Mike told me a story earlier this week about a priest who traveled without his traditional priest garb so as to not draw attention to himself. This allowed him to blend into the crowd like any other traveler. Sometimes when he was on a plane, the passenger next to him would ask him the inevitable question, "what do you do"? The answer that he was a Catholic priest would often stop the conversation cold.
This story stuck with me this week and played out in a couple of settings. How would I answer this question "what do you do?" First of all I was thinking about business cards after an event a couple of weeks ago at the zoo; I was handed a business card and awkwardly had nothing to return. How would that person get in touch with me if I couldn't provide contact information? And what do you put on a business card if you are retired? (Answers found through Google say you need two business cards: one for social contacts and the other for prospective business opportunities).
The second occurrence was at an alumni event at my Alma mater. Immediately after introducing myself came the same, inevitable question. I tentatively answered "recently retired" as if I didn't know what that meant. Depending on the age of the person I met, I perceived different responses. If the person was retired, there was an understanding nod, but the person was working, I assumed they thought "old person".
I guess I've always had trouble with labels. When I was working, I seldom used my title when introducing myself because I thought it might appear pretentious. Besides, the title didn't really tell anyone what I did; it just described a certain role or status. More recently comes another title which I don't care for, "breast cancer survivor". Clearly I'm OK with the survivor part, but breast cancer doesn't define me; it's something I've gone through. This week while at the doctor's office, the nurse took my health history and told me she was happy to meet "another breast cancer survivor". Although I am certain she meant this in a very positive way, my warped brain thought that meeting a survivor was definitely better than meeting the alternative.
And now comes the "retiree" label. Perhaps it's just adjusting to change, but I'm still not sure I'm ready to jump into this demographic. First, there's AARP, which I never joined but unhappily realized that Mike signed me up as part of a "family plan". My membership card is proudly displayed behind another card in my wallet. While perusing the menu at a Mexican restaurant this week, I noticed a one page "senior menu"; I was pleasantly surprised that it was for people over 60! And then there's the Wednesday "senior discount" at Goodwill. For those of you who know Mike and his quest for the deal, you will understand how I know about this discount. OK, in the interest of full disclosure, I admit finding a few deals myself on Wednesdays...
Seriously, though, I don't like labels. They make it too easy to take an entire person and wrap them up into a single word. I cannot think of two people who are alike despite a common label of a religion, a race or whether a person is working or not.
To me the retiree label infers that your productive, creative years are behind you, and now you are going to rest. I prefer to think about the road ahead as another type of creativity-one that is less bound by dollars and cents. As my sister Jude said about my retirement, " this is the time to write a new chapter called Diane."
So, unless I am gainfully employed again, I recognize that I should learn to gracefully accept this new label. But be forewarned that if you ask what I do, you might as well take a seat and get comfortable because you won't be getting the Reader's Digest version...