In Celebration of Small Things: The Freedom to Be Me
‘I used to be….’
‘When I was….’.
‘In my job I….’
These are statements I regularly hear from people who have retired from work. They may have left their job two months or twenty years ago, either way they continue to define themselves by what they used to do.
‘But who are you now?’ I want to ask but rarely do. This living in the past by continually referring to your previous job, was highlighted for me recently while waiting at a bus stop with my three year old grandson. A man of mature years vividly recalled in exquisite detail some of his finest moments as a pilot- in addition to some of his most traumatic.
‘ He said I was one of the best pilots they had ever had…..’ over and over he relived the golden moments as well as decrying the restructure which inevitably left him out of a job.
The transition from paid work to retirement can be extremely challenging and most experience this as a loss and not a liberation. Even more so if your job came to define who you were as a person and gave you prestige in the eyes of society. I certainly found it difficult at first. My retirement was precipitated by death and deep loss which caused me to question the meaning and purpose of my life. Through deep introspection and counselling, I came to realise tha5 my life had been severely unbalanced and I had fallen prey to that most virtuous of all addictions, workaholism, As a self employed businesswoman, it was up to me to make it happen and I certainly did! Work gave me the recognition and reward that no other part of my life had. Learning to disengage from this dysfunctional persona, I came across the myth of Hercules. In this classical story, the man who symbolises our strength is given the gift of a cloak by a doe eyed nymph. He cherishes the gift and soon it becomes a regular feature of his appearance in the world, his persona or social identity. As in all myths a challenge arises when the cloak catches fire and Hercules is forced to make a choice-perish with the cloak in the fire or painfully rip off his favourite item of clothing. At this stage of the hero’s journey-and we are all on an heroic quest to be ourselves, Jung draws the analogy that this is 5he same action we must take with a persona that has become too comfortable and no longer serves our progression into the next stage of our life.
It is a sacred task to let go or strip away the old and move into a new stage of life in which we are free to be ourselves and create our own self definition in the eyes of society.