11. The Leap

One of the last few of my Emergency Room coworkers and friends has recently retired. The place we worked for 20 or 30 years is almost all new-blood now, new-grads, and an awful lot of new attitudes. The place and the people have changed so much, it seems like most of the new blood went into the profession basically for the money. The old-timers, the veteran caregivers like us, went into it for other reasons. For the challenge, for the opportunity to serve humanity, and to be caregivers who actually personally cared. That has gone out of fashion now. That sort of thing is disrespected by hospital management, even snickered at by many of the smart young women and men who are the nurses of today and tomorrow. It’s not about patient care any more; it’s all about “customer service” and “productivity.” In the last months before I turned in my security badge and walked away, I  was often ordered to “Get in and out of the patient’s rooms as fast as possible.” and “Don’t get involved in conversation, just tell them the doctor will be in shortly.”

For these new  professionals as for all of us in every age, within their working lifetimes things will change again, for better or for worse. They will learn a lot, if they pay attention, from the patients. They will learn much more than their teachers ever taught them in nursing school. We veterans became masters of compassionate learning; we were forged on the front lines, the fire lines,  and “in the trenches.”

For more than 20 years I was totally “into” my profession and my work in the ER. I always said “I have never yet been bored.” And yet, the time came when that work was done. It was enough. It no longer held new goals and challenges for me that were worthy of the calling. I knew that this part of my life work was completed, and I wanted to do more with my life than fill a slot in a work-schedule, and it was inappropriate to continue such a strenuous physical load as one of the draft horses of the team. It had been a good thing to be; it was something I was proud to be; it was something I loved being for 20 years. But when it was done, it was done, and I gave myself permission to step out of the harness and set myself free to do something else. Then one day in January 2011, I did.

Retirement from Emergency Medical Service, whether it’s Fire Department or hospital, is a lot like an honorable discharge from the Army. You no longer wear a uniform. You no longer have to salute anyone you don’t respect. You are no longer obligated to smile and obey and serve everybody else; you can serve yourself. There’s nobody trying to compete with you or suggesting you compromise your integrity anymore. You are free to be your core authentic self.

It’s a new beginning, and like all new beginnings, it has some scary moments. But courage was a primary requirement for both of the jobs I left behind me: Fire Service and Emergency Medical Service, so I already understood that courage doesn’t mean you never have fear; it just means you walk through the fear and do what needs to be done, and do it as well as you humanly can. You have prepared your skills, your strength, and your spirit, and you know that if it can be done, you will do it, and your pledge and intention is to do it well. That same pledge fits any and all other careers or vocations you may now choose.

Retirement is really  the wrong word. It sounds like you’re checking-out. Most retirees these days are starting new careers, small businesses, or building new vocations on the foundation of things we always loved to do, on the side. Most of us can’t afford to move to the Bahamas or buy a villa in Spain , and few of us really want to. You and I are too young, whatever our age, to just take a permanent vacation; that would be boring.

This is when you realize that now you can begin to do some of the things you thought about all these those years, but professional responsibilities and commitments stood in the way of doing them. In your career,  you were like a train on a steel track; you knew where to go, there was only one way. Now you are cut loose, free in the world. This is different, and there is no track unless you lay it yourself, and there is no map.

Retirement is the doorway to your next “career.” It takes some time to adjust to this. For me it took about a year, a sabbatical year. It can take longer, but it will show up for you and you’ll recognize it. It will still be scary at times, but life  will surprise you with rather wonderful things in small ways you didn’t notice before. Everywhere you look, there is more to discover. When you get over the strangeness of the new life, your confidence starts to return, your energy grows, and your curiosity quickens. Your spirit opens, and one day you notice that your new beginning is beginning to begin. The only question you need to ask yourself now is: am I willing to become My Great Yet-To-Be?

I notice that the question is not “Am I ready?” Nobody ever did great things in life by waiting till they felt ready. It’s “Am I willing? That’s the LEAP. And yes, I am willing.

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