Thursday night I was at a gathering thrown in honor of our environmental reporter, who also left the paper, and myself. I found myself talking to my buddy Branson. “So how’s retirement?” he wanted to know.
I corrected him on the “retirement” technicality, since most folks don’t retire on a nest egg that wouldn’t cover the down payment on a used car. I had to be more careful about how I answered, and here’s why. He preceded his inquiry with the story of a coworker who “retired” in January. She’d simply had enough of the grind, didn’t have anything else lined up, but suspected there was something better out there. So she took the leap. Once a week, she and Branson talk. When he asks how she’s doing, she tells him about not having to get up at the crack of dawn, about working in the garden, about keeping busy but pn her own terms, about living. “I know what you’re doing,” he tells her. “You’re trying to make me feel bad because I’m still here.” He says this, I think, half jokingly. Still, there’s that suggestion of rubbing it in.
When people ask if I’m doing OK (like I lost a kidney, not a job) I have to carefully craft a response that says “I’m doing great” without the implied “Sucker!” I’m not bragging; I just want people to know that it’s good on the outside. Yes, a steady paycheck is good. But sanity is oh-so-much better. It’s not that I’ve shirked all responsibility; I’m still a husband, still a dad. There’s still trash to be taken out and a lawn to be mowed. The former demand the ultimate in responsibility; They also offer the ultimate reward. A pretty darn good tradeoff. Conversely, the reward at The N&O had diminished significantly over the past couple of years, astoundingly so over the newspaper industry’s last few fire-sale months. I’d always envisioned myself as a newspaper man, nothing else. But when the time came, I was ready, I knew. It was time to move on and I was OK with that.
In fact, over the past three weeks I’ve discovered it was more than OK, it was critical. I don’t know where my next paycheck will come from or when I’ll see it, and yes, that obviously will be a concern in the not-too-distant future. For now, I’m savoring the fact I can now march a little more to my own drummer. As Walter Brennan’s Will Sonnett used to say, “No brag, just fact.”
The leap (since I took a voluntary buyout I feel justified in saying I leapt, rather than got laid off) has been well worth it. The free fall is exhilarating.