In the last few days, as we have been driving around the state of Wisconsin I have been reflecting on the way in which we “buy in” to things. One of my great revelations about retirement is the way in which — if we allow it to happen — we can quickly blank out parts of our life that aren’t important to us. And in retirement that has had truly liberating results.
Let me explain.
As we are growing up we change numerous times in life. When we are students, that is our life and we give ourselves wholly over to being a kid, palling around with other kids, learning what we “must” to get through school, etc., etc., etc.. When we enter the workforce we sort of put those school days “behind” us and suddenly we (or at least I) become business people. Our view of the world changes as we buy into our new role. We become an “assistant” or a “clerk” or maybe a burger flipper and our life gradually becomes defined by the tasks of work, the hours on duty, the remnants of our paycheck (after deductions — which they never really tell you about in school), and so forth. We get married and as we buy into marriage our friendship group starts to change, we no longer hang out late into the night, and our consumption of alcohol seems to dwindle. Other things happen which we also ‘buy into’ and as we go through life we enter and leave a myriad of “rooms” in life that we never knew about. Each one is exciting — at least they were for me — and each one makes you into a slightly different person. And each change is — at least partially — a conscious decision.
But sometimes something happens and the idea of “buying in” isn’t so appealing. It can be a major event — getting fired, some political happening, perhaps a health scare — but something awakens within us the idea that maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to buy into the changes life wants us to make, the alterations we never wanted but thought we had to accommodate. For some of us this happens earlier than for others. For a few it may never occur.
The interesting thing to me, specially now that I’m retired and I don’t have to stay bought in, is noticing how quickly I can let go all that baggage from previous aspects of myself. If I admit to myself that I don’t need to hang on to those commitments … well, the memories, the troubling memories, just disappear. It’s quite magical.
When I was younger, not buying in was often a sign of independence. At this point in life I’ve been as independent as I want / need / care to be. When I let go now it’s often less to be about fitting in to some group or activity and more about recognizing the larger social and cultural lies that we’ve all been taught since we were young but we were too busy to pay much attention to. Perhaps that’s why I and a lot of older folks I know seem to youngers as out of touch. We’ve been there, done that, and have chosen not to do so any more. Why bother? What difference does it make? Who cares?
I suspect that this idea of buying in or not buying in will surface again and again in coming months. There is a freedom in retirement — when you don’t have to worry about keeping your job and a lot of similar pressures — to simply be yourself; the best version of yourself as you see it. But for now, I think I’ll stop right here.