Existing Or Living: It’s A Choice

Is he existing or is he living his best life?

We’re sitting at home watching Queer Eye on Netflix (full disclosure: I’m only sort of watching because I am doing on some online shopping with my eyes) and someone on the show mentions there’s a difference between existing and living as you get older. This caught my attention. It is easy as you age to fall into habits and get into patterns that don’t leave much room for new experiences and personal growth. After all, you’ve been around 5, 6, 7 decades and you’ve got a history. People hold you accountable to that history. You’ve been defined, and being thus defined you settle into place like gum stuck under a table. You are stuck, and you exist in the well-worn grooves.

I’m going to be 54 in May. My husband and I will celebrate 27 years in August, and later that month our youngest will begin college. This is when the gum can get stuck to the wall. I know a lot of people my age and older (and even younger) who are stuck. There is nothing new in their lives. There is no freshness, no growth. They are existing.

I don’t want that for my life, but I know that since March 2020 that is what I have been doing. I have been simply existing. I’ve been lazy about self-care and home care. I have been going through the motions. And, yes. There has been a lot of change, stress, anxiety, and adjustment these past two years just trying to negotiate our Covid-19 world, and I have to give myself a little grace for that. But I am ready to move beyond this stagnation and start living again. I’m ready to carve out a place to care for myself and not self-soothe by checking out. I’m ready to accept myself where I am at and move forward and live again because time isn’t slowing down, Covid isn’t going away, and the longer I stay stuck the more difficult it will be to pry myself loose.

If you did a self check in right now, where are you? Are you living or are you existing?

The Best Job I Never Had

A funny thing is happening in my life. People are suddenly deeply interested in my career choice. For twenty years, I have been a homemaker and 24/7 support staff for my children. During this time, when people would ask me what I did for a living and I would respond as I just have, they would immediately lose interest in their line of questioning. I figured that was either because they didn’t want further elucidation on my career staying with my children, perhaps hoping to avoid what they assumed would be inevitable potty talk or presentation of myriad baby photos, or because they figured that I had no intelligent things to say because I was only a homemaker and caregiver with no perceivable goals, accomplishments, or interests. There were many times at parties and social events when I felt ostensibly invisible. In this country, you are only as important as your job. Taking care of children and a home is undervalued when held up to other careers.

Recently, however, it seems many people I know are curious about my future plans. I’m assuming this sudden concern is because our youngest is finishing up the first quarter of his last year of high school. The question posed is always the same: “What are you going to do with yourself once both boys are off at college?” After decades of no one having any interest in my daily goings-on, I have found myself at a loss for a response to this question. I assume most people pose the question because they are wondering what work I will do now that my current employers no longer need me. Some people have asked if I will go back to my previous career as a scientific and technical editor. Some people have asked if I’m planning to go back to school since I have been out of the work force for so long and might need some retraining. Other people suggest maybe I could work at Starbucks or Walmart because my resume is a little lackluster what with the twenty year hiatus I’ve had. Their concern for my future is a little puzzling given their previous lack of interest in the goings on in my life.

So, I am going to take a minute to demystify my plans so people can stop worrying about what I will do with the extra hours I’ll be saddled with once Luke graduates next June. My plan is to retire. My tour of duty is over, so I am going to find myself again. Maybe I will work on writing. Maybe I will practice a lot more yoga and ride my bike. Maybe I will travel and visit friends I haven’t spent time with in far too long. Maybe I will work on creating new recipes that fit my old lady diet. Maybe I will play drums in a garage band. Maybe I will make a bunch of AARP friends and play pickleball. Maybe I’ll get weekly massages. Maybe I’ll get bored with all that and find a part-time paying job or volunteer at an organization that feeds my soul. Maybe I’ll do a little bit of all of it. I have no idea. But after twenty years of having my life schedule filled in with other people’s plans, I’m looking forward to making plans of my own, whatever that might look like. And the beautiful thing about retiring from a non-paying job is that I won’t be missing a paycheck. So, win-win.

I’ve been lucky and I’m still lucky. I get to retire from a non-paying job no one thought I was doing all these years. At least now I’ll have an answer when someone asks me what I do. When I meet someone new and they ask me what I did before I retired, though, I’m going to have to tell them I had a classified job with the US government so the conversations ends there. Life is funny sometimes.