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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

This Lane Exit Only


For the benefit of my younger readers who may wonder what it's like to be living in your sixth decade of life:  the experience of turning 50, I found, was very much like when you are riding a bike up a very long, very gentle hill; and then, almost imperceptibly, there comes that moment when you crest the hill and can stop peddling and begin to coast - very slowly at first - down the other side, smoothly, quietly.

All seems just as it was before you reached the top of the hill; and yet you know that from here on, there are no more hills to climb, no more vistas to discover - only the descent homeward, and at a quickening pace as you roll onward. 

Not without good reason has someone said that 50 is the old age of youth, and the youth of old age.

Sometime soon my fifty-fifth birthday will arrive.  I don't know how it is for women, I think they're on a different schedule - but from conversations I've had with guy friends over the years, it seems to be a common experience for men that 35 is a very difficult turning point in life; and 55 is shaping up to be the same, for me anyway.

Among other things - I have quit my job.  I'll still be working for a few more weeks, but I've turned in my notice already:  the die is cast, the Rubicon crossed.  No turning back now.

Which you have to understand is rather unlike me - a very improvident thing to do, not to say irresponsible, since I don't have another job to go to.  With the help of some savings and careful spending, I believe I can get by well enough until the first of the year at least.  After that - I have no idea what I will do.  Not a clue, not a single clue.  But I had to do it.

Of course, there's a whole long story and explanation behind this, which I'm not about to go into here on this very public blog.  Suffice it to say that for some of us, there comes a point in life where we simply cannot go on doing what we have done for thirty years, not any longer. 

More than that:  despite our good intentions and our self-recriminations, we reach a point of burn-out such that we simply cannot function effectively, either at work or at home, cannot perform the simplest, most necessary tasks.  Can't even fake it anymore, let alone do a proper job.  You would like to; you would if you could.  But you can't.  You just - can't.

Perky, practical people, the type with boundless energy and multiple talents who are enamoured of phrases like "self-actualized" and "positive thinking," will not understand a single word of what I'm saying.  Yet it is very true for some of us whose energy and talents are more limited that one can reach a point where all inner resources are simply exhausted. 

After a long struggle, one day your sword is broken, your strength all spent, and you simply cannot fight anymore, not even with yourself; the ship is swamped and sinking fast.  And when you get to a point like that, when the waters are swirling around your ankles, you know for sure that however frightening it may be, you either have to jump ship - or drown.  You have to choose life or death. 

So I jumped. 

I have no idea how or where I will make landfall, or even if I will.  When the moment comes to abandon ship, you don't worry about the itinerary, you just go over the side and hope for the best.  But this story could not go any other way:  I did the only thing I could do, made the only choice I could make.  It's not courage; it's blind instinct.

Perhaps some few of you will understand what I mean.

Right now I can't deal with thinking about all the what-ifs and how-tos.  It's been a hard, very hard and lonely struggle way out here on the prairie since my husband died five years ago, and the last year has been especially arduous; I need to rest and recuperate right now, catch my breath.  When you've had the wind knocked out of you, it takes a little time to recover.

I don't know where the road leads; I only know that wherever it is, I'm going there.

Wish me luck, fellas. 

16 comments:

Jeepguy said...

Boy, Russ! Your post here is like an instant replay of what was happening to me about 7 years ago. Just as I was about to turn 55, I reached this point of no return where it simply was unacceptable for me to continue working at what I was doing. I was making fairly good money, but I hated my work life intensely.

For me, the overwhelming stress manifest itself in heavy alcohol consumption, chain smoking, over-eating, and sleep disturbance. I was the perfect example of a train wreck about to happen, literally making myself sicker by the day and racing down the path to an early death.

So, like you, I took the big leap. It was scary, but that was the only rational choice. Fortunately, I had invested over the years in a retirement plan, so I was not totally without resources. I took an early retirement, which meant that I would be getting considerably less benefit than I would have, had I chosen to work another 5 or 10 years. The thing was, the way things were going, I was pretty well convinced that I would not be alive in another 5-10 years.

I have to tell you that I was pretty sad, confused, and lost for a while. I got a little crazy and depressed, but I managed to work myself out of it. It wasn't easy, but I made it (I think)! I made some lifestyle changes and overhauled my finances big time. Also, I went back to work part time for a while to fill in some gaps.

Yeah, I still worry about money sometimes and wonder what would happen if I became seriously ill and ran out of funds to pay for my care. For me, Medicare (such as it is) is still a few years away, so I live on the hope that I'll stay healthy and out of harms way.

Despite all of this, I look back now and know in my heart that I did the right thing. I'm healthier and happier (but not wealthier in the monetary sense) now than I had been for many years, actually.

Anyway, just wanted to drop you a note of support and maybe give you some glimmer of hope that all will work out and that you won't have regrets when you get through this rough patch of road in the ol' blue truck!

One day at a time, man. Peace be upon you.

Jeepguy said...

Just to clarify - when I went back to work part time, I didn't go back to my old job (although they did offer me that opportunity). I found something in another field of work, which was good for me, I think.

Russ Manley said...

Thanks much for the encouraging words, Gary. It helps to know that I'm not the only one who's come to a fork in the road like this. And that there is hope for good things to come. Appreciate ya buddy.

dave said...

Nothing but good thoughts coming your way - you are far from alone and I can attest that 55 is just another milestone - there will be more.

Russ Manley said...

Thanks for the good thoughts, Dave.

Jason Hughes said...

Godo for you, and wishing you lots of luck. My father has recently come to similar conclusions about life, and is in the process of downsizing, looking for work he'll actually enjoy, and looking to spend whatever good years he and my mother have left together. I've seen him struggling with these decisions, but I know he'll be happier now that he's taken that leap, and I hope it also works out for you--you're too good a man to waste at a job you hate, and I hope you find whatever it is to bring the passion back into your life and heal your wounds! Big hugs from PA!

Russ Manley said...

Thanks for the encouragement and hugs, Jason.

Calvin said...

I totally understand what you're saying. In 2005, I walked out of my job at one of Verizon Wireless's call centers without having another job to go to. I had a house payment at the time, but could not even function hardly at home, much less at work and even pretend to any longer at that point. Needless to say, I had to eventally sale my house. If I had to do it over again, would I do it the same way under the same circumstances? Yes, because if I had not walked out when I did, I would probably have killed myself by this point. You are not alone in doing what you had to do.

David said...

Perhaps I'm a crazy optimist, but it seems to me that what you've really done is given yourself a gift. Perfect for your 55th.

I expect along the way it will be exhilarating, frightening, and a host of other things. Brett made a similar leap in his early 50s and it's worked out beautifully (but it's still occasionally scary!). I wish that same success and satisfaction for you.

TomS said...

I'm glad I visited you tonight Russ, since your story has provided me with great motivation toward reinventing myself. I'll bet it will seem for you like waking up from a long sleep, and everything will seem more clear and vivid. And, seeing things more clearly will give you a better sense of the direction you will choose. I sense great things ahead for you my friend!

FDeF said...

I too quit my job a couple of years ago when I had an opportunity to work for myself very part time writing grants. It was not the first time for me - I've hated more jobs than I liked. So I've never had a pension or real retirement plan.

It has, for the most part been a positive experience. I work at home, on the deck or at the library; I have no commute. I make my own schedule. I volunteer at the senior center. I hike and garden.

The old conundrum of having time but no money vs. money but no time. I have cut practically all the corners and I have been dipping into savings. There is more going out than coming in. But I got my first Social Security payment deposited today, in fact, so that should help. But that limits what I can make in employment and will make my health insurance go up. They give with one hand and take with ten others. It does get me down if I let it. Leon is self-employed and this season has not been good. But we live well with what we have.

Anyhow, good for you! Sometimes you just have to do what is best for your health and sanity. Take the time to breath, to do what you enjoy. I hope the rapid descent proves not to be altogether true. I find that at 62, there are still hills to climb, but I tire more easily! 55 is the new 45. Enjoy! - Frank

lm1945 said...

I did the same thing when I was 53. I simply could not do it another day. So, boy does your story resonate with me. There have been rough times, but I would not change a thing. I could not stand the stress anymore. I have not one doubt you did just what you needed to do. I understand completly. Bless you, it will all work out. But you are right, it's a difficult crossroad. Reading your post was reasureing to me. That there are others who face this crossroad, you will survive, and be better for it.

Sebastian said...

Russ,

May the Lord lead you where he would have you go, and may you feel his ushering presence. Step out fearlessly and walk in beauty as you enter a new chapter of your life.

Sebastian

Russ Manley said...

Calvin, Larry - I can relate to all you said, thanks for sharing your experiences. It's a comfort to know that others have been where I am now, and not only survived but prevailed.

Frank, David, Sebastian, everyone - thanks for all the good wishes and lovely sentiments my friends, your support means a lot to me at this perplexing time.

Mareczku said...

I just read this Russ. I wish you all the best in the new path the you have chosen. May this bring you peace of mind and a new lease on life. God bless you.

Peace - Mark

Russ Manley said...

Thanks Mark.

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