Two Anniversaries

We’re celebrating two anniversaries this month: two years since I left my job at Duke and one year since Champa and I arrived in Moldova to serve as Peace Corps Volunteers.

20150615_180259As a new book makes clear, the “not exactly retired” path we’ve charted for ourselves is not exactly for everyone. Many people want to be retired in a traditional sense — playing golf, gardening or relaxing in other ways. Others seek to remain connected to their previous workplace or profession, or to search for new meaning in their life. Some end up watching too much television or getting depressed.

In Too Young to Be Old: Love, Learn, Work, and Play as You Age, sociologist Nancy K. Schlossberg explores the different paths people follow. She describes the six most common routes as “continuers,” “adventurers,” easy gliders,” “involved spectators,” “searchers” and “retreaters.”

Since we made the leap, traveling across the United States and Nepal and then joining the Peace Corps, Champa and I have mostly been “adventurers.” Schlossberg describes this route as “an opportunity to pursue an unrealized dream or try something new.” In my case, there’s also been an element of “continuer,” since I’ve remained active in communications, albeit in a very different way from when I was running a university communications office.

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Even though I was more than ready for the transition, it took time to adjust to my new life, just as my sister Nancy had warned me. (She is the author of Second-Act Careers, which I recommend highly.) I had trouble letting go of my professional identity, which I continued to highlight on my LinkedIn profile for several months. Only later did I change it to emphasize my role as a blogger and, later, as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Taking extended trips across the United States and Nepal helped loosen my grip. Serving in the Peace Corps then provided me with a new identity and a well-established mission and structure to serve others.

In one year, though, I will finish Peace Corps and again face the challenge of defining “who am I?” for both myself and others who know me, together with Champa. I will also need to reaffirm my identities within my family and my community back home. It’s a process that will probably never end.

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Champa and I know how lucky we are to have these opportunities, even though we really miss our family and are counting the minutes until we see them in a few weeks for a brief vacation.

Schlossberg’s book reminds me how other members of my generation will have their own retirement journeys, which may be very different from our own yet equally valid and compelling. All of us entering this phase of our lives share the challenge of finding the right blend of identity, relationships and purpose to fit our circumstances.

With two years and many miles now behind us, I now recognize our most important choice so far to have been choice itself, to act instead of drifting. What we actually chose is not everyone’s cup of tea (or even Moldovan wine), to be sure, but it’s worked for us. We all face life transitions sooner or later and can either resist or embrace them, however much our destinations and routes may diverge.

I welcome comments about your own dreams and journey, regardless of your age.

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7 thoughts on “Two Anniversaries”

  1. I have enjoyed following your journeys, David. And I confess that in part I am hoping to learn the “secret” of retirement from watching you and Champa. I suspect that, like you, I will initially dive into adventurer mode. But it is the long term that makes me wonder! It is many years away though–so I hope you’ll continue your blog even when you are back home in Durham. Miss you at Duke!

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    1. I miss you, too, Deborah and really appreciate your comment. You’re not the only one wondering about this. Champa and I look forward to chilling out for a few months after we get home a year from now. We already have some ideas for what comes after that but “long term” is a question that lingers on the horizon.

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  2. Great article David. I just celebrated my one year anniversary from UNICEF. Completed a few goals that I established for myself in retirement and others are on-going. The journey continues. The cow path that I followed all my life suddenly opened up to to a field with no path and it is exciting to forge ahead into the unknown. Thank you both for your inspiration.

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  3. Hi David! I’ve been blogging and writing quite a bit about positive aging as well as the path to retirement so I really appreciate you pointing out this book and your own path. I personally am in the semi-retired category which I think makes me a “continuer” but most of my life I’ve been an adventurer as well as a searcher so who knows? I also agree, that like you, having the choice and staying mindful of it is a key. I look forward to reading where you go from here when the time comes. ~Kathy

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