Facing challenges after life of working

When Charles Aznavour wrote “Yesterday When I Was Young,” he touched on a theme that resonates with so many of us. I retired early last spring after a 40-plus year career on Wall Street, preceded by careers in television news and local NYC government, working for Mayor John Lindsay.

I soon learned that my newfound challenges, frustrations, disappointments and fears are not unique to me, but are happening to so many of us, as our lives suddenly take a 180-degree turn. It is not simply about age, tho I’ll address that in a later column, but a realization that suddenly nothing seems familiar (although it is really a gradual process). We start to eat differently; we deal with a whole new set of doctors and medications; our exercise regime shifts; shopping is different; our travel habits change; our relationships with friends and family evolve; and nothing seems the way it was throughout our working lives.

I have always worked. I grew up in Westchester County in a lower middle class family. My father died when I was only 12, and my mother worked full-time to support me and my younger sister.

As soon as I turned 16 and got my “working papers,” I took two buses summer days to work at Korvette’s department store, and when I was older I worked as a counselor at summer camps to help pay for college. I then worked my way through college in the cafeteria and library (in combination with loans and scholarships), and knew I’d have to have a job lined up the moment I graduated.

It was startling to learn that this new retirement gig is nothing like my prior life — the high heels replaced with sneakers; the suits and dresses with yoga pants and T-shirts; the corporate gym with walking on my road trying to avoid the local pit bull and the poison ivy; restaurant dining with takeout pizza; and subways, buses and taxis with my own Subaru (my very first car).

Accustomed to an intense working day, I initially busied myself going through closets and cleaning the basement, meeting friends for lunch (I’d not taken a real lunch break in over 40 years), sleeping late ( I’d spent decades setting my alarm for 5:30 a.m. to go to the gym before work); and getting my first dog and suddenly becoming a “ dog person” (growing up in apartment houses, my pets were turtles and parakeets and goldfish, and then cats once I lived in NYC). Somehow I managed to fill my day, and then late last spring I left NYC for good, and that just drove home how much my life was changing .

So here I am trying to figure out what next, and I struggle. I love sleeping in, but feel guilty. I enjoy having friends for brunch and dinner, but miss dining out. It’s so much more efficient doing my own nails — now quite short — but I miss treating myself to manicures. I love the quiet on my road, but I miss the energy of the City. Then there are all the new things I worry about, like black ice on the road or running out of gas, CVS not having one of my many new medications, or running out of Oatmilk, the house being a mess when someone drops in unexpectedly, new aches and pains I can’t figure out, slipping on the ice, the deer eating my flowers, the dog eating the meat we took out for dinner, and so much more. These may sound like silly problems, and I am keenly aware that we live in a world and at a time when so many are suffering with very serious challenges, but for the purposes of this column, I hope to address the many issues that confront so many of us who, in one way or another, are just trying to acclimate to this new chapter in our life. I have actually compiled a list of 50 possible topics, but I expect many more will come to mind as I start to write.

Please feel free to reach out to me with your thoughts or questions at Gweng@millertonnews.com

Gwen Greene is retired and lives in Pine Plains with her partner Dennis, her puppy Charlie, and 2 Angus cows, also retired.

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