ASKING THE BIG QUESTION - WHERE TO FROM HERE?

It's time to deal with some of  the big questions. Where to from here? What's next? Who am I? Who do I want to be?

MY LIFE HAS CHANGED AND QUESTIONS ARISE

Work has been a huge part of my adult life - I've been in the workforce for 40+ years, only stopping to have our children before heading back to the grindstone. Now that I've left my job, the big questions arise - Where to from here? What do I do next? How do I define myself without a job title? Who am I and who do I want to become? I don't think I'm alone in asking these questions because I've heard variations of them from other Midlife women. So the question I'm asking today centres around "Where to from here?"

HOW DO I DEFINE MYSELF IF I DON'T HAVE A CAREER?

Not only how do I define myself, but how do I find a description that I feel represents my true worth? Where do I begin when the past markers are no longer valid? Who am I if I'm not a working woman, or someone who does stuff around their job? What if the job I gave away is the best job for me and anything else looks dull or uninteresting in comparison? What if I don't want to work anymore? What if I'm completely over the 9-5 grind and can't face going back to it again and starting a new job with all the learning that goes with it?

It's time to deal with some of  the big questions. Where to from here? What's next? Who am I? Who do I want to be?

There are so many questions going round in my head at the moment. They swing from one extreme to the next - one minute I'm going back to my old job, the next I'm staying home forever, or maybe I'll just work as a check out operator at the supermarket, or find something that earns me a few dollars but doesn't engage my brain. So many thoughts whiz in and out with no real sense of what's "right" for my next stage of life.

SHOULD I RETIRE?

I'm 57 years old, I know a lot of friends who are retired and spending time with the grandchildren, or playing golf, or taking up a new hobby. It's not the end of the world to retire at 57, but is it the right choice for me? My husband and I have done the sums and we know that we can afford for me to stop working - so why go back to a job I might not like just to bring in some extra dollars for the retirement fund? Is it worth working again for another 10 years so there'll be more money in the retirement pool?

I keep flipping from "should I just stop and enjoy life now?" to "am I being lazy not working and contributing towards our nebulous future?" There's a nagging voice in my head that makes me feel guilty if I stop work now and don't set my alarm anymore on a Monday morning. Will I get bored? Will I lose my edge? Will I become dull and uninteresting? Do I need to fill my days with other activities to have value in my own eyes or the eyes of others?

WHO AM I AND WHAT AM I WORTH?

I think it all comes back to how I define myself if I'm not a working woman. Even working part-time, my job gave me a title and a label. People still ask "what do you do?" when they meet me, and how do I answer that if I don't have a label anymore? How do I keep my self worth and my confidence up if I don't have something relatable to define me? Is the whole concept of being a "retiree" enough for me? The questions are a constant background stream in my day to day thoughts - and the answers change as fast as the questions arise.

It's time to deal with some of  the big questions. Where to from here? What's next? Who am I? Who do I want to be?

BACK TO THE ORIGINAL QUESTION - WHAT'S NEXT?

Where to from here? That's the million dollar question for me. I think the answer is to take it one day at a time. Stop trying to look into the mists of a distant future. Take time to recover from the damage done by the drama in my previous job and just take time to breathe in, pause, exhale, and rest. I have as long as I need - there's no rush, there's no need to keep churning it over and over. I need to give myself time and the grace to heal and to just "be" for a while.

Not having a defined purpose is foreign to me, but life is all about embracing new stages and growing. Maybe for me this is a time of introspection, a time where I can step back and decide what I actually want to do with my life - being proactive rather than reactive. Up until now I've always worked because I needed to contribute to the household income, now that isn't a burning necessity, maybe it's time for me to take stock and decide what I want to do with this "one wild and precious life" (to quote from Mary Oliver's poem). Maybe it's all about ME for a change - and what I can do with such a wide and unrestricted vista - it's scary but also challenging. I need to embrace that and see where it takes me, rather than trying to run back to old habits that feel safe.

GETTING SOME CLARITY

As a final note, a blogging friend (Patricia from Retirement Transition) sent me a chapter from the book she's recently written - appropriately named Retirement Transition) and it really helped me see that it's not the Financial side of possible retirement that I'm struggling with, it's the Emotional side. Having that clarity is another tool I can use in moving forward in the process - because I realized today that I've been work-free for nearly 2 months - the longest period by far in my working history. Quite an achievement, but still the question plays in my head....."Where to from here?"

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Do you have any words of wisdom for me? Have you finished with your working life or are you immersed in a job you love that you can see yourself doing for years to come? Life changes all the time and if you're working, it might all change tomorrow - what would you do if you found yourself in my shoes?


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It's time to deal with some of  the big questions. Where to from here? What's next? Who am I? Who do I want to be?

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51 comments

  1. Leanne, Attempting to comment via Crome connection. So will see. :-)

    Thanks for the reference! I had a hard time with identity myself when I retired... and in some ways I still do. Being a blogger helped. As did publishing my book. I still don't have a "title" like I used to but I'll answer the questions "what do you do" with something I do that the other person might be interested in...yoga, a foodie event, blogging, the theater, my book are all topics I've used recently. I've only recently been able to say "I'm retired" without it feeling like I'm a slacker for not working. And I'm not much older than you...just 58!

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    1. Hi Pat - your comment worked!!! Thanks again for sending me Chapter 6, it's been another puzzle piece that's helping me fit this whole retirement puzzle together. My husband helped me work through some stuff yesterday too - that I'll be blogging about somewhere down the track. I'm probably going to bore people to death whith this stage of life but it's a big one for me (and I love that you totally get that!)

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  2. As a financial advisor, I work with people during their main working years as well as during their transition into retirement and beyond. Most have been working continually or almost since they graduated. Generally they have not been concerned about finding enough to do and keep them stimulated when approaching retirement; many have a whole laundry (aka bucket) list they’ve accumulated over the years. Some admit they have no idea what their next adventure is but they are confident they will find it. Several that retired 5-10 yrs ago comment that you have to give yourself 6-12 months to fully withdrawal from the working world, start to find your rhythm and find new passions. I am pleased that none of them approach it with trepidation.

    If you were hit by a bus; in the split second before you knew it would make contact what would you have misgiving about not having done? Go do those things and find other things things and let things happen. It’s okay to explore a bunch of things and see where it leads; dead ends are also learning . It’s okay to experiment with things you think you have no interest in- it may surprise you. Maybe you find a passion that you least expect. I am convinced if people are open to experiences they will find their happiness and some passions along the way. Have fun!

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    1. What wonderful and wise words of wisdom - thank you so much. I've been thinking along the same lines because I don't have a bucket list of big things I want to do, but if I made a to-do list, returning to a boring job wouldn't feature anywhere on it! I think I have to wrap my head around the fact that working isn't what gives me my identity - probably it never truly did, I just thought it did!

      What I have to figure out is who I really am - the authentic me, what I like what inspires me (my passion???) and get away from the concept of "what will earn me money" because that isn't the key I thought it was. There's so much to think through and I like the idea of 6-12 months to figure it out. It's taken me that long to be good at something as simple as Tai Chi - so maybe I can give myself the same grace when it comes to a major life change?!

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and encourage me - that's what I love about blogging - the connection and the cheering on, I think I'd be completely lost without my community xx

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  3. Hi Leanne, I've been where you are and my advice would be to just give yourself some time. You have been through a difficult time firstly with your experience with the owners of the business and secondly making the decision to leave a job you enjoyed (without the boss's wife of course). When I left work I was 57, I felt so lost after a few months with exactly the same feelings - lack of purpose, lack of definition, lack of direction. Now I look back, I would have given myself time and not stress or worry. I would give myself time to enjoy being at home and just have space and time to do as I wish. I would just take the pressure off because taking time out will be healing and it doesn't mean you won't be doing more with your life in the future. Be kind to yourself and nurture yourself and then when you least expect it opportunities will arrive. Enjoy! xx

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    1. Wise words from you too Sue - and you're so right. I keep rushing things like a bull at a gate. I'm trying to hurry the process rather than just letting it play out. I worry about so many things that aren't even an issue and then wonder why I can't settle into this next stage. I'm going to be pounding away about it on the blog for a while longer, but you're right about the feeling a bit lost thing and the lack of purpose and identity. I'm sure they'll come, I just need to step back and breathe and be kinder to myself - a difficult task for me for some unknown reason.

      Thanks for having my back, for being a great sounding board, and a wonderful example of how retirement can look if you allow yourself to enjoy it. Maybe I just need to give myself permission to rest? Another tricky one for me!

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    2. Hi Leanne, you most certainly do need to give yourself permission to rest. Enjoy the moment and time to do as you wish and then when you feel ready you will know! In the meantime you are a wonderful blogger, a great co-host for #MLSTL and my BBB so what more could you want? :) #MLSTL

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  4. Hi, Leanne - Pat, Unknown and Sue have all given you very wise advice. Give yourself time, take each day as it comes, explore a bunch of things and see where it leads and realize that the emotional side of leaving our jobs (even temporarily) can be a far greater struggle than the financial side. I admire your recent decision to leave the work force and look forward to following where this leads you. I foresee much positivity and adventure ahead!

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind words Donna - I've loved seeing how other Midlifers have tackled retirement - the problem was that I didn't think I'd be doing it quite so soon and that's why it's come as a bit of an emotional upheaval for me. But you're right, it's time and learning to adjust that I need to allow for myself - I'm just not great at being kind to myself by the look of things.

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  5. I say do want you want to do. I am kind of stuck as I just changed jobs and in a new retirement system (I am vested in my old one) and need to work at least ten more years.

    Take a part-time job in something that you really enjoy. Just my view. #Anythinggoes

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    1. I'm tossing up about finding more part-time work Patrick - my dilemma boils down to whether I want to invest more of my time into working for someone in a job that I feel mired down in, or whether I can find enough to keep me occupied if I don't return to the workforce - I still have some figuring out to do!

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  6. You could always start a cutlings business ;-).

    But seriously, I think the others have given good advice. I also think it's admirable that you're still concerned about contributing and being useful. I think that fact alone will mean that whatever you choose to do, you won't "lose your edge" or become "dull and uninteresting" :-)

    Xox

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    1. Thank you FDIL - it's such a dilemma for me for some reason. I swirl around and around and vacillate back and forwards. Ultimately I sat down with Dad2 yesterday and did some serious counselling stuff to figure out what's driving me to feel like I need to be working - there were some interesting discoveries (and another blog post later down the track!) and another lot of stuff I have to think through.

      It's a shame I don't have a green thumb though! xx

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  7. I think you've answered one part of the question Leanne - I need to give myself time and the grace to heal and to just "be" for a while. This is so important and take it from someone who knows!!!! I agree all these questions are very important to ask yourself. I've done just that over the last two years and even now I stop and wonder what on earth am I doing and I being too self absorbed and I often feel like I should be doing more. We are entitled to stopping for a while, taking a deep breath and seeing what happens. Enjoy this special time is my only advice to you. xx

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    1. Thanks Deb - and you're absolutely right about allowing myself the grace of this down time. I just have this nagging sense of guilt that I'm not pushing myself out into the job hunting world - I just can't be bothered atm to be honest, and I think that's a sign that I'm not ready (and may never be ready again??) to tackle all that comes with holding down a job - this last lot of drama has certainly done my head in! Rest and recovery should be my focus I think. I've also learned from your experience too. xx

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  8. %7 could be a new beginning! A new career. A new anything! You are so lucky is how I would look at it. Find your purpose and do it!

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    1. What a great response - and you're absolutely right in that it's the page turning and a new chapter unfolding - I just have to get my head in the book!

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  9. I say don't do anything just yet. When the time comes you will know what to do, but for now staying open to possibilities is the most important thing you can do for yourself. Make a list of things that you absolutely love to do and find a way to make money from that list.

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    1. I don't know why it's coming up "Unkown", but it's me Rena lol!

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    2. Hi Rena xx I think your advice is spot on - I really had my head done in by the drama of the job and I think some time to recuperate is definitely required - and I'm going to be open to new things because I'd like to think in my heart that it's not quite over yet. You've done amazing things to create an income from home - I'm a little envious!

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  10. My 2 cents is do all the things you like to do but had to cram into a weekend when you worked. A weekday lunch with friends or if your hubby can slip away is always fun. Take a class in the middle of the day instead of an evening or online course because of work. Your job is to look at what you want to do and have fun doing it

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    1. I'm finding that's what I've started doing Haralee - spreading things out a bit and having a little to do each day and then some lovely quiet time at home to blog or read or chill out - so far I'm really enjoying it!

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  11. Oh dear friend. Trust me, once you retire, you'll be so busy getting involved and fulfilling y our emotional side that these traumas won't taunt any more. Just jump.

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    1. Oh Chris thanks so much for your lovely words of encouragement - I know in my heart that you're absolutely right, now I just have to get my head into the game! I've been so busy basing my worth on what I do - and putting up with a lot in the process - now I need to see my value in contributing in a different way - and actually being allowed to enjoy myself in the process!

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  12. I reckon it took my husband 12 months to get his head around the fact that he was now retired. He also needed the healing time. He does a lot of volunteer work now that is almost like going to work. For us it's been a financial thing as well as an emotional one he's been on. My 2 cents worth is not to make a decision - yet - but enjoy your freedom. Write, play, & breathe.

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    1. You're right Jo - I'm not even sure whether I want to be 'retired', or to find a new job, or to do something else entirely - so many things spinning around in my brain (hence the abundance of blog posts on the subject!!) I do know that I need to rest and to get over the "trauma" for want of a better word - of the last job situation, so yes, I'll write, play and breathe as you so wisely suggest xx

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  13. Wow. You are thinking about the deep things now! You have infinite worth and value because you are a created by the God of the universe and He loves you. You are not your job. And lots of people find meaningful "work" through relationships and volunteerism once their career draws to a close. I am praying right now as you make your future decisions. Visiting you from the anything goes linky. laurensparks.net

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    1. Lauren you just said word for word what my husband has been telling me for the last few weeks (and what another friend told me over coffee this week) I'm not sure why I find it so hard to rest in being a child of God and not feeling like I have to earn my place in this world - thanks so much for your prayers - I value them more than you know xx

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  14. Here I am at 48 trying to get back into the work force full-time. But I have a thought for you. Is there something you'd like to try? I always thought it would be fun to work in a museum or library, so I have volunteered in those places to see if I'd like really working there. I am currently volunteering twice a month at a kid's science museum and love it. If it works out, I'll transition into working for pay. If not, I've gained valuable experience. If you don't have to worry about bringing in a paycheck, perhaps volunteering is a route you could take. It might even lead to a new career!

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    1. Hi Leah - I managed to change jobs and career direction quite easily when I was 52 - it was a more straightforward process in my head than this one seems to be. I think you're right about thinking more laterally about what I want to do next and finding a way to get there. It may be that I never work again and I think that's a strange concept for me to try to grasp still - but maybe over the months ahead I'll come to terms with it and what that leads to - it may be volunteering more as you suggest.

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  15. I think it's very interesting to read your post at this point. My good friend's husband passed away unexpectedly last week. Her world is in an uproar, understandably. It's changed my life a bit as I've been shown firsthand that tomorrow is not given. What do you truly want to do? Sounds like your job wasn't what you wanted. If you can make it without your income, why not take some time to figure out what you want to do? Maybe another career or maybe retiring is the answer. Good luck to you & keep us posted!
    -Theresa Muth
    fabinyourfifties.com

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  16. Leanne I would say don’t rush the thought process. You will know what to do when you know. Hope that makes sense. I’ve been where you are but decided I wasn’t ready for retirement. I did the checkout chick thing that you mentioned as I decided I didn’t want to continue with my career and working full time. So I now work casual, some weeks for 15 hours and some for 38 hours. The variation allows me to have my foot in both camps. People tend to look down at checkout workers but it is the perfect retirement job. #MLSTL Will share

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    1. Hi Jennifer - it's so hard to not want to rush the process. It's an intrinsic thing for me to want to know the outcome (often before I really need to). And yes, retail is still a thought for me - engagement with others without too much responsibility - quite appealing I must say. I'd still love to find a little casual "something" but nothing that takes away the freedom and flexibility I've come to love.

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  17. Something to learn, something to love, something to live for.

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    1. All so important aren't they Christine? It's getting that balance right the I'm still working on.

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  18. I am still working Leanne, so I haven't necessarily been in your shoes, but I had a similar experience when I applied for the CEO position where I work and didn't get it. I realized at that point there was no where else for me to advance on my career ladder and stay with a company I love. I could stay at the company and try to find fulfillment in my current position after a lifetime of always reaching for the next rung or I could start over somewhere else, something I wasn't keen to do. It was a big moment for me and actually the catalyst for my blog, "So What? Now What?" I agree with the advice from some of the others--let things sit for awhile and don't force a decision. I suspect the Universe will eventually bring the answer that's right for you. Good luck in your decision-making process and whatever your next adventure turns out to be!

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    1. The name of your blog makes sense now Christie - and really ties in with the title of this post! It's a dilemma isn't it when you know you're capable of more, but the opportunity may not come up for you. I'm definitely struggling with "is this the end or is there something more?" The "Now What?" of your blog title! And yes, I'm doing my best to give control over to God and rest until the new chapter reveals itself.

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  19. Hi Leanne - I know how you're feeling. I left my workplace many years before I had intended to. I left because it was a toxic environment which had caused me to live for many years with chronic stress - though I didn't realise that until after I had left. Anyway, it's been many years now and I still am not sure what I should be doing. However, over the years since I left I have been dabbling. I did a Diploma of Professional Photography. I've been blogging. I've been learning about blogging and social media and myself. Never before have I had opportunity to explore what I like to do and to dabble as I have been. So my suggestion to you is not to rush back to what is familiar or what you think you 'should' be doing. Give yourself time to work out what it is you'd like to try, do, explore ... and dabble! You deserve it! :-) xo

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    1. You hit the nail on the head about doing what I feel like I "should be doing" Min - it's such a strong driver for me. I have this time now to do what pleases me and that is a whole new ballgame - and I don't know how to handle it! I am loving the freedom and doing stuff that I enjoy rather than being fixated on a weekly routine - it's so different and I feel guilty enjoying it so much - I really need to be kinder to "me" and take the time to breathe and enjoy the fact that I had the courage to walk away from the drama and the stress and start afresh. I'm working on that bit!

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  20. When I was retired by my company two years ago, I thought it was great. But I'm back to work now. But during those two years, I was also the primary care-taker for my mom. And while I enjoyed all of the time I had with her, I missed having that "social" aspect of interacting with other people. So now I have a job with a lot less responsibilities but I enjoy seeing everyone I work with each day.

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    1. I think that's what I'd enjoy Jennifer - a job close to home, less responsibility, interaction and just a pleasant work environment. I think I may start looking for that down the track - but for now I know in my heart that I just need to give myself some time - and being available for family etc is really nice too.

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  21. I am so jealous, Leanne of your current situation. Deciding on whether to go back to work or not and then what next, is exciting to me. I know you'll figure it out and will rock it no matter what you do. Just remember, health and sanity first! I can't wait to find out which was you go! Sharing, as always!

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    1. Hi Bren - you make such a great cheerleader! I am so grateful that I have a choice as to where to go from here, but at the same time I struggle with the fact that my choices seem to be narrowing as I get that little bit older. I'm really hoping that a new door opens and it's one that beckons me onto something new and interesting - stay tuned!

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  22. Hi Leanne, I think you're asking all the right questions, and you hit it right on the head when you said that taking one day at a time is what feels right at the moment. I'm in my 60's, have let go of a busy 24/7 business to be closer to family, and am blogging as well as doing some other part time work to keep the budget intact. I don't think there is a 'magic' age when we stop with the gainful employment, it is different for each person. For me, it feels right to be working and generating income as a single person household at this time in my life.

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    1. I guess that's where I have the blessing of a husband bringing in some ancillary income, and being debt free from all those decades of frugal living has paid off big time for giving me choices now Candi. I'm not sure that I'm completely done with the workforce yet, but I want to do any future work based on what would be pleasant for me, rather than whatever comes along to pay some bills. I have a few options before I have to make a definite decision and I want to use this time wisely - so much to think about!

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  23. As a good friend of mine said retirement is just another chapter in life. I didn't feel like I lost anything when I retired but I did it at 65 not 57. You are asking good questions and I am sure you will decide what is right for you.

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    1. I'm finding 57 to be a strange age Victoria - too old for some things and too young for others! If I was 45 or 65 the choices would be more straightforward and I'd have the answers already in my head. It's the in-between-ness that's messing with my brain!

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  24. It took me a few days but I am finally back here! I have thought about your post a lot because "I used to be you" in respect of: 'who am I without a label related to my value as a worker?' I guess, if I can let the shoulds go, as I mostly can now, then maybe you could consider this too. We have so little in terms of time to call "ours" as the carers, the partners, the parents and holding down a paid role....I am finally, some year older than you, working out (ha!) that I can do and be pretty much what I choose now. We don't have a house of our own again (yet) I am not 100% well but very much on the way, travel does not have the pull it used to. I am finding contentment in now and it feels good. Denyse #mlstl

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    1. Hi Denyse - such wise words! And you're right, there's a large part of me (growing larger every day) that is starting to say that I've earned the right to have this time to myself. That we can afford it, and that it's okay to put my own desires first for a change - it's liberating and scary at the same time.

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  25. Leanne,
    I am not retired - because frankly we cannot afford it. But from 2012-2015 I found myself unemployed three times before I finally realized that my career had imploded and I could not go back. I had to begin again (not the first time in my life). But instead of sending 100s of resumes to apply for jobs I didn't really want, I began to consider how I could monetize the value and skills I bring to the world. I jumped into a few 'business' ideas I had energy around, offered some cooking classes, etc -- within a year, I landed on my new career (self-employed, flexible, totally loving it). Maybe instead of thinking about a 'job' that doesn't excite you, think of how you can put a price tag on the skills you can offer as a service to others. Now, every time a potential client or 'gig' presents itself, I can decide whether or not I want to do it, at this time, for this price point, etc. On the flip side when I want to spend money for a 'splurge' like going out to dinner or a book, I consider how many 'gigs' it will cost -- and am I willing to exchange my time for that splurge. Perhaps the 'gig' economy can offer you a transition into retirement. Just my two cents - hope it helps.

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    1. Hi Janet - thanks for your helpful words. It's such an intersting stage of life when you're in transition isn't it? I've thought about what I could do from home and nothing has jumped out at me yet. I'd love to have a "gig" or two that was flexible and didn't involve someone else's schedule. I'm keeping my eyes peeled to see what comes along, and if nothing does, then I'm finding that I'm very happy with this whole retirement "gig" too xx

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