In November, my successor, Representative-elect Shane Stone, will take the oath and begin his new job of work as the Representative for District 89 in the Oklahoma Legislature.
Up until then, I’m still the Rep, even though session is over and I’m not doing much with it. I asked Shane to attend my committee meetings between now and when he assumes office, even though he can only sit in and is not allowed to vote. It’s a way for him to get his feet on the ground and look at the process without having to jump off into the deep while he’s doing it.
It’s a scary business, taking those first votes. Nothing prepares you for it. One day, you’re a private citizen, the next day you are making decisions, one after the other, for millions of people. The stress, the responsibility, and as time goes by, the battering, never let up.
I am glad to be out of it. In fact, I could write a book (or two) about all the reasons why I’m glad to be out of that pressure cooker.
However, with my never-give-myself-an-even-break way of living, I jumped from one competitive line of work to another without a breath between. In fact, I started this blogging thing years before I pulled up the legislative stakes. Then, within a month of casting my last vote for the people of District 89, I took on two full-blown book projects.
Somewhere in all this, I’ve lost my footing, so to speak. I’m still adjusting to the enormous change of life involved in walking away from the constant pummeling of full-contact politics, and, at the same time, I’m also trying to figure out a whole new line of work. Add to that my wandering Mama, and there are days when I feel like I’m thrashing and pawing the waves instead of swimming.
Obviously, I have a lot of learn about this “retirement” gig, including, it seems, how to retire and keep right on working without missing a beat.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned (and a couple I need to learn) about how to make this big life change.
1. Get the money part straight.
I put this first because it’s so critical. It’s a bit like slamming into a wall, looking at those figures on the balance sheet and realizing, this is it; this is what I have to spend for now and forever.
In my case, it’s been a mostly pleasant surprise. I’m a saver from jump street. I saved my allowance when I was a kid and bought a camera, a watch and other things. Other kids spent their allowances as fast as they got them on candy and stuff. I bought my first savings bond when I was in the first grade by purchasing a savings stamp each week with my allowance.
Needless to say, I’ve been rat-holing money away for decades. That means two things: I have enough saved back so that I can eat three squares and an occasional steak dinner for the rest of my life, and my income needs are relatively low because I’ve been reducing my income to save and already gotten used to living on less than my income.
Despite all that, there have been some negatives; primarily taxes. Nobody in my family ever made enough money in retirement to pay taxes before. I guess I thought retirement was tax free. I may end up paying more in taxes now than I did when I had a regular paycheck. Go figure.
2. Inhabit your new freedom.
Not a day goes by that I don’t have to remind myself that I am free of the old deadlines and go-go-go of constantly being under the gun. There is competition in writing. Of a sort. But comparing it to holding political office is like comparing blowing soap bubbles to a tornado. One delights. The other kills.
I had no idea how much pressure I was under until it stopped. I find myself feeling antsy and pushed, like I’ve got to get busy and hit the road running, and then I have to remind myself that I am free and I can stroll, not flail, my way through my day. For the first time in decades, nobody’s out to get me. Strange as this sounds, it’s devilishly difficult to get used to the idea that I’m not in the legislative jailhouse any longer.
3. Inhabit your freedom, but don’t become a slug.
My husband pointed out to me that I was getting up every morning and sitting down to write and that I would end up in the afternoon, still wearing my nightclothes.
You need a routine. He told me.
My sons let me have it for spending too much time in the house and too many hours sitting in the recliner. You need to get up and get going. I don’t want you to sit there and die. One of them told me.
So, I’m trying new things, like get up, eat breakfast, put on some clothes and then wander into my office and sit down to write. I’ve always been a self-motivator and a self-starter. So this deal should be ez pz for me compared to someone who has spent their life waiting to be told what to do next. I’ve already hatched up a couple of things I may take on, both of them involving my faith in Christ and my political skills. We’ll see. The point here that applies to everyone is don’t veg out. Move. And live.
4. You have to let go of the past thing to fully grasp the next thing.
While I’ve been trying to figure out the how-to-retire part of this deal, I’m also trying to figure out a brand new job of work that I’ve taken on. I’m already a blogger, and it looks like I’m also gonna write books.
(May I stop for a moment and tell you that I love the idea of this? I feel so blessed by the opportunities God has given me in my life and this new challenge is not the least of them.)
But, figuring it out while I’m dealing with figuring out everything else is confusing. I’ve got the letting go part down intellectually. But doing it 100% takes a bit of time. And grasping the new is a reach into unseen territory.
I feel a bit like a member of a high wire act who is letting go of the bar to reach for their partner’s hand. There is a moment when that high wire artist has let go of the bar and is reaching for but hasn’t touched their partner’s hand. In that moment, they are suspended in air, between the two. I’m in that moment right now.
What it takes to keep from panicking and going into a deadly free-fall is faith; faith in yourself that I can only describe as self-confidence and faith in God that this is His design, His plan and He is there with you, guiding your hand and the one reaching out to grasp it.
You have to let go of the old thing to reach out to the next thing, and when you do, there will be a moment when you are suspended, floating, between them. In the world of high wire acts and the laws of aerodynamics, that moment is just a blink. But in the world of major life changes, you will be suspended for weeks and months of confusing time.
There’s nothing for it. You just have to go through it. The trick, if there is one, is to really, truly let go of the last thing.
5. Re-learn time management for your new reality.
This is akin to, but different from, #2 and #3. Yes, you must inhabit your new freedom. And Yes, you must also not be a slug about it. But there’s more. If you retire but keep on working, you are also going to have to re-learn time management. The keep-on-working part demands the new time management. But it is different work and a new reality. Or, at least it is if you switch from an all-inclusive high-powered my-job-never-ends line of work like elective office to a nebulous, make-your-own-hours, never-see-your-colleagues line of work like writing.
Time management for an elected official amounts to one thing: Choosing which of the endless list of things you need to do that you actually will do. You have to have a nose for what matters and what doesn’t because you can not do everything. As in, it is not possible. That may also be true of writing. I’m too new to the profession to say.
What I will say is that writing is a lot more demanding than I knew before I started it. I thought that when I left the House I would have time and more time for every little thing I hadn’t had time for in the past. Now, I find that I am having major problems getting everything done. I am right back at making choices and setting priorities all over again. True, it’s not the screaming triage of politics. But it is confusing to me, precisely because I’ve never done it before.
After 18 years in elected office, I could do that deal with half my mind. Figuring out this new thing is taking all my brain cells and a couple of them a smoking.
6. Realize that your life span is limited.
I don’t mean that as a downer. I mean it as a simple fact. My productive years are limited. I’ve got a lot of things I want to accomplish (If I can.) before I stand before God. Most of the big ones are things that I want to do in response to what I think He’s asked of me.
I also need to get ready to die. I don’t mean so much the practical things like write a will and tell everyone I love them. I mean that I need to learn to be, as Margaret Rose Realy OSB says, “pleasing to God.”
That’s a lot easier for someone like Margaret than it is me. She’s gifted with a naturally sweet disposition. I’m what a priest friend of mine once called “edgy.” It was a back-handed compliment that I treasure: God loves to get His hands on edgy people like you because He can do so much with you.
That pleased me so much when it was first said to me. The idea that God might actually find me, with all my edginess, useful, was a ray of light. I’ve treasured the comment ever since.
However, being pleasing to God is not a thing that comes easily to someone as strong-willed, untrusting and downright contrary as I am. But I need to work at it. Because someday not so very far in the future, I will meet Him face to face.
These are the six quick steps I’ve learned that each person must take to retire and keep on working. I think that they apply, in one form or another, to anyone who is retiring, even if they don’t take up another gainful occupation. We all face the same challenges at every major change in our lives. If memory serves, the transition from legislator to full-time, stay-at-home mom involved these same things.
Life is change, and it has many seasons. The best overall advice is to follow Margaret Rose Realy’s admonition, no matter the season of your life, and strive always to be pleasing to God.