Redefining retirement | what it means to protire

You won’t find the word protirement in Webster’s dictionary, but I’m predicting it will be there before too long.  A neologism meant to convey one’s leaving a steady career in the pursuit of something more fulfilling, protirement usually comes with a substantial amount of anxiety and abundant freedom and possibility. Four months ago, I announced my own protirement.

The anxiety began the minute I said the words “I’m leaving” out loud.  First to my manager, then my team and co-workers, I repeated my intent and reasoning. “It’s time for me to do something different. No, I am not taking another job.”  I couldn’t quite bring myself to use the word “retirement” even though by all appearances it was just that. So, if I’m not taking another job and I’m not retiring, then what am I doing? I couldn’t define it.

My generous and supportive manager suggested we refer to it as a “pivoting” which seems far less final and geriatric than retiring (grimly defined by Webster as a withdrawal from active working life). To pivot means to plant one foot while turning with the other, and I could work with that until I inevitably got the next question. “What do you think you’ll do?”

My response was vague but earnest: work on my writing, continue renovating my 200-year-old house, and try to spend more time with my aging parents. This didn’t satisfy. After initially expressing jealousy at my freedom from the 9-5, almost everyone felt the need to fill in the work gap.  “You should teach.” “Of course, you’ll come back and consult.” “Do you think you’ll get another job in Vermont?” (I’ve been working remotely here for a Boston-based office).  No one was comfortable with a pivot that didn’t lead more definitively in a new direction – including me. At least not at first.

A full year before I announced my departure to my employer, in my heart I knew it was time to move on and that I would make that happen. But first, I needed a plan.  Even though, bluffing in a moment of rage just a few months earlier, I had slammed my laptop closed, said “I quit,” and walked out the door, I couldn’t just jump. So, I got to work updating my resume, scanning job postings, and revamping my LinkedIn profile. I did all the right things, except none of it felt right.

The fact of the matter is that I had only half-realized what was truly in my heart. I had committed to the first action, leaving my job, but I had no idea what I would do next, and more importantly, I had no idea who I would be next. I began working with a life coach declaring my goal to have it all figured out in just six one-hour sessions, but she soon set me straight.

I was certain I would not be a retiree – withdrawn from active working life – at the very much active (and underfunded) age of 56. What I had still to learn was how to get comfortable with uncertainty and to be patient with myself. It will take time away from the pressure and personality of my job – of nearly three decades on the same course – for me to understand and embrace what it means for me to be fulfilled outside of it.

As my final day in the office drew closer, I began to use the term protirement to describe my transition from working life and to more confidently (maybe even a little smugly) assert that I had no plans for what lay ahead, but I was excited about many possibilities.  This is not a withdrawal or a pivot; this is progress. At the end of my last day in the office, I firmly planted one foot out the door, and then the other, and I am still walking forward.

Pivotal Points

  • Having a PROtirement plan may be as important as a retirement plan.

Published by Catherine H Palmer

I used to help big companies tell their stories, now it's time to tell my own. I blog about midlife reinvention and making a new life in rural Vermont. Follow me, I have no idea where I'm going.

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