I mentally ‘checked out’ of the urban rat race at fifty. I physically left when I was 56. The years in between were transition years. I worked but my heart wasn’t in it and I was looking for a way out. I was intent on leaving the boiling cauldron of the cul-de-sac and the modern work place but I had nowhere specific to go. I spent those transition years in a bit of a struggle.
So, I took almost 6 years to actually choose where to go, how to get there and how to extricate myself. What may have looked like a sudden ‘leap of faith’ was not. It was a slow, drawn-out leap of slo-mo planning. Still brave, courageous and wild, of course, to me anyway and not just a little bit of a surprise to Sally but not quite the spontaneous leap it may have looked like to the casual observer (and that I have implied at times in this blog). Change can also be slow.
I mention this because one of the catalysts to making the change was Ken. What a guy! I was, at the time of meeting him, immersed in my work. I was about 45. I was doing mediations at a prodigious rate for the government and traveling all over the province all the time while doing it. It was really hard work but I was keen and so the time is remembered fondly. Still, getting argeement from a crowd of up to 30 disputing people on financial matters in one three hour mediation is not easy. It can be and was quite draining.
We were in some interior town at the time – Kelowna, Kamloops, Salmon Arm – they were a blur of cheap motels back then. And my government liaison on this case was Ken, the government’s lawyer. He was the guy who put the disputants in the room and handled all the pre-mediation work. He was great. Ken was also a nice guy, smart, funny and full of energy. He was a dynamo. He was also at least 65.
When the settlement was reached, it was Ken who would do follow up for the bureaucrats. So we would see him the next day, as well. But the next day was easy. We had lunch together and mostly just talked.
“Listen. Thanks for your work on all this. You were great. And, you know, all the usual pleasantries professionals usually say to one another…….I mean them, too.”
“Hahaha! No problem. I had fun!”
“Yeah. I was meaning to ask you about that. How is it that a government lawyer – probably my definition of being-in-hell-in-an-office – can be so healthy, so ‘up’ and so well, fun? How can you do that? Especially since you are as old as the bloody hills!”
“Well, I just started here a year ago!”
“Wow. That is a surprise. I just assumed that you grew that grey hair sitting in that office listening to bureaucrats. What did you do before this?”
“I was retired!”
“Oh, well, that makes sense. That accounts for the grey hair. You retired, got bored and went back eh?”
“No. I’ve been retired for almost twenty years. It was great! I loved it. Just before I was fifty I realized that I had to get on with some things before I got too old to do them. So, I quit my practice and went mountain biking all through the US Southwest. Also snorkeled all over the Caribbean. Traveled everywhere. My wife and I had a helluva time until I was 65 and then I decided to go back to work. You know, something slow paced and with coffee breaks? And I found that I had the curiosity of youth all over again. After almost twenty years having fun, law had changed, I had changed and now work was fun again!”
“OHMYGAWD! That is brilliant!”
“Yeah. I think everyone needs to have time to do what their heart leads them to but so many people think they have to wait until the end of life to do it. I decided that I could retire in the middle of working life and I would likely have a better retirement as a result. And No!, I was not well off. The bonus was that I came back re-interested in my work. That was an unexpected treat. I highly recommend thinking about that should you ever get bored at what you are doing.”
And, of course, I have never forgotten what he said. In fact, I kinda thought I’d do a David’s version of it. You know………..? I would quit at 55 and ‘do my thing’ and then, at 65 or so, go back to work. As a mediator most likely. Just like my hero, Ken.
But I am getting along to that age now and, at 64, I do not see myself plugging back in. Mediators work in cities. And I am not going back there. So early retirement may turn out to be just that – early retirement. We’ll see.