Gift Box: Life After Sixty

As the excitement about no longer going to work for ten to twelve hours a day fades, Adrienne finds herself sitting back on her easy chair, supported by one of her homemade accent pillows, thinking about what is and about what was. 

The contrast is clear cut as hot is to cold, as love is to hate and as friend is to foe. 

Thinking back, she can remember being at work — but not just one particular day because every day was jammed with expectations, surprises and problems to solve. Today she zeroes in on times near the end of her term in a political job when she had her feet up on her desk, watching the daily dose of Question Period in the British Columbia Legislature. Back then, her mind drifted and wondered what it would be like to not work anymore, to have no demands on her time, no expectations or pressures, just to sleep in, get up at any time, go to bed at any time, eat at set times, enjoy uninterrupted times with friends and family, and to travel on a whim. It sounded like marital bliss! 

Due to a small glitch in the incredible outcome of a very weird provincial election campaign, where British Columbia elected three green Green Party members, along with a lot of BC Liberals and a bunch of New Democrats, a lot of threats and demands and public opinion left the ultimate decision on how to best move forward, in the hands of the Lieutenant Governor. By what seemed like the stroke of a pen, she rejected a plea by the Liberals to proceed as the governing party. There was no precedent to this, and the Royal decision happened within a few hours, giving the elected MLAs and staff something like ten days to reorientate and prepare for opposite roles —or no roles at all. For Adrienne is would be the latter. 

After being in this pressure cooker job for over 26 years,  she actually jumped for joy once the inevitable blue ink dried on the official document, and there was no choice but to concede. She flashed back to that day of wondering what no job would be like, and now she was about to get her wish. She had two weeks to wind down and step out of the fray to a life of ultimate freedom at the age of 61. 

It was hard to know where to start, but she decided the best approach to embracing the imposed change was to tread slowly. The ultimate severance package meant there was no financial damage. Some would say that is a pathetic perk but when you are actually embedded into a workaholic life where the word ‘personal’ no longer exists, where every move you make and everything you say is checked and double checked by the opponents and the public, and you are expected to be solely committed to a Party Leader, a Party and a cause —and if you managed to avoid burnout, you definitely deserve a financially stress free end to an atypical life. 

When living in a government town, and the governing party changes, the likelihood of getting reemployed in a government job, political or otherwise, is slim. Many colleagues move out of town and seek options elsewhere very quickly.  Others just move out of town to get away from it all. Age was not on their side in terms of running out the severance timeframe and bridging to a retirement pension. A lot of the younger team players had to run back home to their parents’ abode. Some went off to Ottawa to fill an onslaught of federal jobs and others re-entered the post secondary path.  

At the age of 61, Adrienne stayed behind in Victoria smiling from ear to ear. With her long severance period, plus unused vacation time, the bonus of meeting the pension eligibility made it unnecessary to panic or make quick decisions. The world would be her oyster. 

She opted to retain her apartment in Victoria and to enjoy the city and her neighbourhood and her neighbours, and start living life differently — kind of like ordinary people.  

At first it was like an extra jump on her step. No alarm clocks. No cell phone or Blackberry. No meetings, conference calls, employee assessments, interviews or lingering issues. No briefings. No messaging. No more prayer breakfasts, stakeholder lunches, dinners or receptions. No more award ceremonies, conferences or conventions. The slate was cleared. Completely cleared.  

But, at first it also seemed exciting and that feeling of excitement was expected to last forever. More time with friends and family — long overdue. Travel options to anywhere for a day, a few days, weeks or months — all possible. Real personal time — great! More creative writing, sewing, cooking, baking, gardening, cycling — amazing!  Sleeping in, going to bed late,  doing random acts of kindness, building friendships, establishing routines, smelling the coffee, and trying to figure out the rose in rose colored glasses — so many interesting ways to fill the days. 

Four months into it and Adrienne feels the excitement start to diminish. She wakes up one morning, swings her legs over the edge of the bed, raises her arms high into the air and says: I want my job back! 

This new life is missing something. 

Oh it must be the weather. Let’s see what tomorrow brings. Tomorrow comes and goes, and more tomorrows come and go, and every morning Adrienne wakes up imagining the same experience of swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, raising her arms high into the air, and saying almost that exact same thing: I really want my job back! 

On to the computer she goes and starts to book another round of trips — short ones and long, near and far.  

As those dates come forward, she wanders around her neighbourhood and sees things she can fit into her life — cutting people’s lawns, picking up garbage in public areas, collecting discarded bottles and cans, cycling to do many basic errands, inviting neighbours over for afternoon tea, sorting through possessions with an aim to downsize — after all, will she ever again need dozens of pantyhose of various colors, dishes to feed large family gatherings when family is now distributed all over the world or a closet full of large, heavy gifts bought at bargain prices meant for nieces and nephews who now no longer live nearby? 

The transition process from a profoundly demanding workplace-focused life to life in the real world, is not a commonplace experience so nobody really knows what to say to Adrienne. Everyone says they are there for her, and she appreciates that, but it is kind of like learning how to walk again.  It is one step, then an other. Stand tall and steady, breathe, then take another step forward, see the rose, smell it, appreciate it and share it.  

Adrienne loves roses. By the ten month mark, she is now feeling ready to look for more of them. When she says look she really means look. There is no hurry, no pressure, no demands on herself. There is time, lots of time ... as much time as before, except it is being used differently. 

Some mornings start with a delightful hour of aquafit at the local outdoor pool, a short bicycle ride away. It is free because the indoor community pool is under construction and this is the gifted alternative to keep the group together in interested. 

Other mornings are a little slower paced, with the delightful scent of freshly ground coffee beans for the espresso machine, and the beginnings of a nice hot café mocha, often made with homemade chocolate sauce. Paired with a warmed up slice of homemade Dutch raisin loaf or chocolate zucchini loaf, and with her slippered feet stretched onto the marble coffee table in the Living Room, Adrienne stares out of the window into the backyard forest, and smiles. The memories of her work life are starting to fade and the pages to the future are starting to take shape. 

On her Twitter feed one morning, there was a link to a Seattle Times article highlighting the extraordinary cycling routes right in her actual and neighbouring communities. It was a startling revelation because although she is an avid community cyclist and has seen the development of more and more safe paths along roadways and dykes, she never thought of that as the development of a jewel among bicycle paths in her region, province and country. The news article was definitely inspiring and motivates her to become a bicycle tourist right there close to home. 

The transition period continues to unfold almost like baby steps carving out something through a cloud of unknowns, maybe like a second coming, a second chance, a new way of living or of developing an interesting life, but this one void of alarm clocks, expectations, deadlines and productivity goals.  

Adrienne is feeling her way through, exercising trials and errors, testing her limits, and getting out of a thirty year box of working to make the money needed to live and to cover the costs of a home, a car, an education, and occasional travels with family, friends and even alone. 

What is happening now is kind of like a gift box being filled with a potpourri of stressfree adventures, family time, friend time, acquaintance time, neighbour time, and alone time. The lid is open for more new ideas and eventually the limitations of a demanding unusual work life, will fall further and further into a past, where it belongs, and today will always be a delightful new day of inner peace and ultimate happiness of a different kind.