Retiring in a Pandemic

Today’s post is submitted by Joyce Maroney, Executive Director of the Workforce Institute. Here she reflects on what it means to be retiring in a pandemic.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, right? When I thought about retirement for the last 42 years, it was never in the context of finding new things to do inside the 4 walls of my home. It was an amalgam of travel, volunteering, grandchildren (some day), quilting, and exploring new interests. But here we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are few people whose lives and plans haven’t been upended, including many who may delay their retirements. I’m retiring on June 30th.

For most of my working life, retirement felt like a distant fantasy. There were so many hurdles to jump to get there. Get an advanced degree. Find a career path. Marry a soul mate. Have a daughter. Have a son. Raise those children. Put them through college. Help our parents through their later years. Deal with our own medical challenges. Save for retirement and hope there would be enough to pay the bills and have some fun.

There weren’t just those big milestones. There was life. Go to the grocery store. Do the laundry. Soothe the bumps and bruises and wounded feelings. Commute. Plan the work project. Call the plumber. Talk to the teacher. Resolve the work crisis. Train the puppy. Find a helmet big enough for the largest noggin on the T-ball team. Deal with the new boss. Make the theater costume. Pursue the promotion. With 12 hours notice, find business attire for the 16 year old for Harvard Model Congress. Race to stay ahead of the expanding work load. Take some risks and hope for the best. Pine for the weekend. Plan the vacation. Fantasize about retirement – some day.

A podcast guest I spoke with earlier this year said of employers, “we borrow people from their lives”. We were discussing why the 40 hour work week was no longer relevant and what it takes to create trust between workers and their employers. I love that way of re-framing the employer-worker contract, and I wish I’d embraced it long ago. There’s no world where juggling won’t be required between life and work, but I wish I hadn’t spent as much psychic energy worried about the work part.

Because the life part of the last 42 years is what’s really mattered. All of it. The peaks and the valleys.

The pandemic is an unexpected bump in the path, but certainly not the only jolt I’ve experienced. The unrealized career in medicine. But finding that as a trained scientist I had so much to offer business. The frustration of dating many bad fits. Oh, there you are, finally.

The thrill of becoming a mother and the privilege of parenting those children with a wise and loving partner. First smiles, days you’re just glad to be alive, feeling every inch of your children’s wins, being there for a final breath. So much more life was lived outside of work. And the setbacks only made the wins sweeter.

Bring it on, COVID-19. My future is still out there.

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