Thursday, 15 January 2009

Not so Retiring.....

The door is open again. Well, perhaps ajar rather than open, but enough. Enough to see that there is still a foothold out there in the world of work.
'Zhoen' whose wonderfully diverse blog appears most days, has just commented on my 'Nom de Blog'. The retiring is indeed relative at several levels.

I first retired from the day-job when I was 66, then went back to work again at the age of 67. I retired again when I was 68 and now I've been given the chance to return to a small amount of work at the age of 69.
I am aware of shades of Emily Pankhurst, crying, 'Votes for Women'. I feel a distinct call to respond to 'Work for the Oldies', because with the work-role comes a great deal more in the way of identity than I had ever appreciated when I was slogging along full-time.

In a diverse society, where ethnic variations, sexual preferences and religious observances have to be regarded so carefully it is sometimes the Oldies who have to absorb the intolerances.
As my hair went (quite quickly and quite early) pure white I became invisible in places like theatre bars, garages and shops selling anything with the word 'digital' attached. Young, apparently 15 years old, male assistants in computer shops approached me with caution and with a special sort of smile.
Shopping around in working hours identifies the retired. Apparently sensible sales staff assumed I would not be able to insert my debit card into their little machines, and if I could do that I would probably have forgotten my PIN number. I am offered help in putting three small items into a bag. 'Can you manage?' has become a key question, kindly meant, caringly spoken - but uncomfortable all the same.
Sometimes there are very specific problems with my white-haired invisibility. I have been forced off pavements by groups of animatedly-talking young men who simply did not see me. I have been elbowed aside in shops by men in a hurry, and what happens in bars is much more specific. No one means to be rude. It's just that white-haired old women on their own are of little consequence.

So now I'm going back for a while, to a situation where it is assumed, not only that I can manage, but that I will meet targets and tick boxes and fulfill expectations, just as I have been able to throughout my working life. No one will ask me if I can manage. They know they'll get a clip round the ear if they do!
I am the same person. It is the role that changes, and the perceptions with it.

At work you are defined by what you can do. In retirement there is a risk of being defined by what you can't, or don't wish to do, or by others' assumptions of what you can't do.
Positive and negative. This is why I am so very fortunate to be relatively retired.


persiflage said...

Yet again your perspectives on life broaden my own horizons. I like the idea of a white-haired old lady giving people a clip on the ear.It sounds good to be able to return to a job. Now I wonder what it is you do.
When I retired, earlier than planned, I missed the sense of purpose and achievement that working provides. It took a while to adjust and to find new purposes and challenges, and to find freedoms in all sorts of areas.

Zhoen said...

Start carrying around a big sword. And some really high speed computer vocabulary. Use as necessary.

I have actually enjoyed my relative invisibility to young men as my age shows.

Have you ever seen the movie Anita & Me?

Relatively Retiring said...

Persiflage: thank you. I quite agree about the new purposes and freedoms. It's a privilege to still have access to the old identity, though.

Zhoen: Yes, but it's when you're invisible to the white-haired blokes as well that you know you're really out of it!
I'll look out for Anita and Me.

Anne-Marie said...

Very thought-provoking, RR.

Do you know that famous poem by Jenny Joseph? It starts: "When I am old I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn't match and doesn't suit me." Some thing like that. There is a social organisation you may have heard of called "The Red Hat Ladies" - named in honour of this poem - and they are devoting themselves to growing old disgracefully and in style. Bravo to that!

At the supermarket the other day the polite teenage check-out boy called me "ma'am". At first I was impressed by his politeness, then appalled. I'm 36. Surely I'm too young for "ma'am"?

Relatively Retiring said...

Anne-Marie: thank you for your comment. Yes, I know the poem, and a friend of mine belongs to an affliated organisation. The other month they visited a cheese-factory and then went out for afternoon tea. How disgraceful is that!

No, you are not too young to be given respect. That is what I'm aiming for - respect for all ages! (In UK he would probably have called you 'luv', 'doll' or 'babe' unless his supervisor was listening).

leslee said...

Since I went out into the working world, I've had older women friends that I've admired and watched navigate the world. They have endlessly inspired me. You may be invisible to some, but at least some younger women are seeing you and learning from your wisdom. Go forth with grace!

Relatively Retiring said...

Leslee: I am very touched by your most generous comment. Thank you so much.

Julie said...

My Ex claims to be too old to change careers at 54. This is a man with a double first in theoretical physics from Cambridge!
I recently confounded his lack of expectations by doing precisley that at the age of 52.
Age only matters if you're a cheese is one of my favourite quotes.
I like getting older. I like the self-awareness, the experiences, the compassion and, dare I say it, the wisdom, that comes from having lived a full life.
The young are as an empty book, each page containing a few random and confused scribbles
The mature person is a whole thesis drawn from their life-long adventures
Here's to growing older!

Relatively Retiring said...

That's lovely, Julie. I will especially cherish the remark about cheese! Many thanks.

Isabelle said...

A very interesting post as usual. I'm really looking forward to retiring (in two and a half years) but have a tiny fear that I may feel a loss of identity. I think it'll be worth it, though.

And I like being invisible - not to the extent of being pushed off pavements, of course. But I like not having to pull in my stomach because I know no one's looking at it...

Relatively Retiring said...

Isabelle: thank you for your comment. I think it's necessary to learn to be retired - and to go on learning. But I am doing it alone and learning to be a widow at the same time. So many of my friends have 'retired' into a life with grandchildren, which much be very different, and which gives another ready-made identity.

I'm pretty sure no one's looked at my stomach (or anything else) for some time now!

mm said...

What a great post. I think a gift of growing older is greater clarity around one's abilities (and lack of them). Fewer internal pressures to perform well in order to impress, rather the desire to be of service and the satisfaction of a job, however small, well done.

Good luck. Enjoy it.

Relatively Retiring said...

mm: thank you for some lovely thoughts. The 'desire to be of service' semms to become highly significant these days.

Peregrina said...

This post made me think about the assumptions based on appearance which I make about other people, as well as about those which other people make about me. Then I found myself thinking about "relative" and "absolute". I came to the conclusion that so much in life is relative, even though we may think it's absolute.