Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Adventures in Retirement, Part 1

March 31, 2009 marks the one-year anniversary of the beginning of my retirement. On that day in 2008 I received a call at home from a supervisor at my last employer (who will go nameless because no one really cares anymore, although they used to remind us to never leave home without one of their credit cards) who blithely informed me that I had been "displaced" from my job and I would be unemployed in about four weeks. The term "displaced" is one of those euphemisms people dream up to assuage guilt, despite their best efforts to pretend they don't feel it, when they do something stupid or immoral or cowardly, much as "put to sleep" is euphemism for putting an animal to death, because it sounds so tranquil and peaceful and temporary, which it isn't.

In an instant I transitioned from the "working" phase of my life into retirement. But truth is, I had already retired mentally from my job a couple of years before I got that phone call. In the previous five years my job as a computer programmer had changed from an interesting, fulfilling, and engaging occupation to a demoralizing, aggravating parade of meaningless, pointless and valueless tasks, mandated by some disconnected and disinterested upper-level manager and cascaded down through the layers of bureaucracy until to got to my immediate manager. My last five managers were venal, small-minded, petty, self-serving cretins, totally free of integrity, for whom I had absolutely no respect either personally or professionally. Their main purpose in life was to protect their own asses from any consequences of their overwhelming incompetence and to transfer as much work from their tasklist onto anyone else's. Some of my co-workers were interesting and intelligent people, but so many more were clueless and marginally skilled, and covered up their lack of talent by ingratiating themselves to their management, raising ass-kissing to a way of life. Quite a while ago I had disassociated myself from this endless, depressing treadmill of working hard, accomplishing little and not being valued or respected, and was just going through the motions of my daily job. Everything was compounded by the advent of outsourcing, where very intelligent, competent and skilled people I enjoyed working with were let go in favor of illiterate, incomprehensible, and annoying "offshore staff" half a world away, who were brought on board not because they were talented or capable in their tasks or had anything of value to bring to the workplace, but solely because they worked cheap.

I worked from home and rarely had to make an appearance in the office, which also allowed me to transition into a pre-retirement mode of thinking. There were entire weeks when I would do absolutely nothing related to my job, other than log onto the remote network and answer some emails or take some telephone calls. The system was such that I could appear to be working without doing a damned thing, and I occupied my work hours at home doing things that I really enjoyed, such as writing or caring for my rabbits, or even taking a two-hour afternoon nap every day.

Now you might want to ask, didn't you feel guilty about accepting a paycheck every two weeks for doing nothing at all, or doing things completely unrelated to my job? And the answer is hell no, I couldn't care less about guilt. Guilt is for suckers, and as a recovering Catholic I have had my fill of guilt. If they were going to pay me for doing nothing I was going to accept it with a crisp thankyouverymuch and without the least bit of regret. Maybe if I had some respect for the company or the managers inflicted upon me, I would feel a teeny bit remorseful about scamming them for more than a few years. But in fact I don't, and I went out of my way to waste and squander as many company resources as I possibly could. They were unworthy of respect, and got none from me.

So after essentially two years of not working, my transition to retirement was pretty much seamless and uneventful. Very little had changed for me, on a day-to-day basis. I had read somewhere when people retire from their job they are traumatized by the sudden lack of meaning and structure and purpose to their lives, and flounder around for a while all depressed because their work and the routine it imposed meant so much to them. I think people who base their lives and their sense of self-worth on something as arbitrary and ephemeral as a job are pretty pathetic, and they miss out on so much of what is rich and meaningful and important about existence. Why would anyone want to waste so much of their time and their effort making someone else rich? Or battling the faceless, impenetrable wall of an insensitive, unfeeling bureaucracy. Or even worse, dealing with the feckless, random vicissitudes of something called "corporate culture," a total waste of time and effort if there ever was one.

Luckily prudent financial planning and discipline have allowed me to maintain my lifestyle without a regular paycheck, and with a little bit of luck I should be able to continue that for the foreseeable future. Of course the economic disaster which has struck this country has negatively impacted me, but so far it has been manageable and has not required me to make a lot of changes in the way I do things. I have been extremely lucky up to this point, and I regret nothing. My life removed from daily employment has been highly enjoyable and a very liberating experience, allowing me to devote time and energy to things I really love and value, and which make a real, not imagined, difference in the world. I keep hearing that baby boomers such as myself would be miserable in retirement without the time-consuming distraction of work and the so-called "meaning" it adds to life, and to that I say BULLSHIT! Take it from me, retirement (so far) has been great. I wish I could have done it thirty years ago.

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