Sunday, January 13, 2019

Figuring Out Retirement

One of my alter egos at work
I retired early in 2005. All my working life was spent living "hand to mouth". I struggled to pay my bills and still have enough money to enjoy myself. Enjoying my life has always been my highest priority. Without joy, what kind of life is that?

In 2001, I married the love of my life and my best friend. We worked at opposite ends of the same hallway at the Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts for twenty years. I confided to a mutual friend that I was done with divorcees and had my eye on widowers at work. When I mentioned my husband, my friend told me he was a good friend of his also. He set us up at his retirement party. Larry and I began dating, and a year later we were married.

I worked hard at my job. I began my career at the CfA for Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in 1980, when I moved back home from a four-year adventure living in Albuquerque, New Mexico and then in Blanchard, Louisiana. Unemployment found my job for me. I began as a Secretary in the Radio & Geoastronomy Department at a Grade 6/Step 3. After about eighteen months, I got a job as the Secretary in the central Computation Facility. I learned quickly how to receive the most money I could get at each performance review. I needed to make money to support my son. I was an unwed mother. Until close to the end of my twenty-five year tenure, I had always gotten two-step increases or grade promotions. I had grown my secretarial job into a departmental administrative position, ending it as a technical person.

A photograph I entered into a contest and won an award
Once I saw the "writing on the wall" of funding shortages, I learned about an opportunity for our department to take on telecommunications and networking support functions. I also volunteered to add the telecommunications support duties to my responsibilities. Over time, I picked the brains of all the technicians who provided services for us through Harvard University, and learned how to do wiring on my own. Over a short amount of time, I had my own tool kit and scavanged materials to do small moves myself, saving the department money. I then grew into a large-scale move and building renovation coordinator, and became a one-person sub-department.

Eileen Collins, first female shuttle commander
 My greatest accomplishment in this job was to coordinate all the telecom, networking, and television requirements for the Chandra Xray Observatory Operations Control Center in Kendall Square. I worked with NASA Security staff and wrote security protocols in the OCC manuals. It was the best job I ever had. I ended my career as a Grade 12/Step 10 Telecommunications Specialist. That level was my "glass ceiling". I could not break it.

I created such an efficient system that I could do my duties in the first hour each day. The rest of the day, I was bored out of my mind. I could not take any more classes or find any more interesting ways to remain motivated and happy. I grew depressed. After marrying Larry, I was miserable in my job for two years. Because I married him, I had the opportunity to think about retirement. Had I not married him, I would have had to work until I dropped. I just couldn't see myself living so unhappily. So, after much deliberation and guilt for leaving the best job of my life, I retired at age fifty-five. I have never looked back. In fact, I still cannot understand how I would fit a job into my new life.

I have explored many activities and outlets during my retirement. I tried volunteering, and joining the local gym with a personal trainer. I took writing and painting classes, and still do. I quit the gym when my body revolted, and joined a more nurturing movement class that has been kinder to my body, but has kept me strong, well-balanced and healthy. I have developed friendships in town, walk almost daily, joined a community chorus, and am living a life I love. I feel very blessed.

But, in the last year or so, I realized I had no passion for anything, and wondered what the next phase of my life would hold. When Larry and I took a trip to South Africa last October, I found a passion. I wrote a book about that trip based on a little toy bear I named Logie (after our grandson). He came along with us, and we photographed him participating in every activity. It was such a fun experience, that a friend convinced me to start a company and keep traveling with Logie and writing more books. The South Africa book will come out at the end of this week, and I am actively setting up what I perceive will be a good preliminary way to market the book and my new career in retirement. Logie's web site is: .

I can end my life as I started it: living a life of joy and loving every minute of it. I am very blessed because Larry is taking this journey with me and loving participating in the fun. Friends also enjoy the fun when I encourage them to participate, whether they were strangers to begin with (as on our trip), or friends we recently vacationed with. A second book is in the works about this most recent vacation.

I look forward to a happy life of traveling with Larry and Logie, seeing the world through the eyes of a child, and writing about it all. I hope you will buy my books, and live life the way you want. Choose to be happy. It's a risk, but a risk worth taking. My personal web site is: . Happy New Year with love from me and Logie Bear.