Get social on social media

Monday, July 11, 2016

Retirement - a time to find out who you are

Today was the first day I enjoyed retirement. Which is weird because I retired two years ago. I brewed a pot of coffee, turned the TV on and caught the beginning of a Tom Selleck movie. I curled up on the couch in my house coat curious to see if Tom solved the crime and gets the girl. Here I was at 9:20 AM drinking hot coffee and watching a movie. Three cups of coffee later and close on 11 o'clock Tom solved the crime and gets the girl. I could see that coming. After all, I just retired from a career in policing. I used to be the Senior Communications Strategist with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Now I am Veteran. It feels funny even saying it.


After the movie I did a half hour of yoga and a short meditation. Even now I have knots in my neck and back from years of stress that I can’t get rid of. I learned to meditate a few years ago to help me not kill people who irritated me. It must work because I'm not incarcerated.  I took a long shower and had a brief moment of madness because I shaved my whole leg not just below the knee and I am not even wearing a skirt today. By the time I got out of the shower it was almost 1 o'clock. I am trying to learn to relax but it was irritating me that I accomplished nothing today. I don't know why I consider relaxing as “accomplishing nothing.” I knew I had to get dressed. My daughter would be home from school shortly and I didn't want her to find me still in my housecoat in the middle of the day. I dried my hair, put on some make up and got dressed. There I sat at 2:30 in the afternoon, legs shaved, hair done, make up on and nowhere to go.

How do you know when it's time to retire? I get asked that all the time by my old coworkers. The truth is… you just know. For me, I was sitting in a meeting when a supervisor made what I considered a bad decision about my Communications Unit. A few months earlier that would have enraged me. We would have battled over it for weeks. But I just sat there taking notes saying nothing, being silent. I went back to my office and my partner at the time asked “What happened? You didn't say anything.” I realized I didn't say anything because I didn't care. I always said when the job wasn't fun anymore, I would retire. That day, was this day. It wasn't fun anymore. There was no fight left in me. I was burned out. I knew it was time to take my ball and go home. I called HR and asked “How do I retire?”

That last day I walked out of headquarters conflicted, it felt like I was going through a bad divorce. A divorce I wasn't even sure I wanted. I felt like I loved the husband I was about to leave but I knew it was time to let him go. I had a knot in my stomach thinking what if I want to go back? Would he take me back? Will he replace me as soon as I leave? Because I thought I could never be replaced. Eventually they did post my job and replaced me. I felt disappointed because I really thought the RCMP would close down without me. Eventually the husband I wasn’t sure I wanted to divorce replaced me with someone half my age, more educated and bilingual. Someone who probably shaves her whole leg every day.  

I ran at freedom like an escaped convict. I felt the need to fill every moment of my day with stuff to do. First thing I did was book a trip with the husband I hadn’t divorced. We went to Florida and took a wonderful cruise through the Caribbean. While my husband whined about returning to work, I had no idea what I was returning to. A few weeks later I took my daughter to Toronto to see her favourite boy band in concert. It was so different to spend time alone with her without my BlackBerry constantly ringing. Even now I can still feel the vibration of my Blackberry on my left hip and I reach to answer it.

A week after I retired I bought a gym membership and hired a personal trainer. He was a 22 year old university student who kept barking orders at me and shouting “push yourself.”  By day five I fired him. I was honest when I said “It’s not you. It’s me.” I explained “You’re 22. I am 50. Pushing myself means putting on a pair of Spanx and control top pantyhose.” It was too much too soon.  

Then one day it happened… The meltdown. While watching the evening news a story about the RCMP came on. “Why aren’t we reacting?” I shouted at the TV. We should have someone out in front of this with media lines to give our side of the story. I was enraged and I immediately reached for my BlackBerry preparing to go in to crisis communication mode. But there was no BlackBerry.  The next morning I went into headquarters for a veterans meeting. I ran into my old partner and tried to have a conversation about the news the night before. I told him he needed to pull out my old media lines. I explained “You need to do this! You need to do that!” He stood there politely listening to me. Then he dropped the bomb… “You know I can't discuss that with you.” I realized I had put him in an awkward situation. He couldn't discuss a police operation with a civilian. I know that. We both walked away. It was then I realized I was on the outside now. The divorce was final. I was just served my papers.

I had to find something to do with myself. I can’t handle “alone time.” I had been writing a blog
called “I am Funny Like That” for a few years and decided I would focus on it more. I figured there must be somebody who wanted free communication advice. I had always been a volunteer in our church. Now I dove in. I wrote a communication strategy to bring people back to church. I targeted minority groups especially the long neglected LGBT community. I mean if I can spin police stories then of course I could bring families in by the droves on Sunday morning.  Laugh if you want but it actually worked to the point that that Bishop said we were getting too much publicity and to tone it down.

I started volunteering with my children’s Air Cadet Squadron and took on the Duke of Edinburgh program. I now have 19 cadets in various levels and I spend my weekends hiking the East Coast trail with them. At the same time I volunteer as communications director for another charity. I spent the last two years creating communication strategies around fundraising and I was extremely successful. I am very proud of everything I have accomplished since I retired.  The problem is, I created a full-time job for myself.

Just recently after a grueling fundraising effort I asked myself “Why did I retire?” If I want to work full-time I should've stayed in the RCMP. I realized I had to retire from my retirement. I need to learn how to relax. I need to learn how to retire.

The best advice I received was from a fellow Veteran. He told me retirement gives you a lot of time to think. He advised that one day I will be doing some menial task around the house and all of a sudden I will remember something that happened 10 or 15 years ago. A meeting where I overreacted. A partner that I snapped at. Something I would like to do over again. He advised, “Then you will beat yourself up for the rest of the day thinking “Why did I say that?” “Why didn't I do this?”  He advised me to let it go. Think about something else and he was right. It's like your brain downloads everything you went through at random times. I am glad he told me that because it really does happen and you need to be prepared for memories that can keep you up all night.

I joined a line dancing group (don’t laugh, it’s fun) because I was wanted to stay social. I went out for lunch with this group of women. One of the ladies was having a “crisis” because the oven in her stove was broke. She went on and on about the oven. I sat there staring at her. I didn't know how to react to a broken oven. I was thinking “A year ago I was giving media advice on major cirme investigations, read situation reports on horrific acts of child abuse and the month before I retired three of our Members were murdered in Moncton.” I wanted to say something but I couldn't. I couldn't relate to this woman’s crisis. She was too normal.  I sat there, smiled and pretended I could relate to her “crisis” knowing I needed to redefine “crisis” now.   

I decided to stick to the friends I already had and focus on my family. I started baking cookies in the afternoon so when my daughter came home from school she would have afternoon snack with me. Maybe we could talk and get to know each other. It worked. After a while I found she was actually a nice person. It took retirement for me to realize that I raised the daughter I always wanted. I had no idea how funny, intelligent, thoughtful, and amazing my daughter had become.

I had to re-introduce myself to my husband. He must have thought “Who is this woman who bakes cookies and shaves her full leg?”  We had been married for 20 years and I had no idea who he was now. I was just too busy raising kids, having a full-time career and being that woman who had it all. We must've liked each other at some point, we had two children together! For years, I passed him in the hallway in the mornings. I would see him briefly in the evening while I was running to dance with our daughter and he was running to cadets with our son. One night I sat on the couch watching him furiously answer emails on his BlackBerry. I think it was the first time I really looked at him in years. He was actually quite handsome. I don't know why that surprised me. He was good looking when I married him 20 years ago! I realized then, it took retirement to make me fall in love with the man I had already been in love with for 20 years.

Today, I retired from my retirement. I have given up most of my charity work with the exception of the Air Cadet’s Duke of Edinburgh program. I enjoy working with teens. I find they breathe life back in me and it’s truly rewarding to see them achieve their goals in this program.  I have learned to say “No” I am not available to others and I try not to feel bad about that.

My next quest is to find a balance between my family, my volunteerism and discovering who I am now. All in all, retirement is great.  It just takes time to let go of your old life and find a new one. There is a normal grieving process. I have learned that enjoying retirement means it’s not a waste of time to cuddle with Tom Selleck in the morning and have a fully shaved leg in the afternoon. It’s time well spent. Some advice for those about to retire, stay away from personal trainers. After all, you just retired from a career where someone barks orders at you. Buy a good pair of Spanx instead.

*** This article appeared in the Atlantic Women in Policing newsletter Summer 2016.