It’s still winter in Wisconsin. After a week of record-breaking temperatures of spring-like weather — a hopeful tease of things to come — then came the rain, sleet, ice pellets, followed by snow and howling winds. We’re reminded that winter remains for a few more weeks before spring arrives. Spring is a season of hope and new beginnings. So is my life today, as I cross the threshold of my third act. Cue up Dolly Parton, no more “9 to 5.”
I’ve been preparing for this day for the past year and more, beginning by applying for and collecting Social Security and Medicare. I researched and selected supplemental medical and prescription insurance. One year ago, today, I found my new, more affordable home, and began to plan and pack for my move in June.
This fall, I turned in my work car lease, a Mercedes-Benz, a car I had always dreamed of driving, and leased a new subcompact Mazda 4-wheel drive SUV so I could confidently navigate our Wisconsin winters. I swapped out my low-tech flip phone for my first Smartphone, and lastly, replaced my 10-year-old laptop. Like the cars we drive, I’ve been getting maintenance and tune-ups on this 67-year-old body to keep it running a few or more years.
This brings me today to the threshold of the third act of my life (I know, I’m mixing metaphors, it’s what I do!). On Monday, I begin working part-time. I won’t consider myself semi-retired, instead I see myself as semi-working.
I expect to be busier than before, the difference is more time, energy, and commitment will be funneled into avocations rather than my vocation. Though a lot of planning went into this past year or more to arrive at this moment, my early adult life was characterized by the times and by “going with the flow.”
A true child of the sixties, I was bright, curious, and an undisciplined student. Though every indication of my academic record and extracurricular activity predicted I would be college-bound and on track for a professional career, I was sidetracked by social justice, community activism, and a culture described as a hippie, freewheeling lifestyle. I dropped out of the University of Wisconsin (UW), not once, but twice, first the campus in my hometown, and then later at the UW, when I moved to Madison.
Because of those choices, my education was obtained in the streets, rather than the classroom. I marched in support of civil rights and in protest of the war in Vietnam. Later, I engaged in the fight for equality and women’s rights as a member and leader in the second wave of feminism, became a youth mentor, followed by a commitment to gay rights and laws to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. Later, when my life temporarily began to unravel, I got sober, went into therapy, and joined the fellowship of the 12-step recovery community, sharing the promises of the program I received with others.
While I focused my passions and energy on my avocations, I still needed to work to support myself. Like my education in the streets, my career became a series of experiences of employing my diverse talents, while getting trained on the job. I cared for others, engaged with people, worked with my hands, and soon followed a career path of graphic arts and communication, sales and marketing, publishing, public relations, and business development.
Work History by the Numbers
- I’ve worked for 56 years.
- Began babysitting for my parents, neighbors, and middle school teachers at the age of 11. I had a thriving business. Because my father worked at the school and many teachers were his friends, plus I was a responsible and gifted student, I was in demand.
- At 16 — 51 years ago — I worked at my aunt and uncle’s diner, Bill’s Lunch in Racine, Wisconsin as a waitress and short-order cook for two years while still in high school and the summer afterwards. The experience was instrumental in teaching me how to engage with a diverse public.
- As a newly-married young woman, after abandoning what had become the “psychedelic, rock-a-rock, bullshit life” of the drug culture, hippie lifestyle, I became a union textile worker in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The physical work appealed to me until I yearned, after two- and-a-half years, to return to school again.
- My husband and I moved to Madison so I could return to school at the University. I worked part-time in a health food and vitamin store in the mall while in school for about a year or so.
- I grew restless again, and decided that I wanted to learn a trade, employ some of the artistic interests I denied while pursing my high school academic track. I picked up the phone book, went to the yellow pages and called the first screen-printing company I found, Advertising Creations. I called, talked with one of the three brothers who ran the business with their father, and was invited to come in for an interview.
- This began my 20-year career in the screen-printing business, first as a printer, then later as a sales account manager. It was a small, but successful family-owned local business. I thrived there for the most part, yet began wondering if I could do something else.
- The job created some stability in my life as major changes in my personal life were happening. I separated from my husband, came out as a lesbian, experienced an exciting, yet tumultuous lesbian adolescence, and went into outpatient recovery for alcohol and began my 30-plus years in AA, Al-Anon, and therapy as needed.
- The next generation of family members were coming on board, and I was laid off from my job to make room for them in the management level of the company. My employers believed that because of my skills, I would quickly land on my feet. They pledged to help in my future job search as a reference and they did.
- A client of mine, who became a friend, and a neighbor, offered me a temporary part-time position in his graphic design studio and to assist him in his recycled gift-wrap business for about six months. This led to a fill-time position as a purchasing and production manager for about a-year and-a-half.
- After a “falling out” due to a conflict between my vocational and avocational commitments, I was fired. Being fired by a friend was heart-wrenching, made more so when I was denied unemployment for “abandoning my job.”
- I worked part-time at Pleasant Company (now American Girl) in the prep and distribution center while looking for a job. I saw an internal posting and I was hired for their education sales and marketing position for the publications department, later working as a retail sales and marketing account manager, managing independent bookstore and gift shop accounts in the east coast territory of 13 states for two years.
- After Mattel purchased Pleasant Company the culture changed and independent bookstores were closing, due to competition from big box discounters and the Barnes & Nobles and Borders stores. When my sales declined, I was laid off.
- I bounced back and in a succession of jobs I worked four years in public relations as a project manager and print buyer, two years as a business development manager in a color prepress production house, almost two years for Punchstock, a fun, locally-owned stock photography business as a sales account manager until it was purchased by Getty Images, the world’s largest stock photography and image business. I was offered a position in Chicago but declined it.
- This led me to my current job of almost 10 years in an automotive dealership, first as a business development center manager, then my current position as administrative and sales support, which will now continue part-time.
56 years later, this is how my vocations and avocations aligned. I began my formal — and short-lived — college education as a journalism and communication arts student. My career evolved with a series of positions and on-the-job training, and my business, poetry, comedy, and activist-writing honed the skills I still practice and improve on today in my blog and activist essays and commentary on social media.
I’ve arrived at the crossroads of work and retirement. Unfortunately, because of my lack of career and financial-planning, I will work a few more years to supplement my Social Security and very small — yes, really, small — 401(k) retirement fund. Like many others, while in between jobs and relationships, I used my 401(k) as a safety net to supplemental my living expenses, incurring tax penalties. Also, there were as many dips and losses in funds as there were gains.
The good news is — and I always look for the glass to be half full — for the most part, I still enjoy the structure and collegial aspects of a paid job, though I want less of it to drive my life. I’m looking forward to more time with friends and family, more time in coffeehouses and movie theaters, and more time for writing and activism. This thread of activism is the constant in my life and there’s lots of critically-important work ahead of us.
I will need to tighten my belt financially, learn how to live on less income and more on a budget than ever before, create new routines, and explore my options on how to engage in my avocations, activism, and leisure time. I will be working part-time, yet living full-time. Over the years, I’ve been learning and practicing how to be a human being, instead of a human doing.
I often end my journal entries with the following gratitude affirmation, which seems appropriate today: Thanks H.P. I’m grateful. Life is good!
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