My recent retirement got me to thinking about the different identities we take on as we journey through life, and the angst and confusion we experience as we transition from one to another. We start out with Kid Identity Cards, which define us for the first 10 to 12 years of our lives. Near the end of that phase, typically with great anticipation, we receive our Teenager Card. Although we get new cards as we move through life, we never really get rid of the old ones, they just move little farther down in the deck, where we can still reach them if their needed. As an example, with some angst, teenagers bring out their Kid Card at Halloween because they like the idea of the fun and goodies of trick or treating but are conflicted about possibly tarnishing their coolness factor by wearing costumes. Another example is middle-aged adults, struggling with an identity crisis. They summon all of their poor judgement by pulling up old cards in a vain attempt, to re-capture their youth. Think…twenty-something clothing on a forty-something body….or the eight-inch long hair comb-over swirled around a follicle wasteland. Not pretty images are they?
Teenager Cards give way around 18 or 19 years of age, to College Student Cards, then to 20 Something Cards, then Married, Parent, and Career Cards, although not necessarily in that order. These last three, are the cards that we hold the longest and become our strongest identities. Later on of course, Grandparent Cards, Retiree Cards, Seniors Cards, and finally Elderly Cards are issued, but again, not necessarily in that order.
Unfortunately, for my wife and children, my Career Card spent a lot of time at the top of my identity deck. Some impacts on them were obvious, like my frequent absences on business travel and weeknight and weekend work. Other impacts, like the missed emotional connection opportunities, when I was there physically, but not mentally, were maybe less visible, but perhaps more damaging. Throughout it all though, they stood by me. In fact, they, through their sacrifice and support, they are as much responsible for my achievements as I am. I’ve certainly tried to be a good husband and father, and I’ve had a wonderful, fulfilling career, but I often wonder if I “coulda and shoulda” had a different stacking order of my identity cards.
So, now that I’ve retired, there’s this new card at the top of my deck. I haven’t got the Career Card that I’ve held for more than 39 years. I’ve been given this new Retiree identity. I’ve been told the basics about it, and I’ve imagined how it might be, but I’m still trying to figure it out and have it become natural. In a way I suppose, it’s like entering into the Witness Protection Program and being given a new name and occupation to learn overnight. And according to what I’ve read, my life expectancy and the future quality of life for my family and me are highly dependent on how well I adapt to this new identity. No pressure at all…right! The good news is that while I’m working on how to learn to be a successful Retiree, maybe I can get my Husband, Parent and Grandparent Cards back on the top of the stack where they belong.