You are so involved, so completely engaged, that there is no such thing as time.
To his great credit, even though he is past 70, Sid thinks that something is still out there. Don’t get me wrong, you’d never look at this man and say he’s dissatisfied. But he’s still waiting, with eyes wide open, for that passion to find him. I admire his zest for life, his belief in that passion. I think it is part of what makes this man seem youthful. Life’s not over; he’s not resting on his laurels. He’s looking forward, not back.
After our talk, I left feeling almost ashamed of my good fortune. From the time I was in college, I knew my passion was writing—preferably stories. My practical parents considered that frivolous and insisted I get a stable career. Nursing or teaching—those were the typical jobs a girl of my generation got. I acquiesced, acquiring degrees, even advanced degrees, in health professions. I enjoyed my career in mental health and then teaching at a university. But do I miss it? Not even for an instant. Instead, I am blessed. I am retired and get to do what I really love: write.
In my middle years, I spoke to my now-deceased husband about this passion. I’ll always remember that conversation. We were walking on a California beach during an infrequent getaway from kids and jobs. I said I needed to do this thing. I needed to find out if I could write. He encouraged me and we made financial arrangements so that I had more time. And, to my utter surprise, I got some early encouragement. I won a few contests and was selected for several prestigious writing residencies. Little did I know that there would be a decades-long dry spell in between this initial affirmation and my more recent publishing.
What that initial success (albeit minor) did was give me the push to stay in my writing chair and get better. I wrote nearly every day. I submitted and submitted. What kept me going was the belief that I wasn’t completely crazy; perhaps I did have some ability in this direction. But, even more, what kept me going was how absolutely wonderful it was to keep writing, to make stories and then revise them, tinkering with every word and comma and period on the page. There was real joy in this work of writing. I would dream in full sentences, and I loved going back and polishing what I had written the day before.
I did not enjoy the rejections. After about 10 rejections, I couldn’t stand it and would go back to what I loved: writing something new. And because of that, according to my husband and writing friends, I did not submit enough.
Now over 70 years old, I have built a decent journalism career with a popular column. My first novel, Love is a Rebellious Bird, is being published in November. There have even been some respectable pre-publication reviews. And when that novel has run its course in the world, I get to work on another. In fact, until either my mind or my typing fingers give out, I get to do this thing that gives me such joy.
I know I am a fortunate woman.