Letting Go

The reaction has been universal. Whenever I mention that I am retiring and my last day at work is Tuesday, people break into a smile and congratulate me. The smiles appear real and the congratulations genuine. People are happy for me, which is not something I expected, because I assumed people think of themselves only and not others. Admittedly, that is a wretched way to think, especially for someone who claims to be a Christian. But being a Christian is a lot like being a poet. That is, you can be a bad poet and still be a poet. Let’s just say I have written some bad poetry in my life.

The other interesting thing about people’s reactions is that they all understand what retirement means. Not having allowed myself–even now–time to think about retirement too deeply, I am amazed at other people when they tell me what it will be like. Actually, what they share with me is what their retirement will be like. I don’t mind. Their dreams are interesting to hear and give me ideas for my own retirement.

So, what are my plans? Not lounging on the beach in Hawaii. Even before those disastrous fires, I could never figure out why people vacationed there. You sit on the beach, sip Tiki cocktails, swim, eat, turn over, and then what? All right, I take that back. It does sound like fun, but after a week I’d be bored out of my gourd. So, my plan, if you can call it that, is to devote more time to writing, including novels, plays, streaming video, and this blog, which, in the opinion of some, is sorely needed. I take it as constructive criticism.

The rest of the time? I’ll travel (no white shoed cruises) and spend one-on-one time with my numerous grandchildren whose birthdays come at me with the force and frequency of a video game, which, oddly enough, is what some of them want but will not get. So, what will I do with them? There is an axe-throwing establishment next to my boxing school. What, exactly, do you call a place where you throw axes? I am having lunch next week with coworkers at a “hashery,” so, maybe, “axery”? We could throw axes until our muscles twitch and arms drop off. I’m sure my daughters won’t object. Everybody’s got medical coverage.

Speaking of boxing, I am currently incapacitated after twisting my knee in a kickboxing workout. I don’t know much about kickboxing but figured how hard could it be? Boxing with kicks, right? This is how I get into trouble. Now I am hobbling around bandaged and iced like some weekend warrior. This, after coming down with a bad case of the flu and, recovering from that by going to boxing sessions to sweat out the viral invaders (look for the post “Miracle Cure” coming soon), getting food poisoning from leftover shrimp salad from Safeway. Apparently, I can’t stop eating old food. I chalk it up to my age, which is a good indicator that I ought to retire before I kill myself. My daughters are quick to remind their old man that I’m not twenty anymore (like my John Garfield-looking sparring partners), to which I reply, “Neither are you.” There’s something eminently satisfying about the schoolyard taunt, “I’m rubber and you’re glue!”

There is a question people ask almost immediately after congratulating me on my retirement. This, too, is universal. They want to know what it feels like. Again, not only is this genuine, but I can see them waiting to try on my answer themselves as if we were sharing a sports coat. After thinking about it for some time, I tell them it feels like riding the Big Dipper at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk for a dozen times and then stepping off. You feel a sudden rush, an imbalance, and confusion. You try to walk around and act normal, but “normal” does not exist anymore.

Retirement is like a train you have been riding all your life that finally screeches into the station. The momentum continues to propel your body forward, but the physical reality of stopping is undeniable. Even so, other things overwhelm the physical. Just as you no longer have to hold onto a railing or handle, so, too, you can let go of the persona you had to wear at work. This means being truer to self and others in a way that is liberating. Workplace stupidities fall away like autumn leaves.

Retirement already has allowed me to let go of certain things: control, regrets, judgments, grudges. In other words, in letting go there is freedom not to be, including not to be those thousand and one things that have accumulated over the years like baggage in the attic. Letting go means giving all of that up. It means getting off the train when it comes to a grinding, squealing stop.

Image credits: feature by Jon Tyson; tracks by Adam Bixby. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”


  1. I managed to fail retirement twice. After retiring from my 30-year career in international business with FMC Corporation, I soon found myself on the faculty and staff of a small liberal arts college.

    Fifteen years later, I retired again – only to launch a webs site, publish a book of advice for students, and generally get on to considering myself “a writer” (which I always thought sounded kind of sexy).

    But recent experiences have led me to consider my current situation as something more than retired. Having just turned 75, and having the benefit of a recent retreat of reflection at a Trappist monastery, it seems like I am entering some sort of final dimension – living life, but living it differently.

    Robert, we think alike. In my retreat, I tried to update my own assessment of who I am and the person I should now be in this final stage of my career and life. My conclusion was that I need to let go of certain behaviors in order for me to focus on better, more meaningful behaviors.

    The letting go?

    The need for personal approval
    Accepting that I am not a younger, more able and more attractive version of myself
    The anger and frustration I feel in the direction of our society
    Fear of illness, death, and simply running out of time

    What should I now focus on?

    Aging gracefully and lovingly with my wife of 48 years
    Maintaining sobriety, along with physical and emotional health
    Embracing my children and grandchildren
    Continuing to write, but only about my own learned experiences that may benefit others

    Maybe these resolutions will see me through the 4th Quarter, but in any case the “letting go” part is the foundation. Of that, I am quite sure.

    1. Thanks, Vic, for such a thoughtful comment. You seem very organized and disciplined, coming at retirement as if it were work.

      I’m not sure I’m like that. My approach seems to be a negative one; that is, I am NOT doing quite a few things: answering the phone, returning emails, checking my calendar, running errands, etc. I don’t want to do anything but the bare essentials, which means writing and taking notes in my journal but not much of anything else, including food.

      There’s more time to spend on the people in my life who matter and not waste another minute on those for whom I am a commodity or a nonentity. For instance, I called my brother today on his birthday. It felt good.

      This keeps up, I may even take a shower.

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