A Reader Shares Her "Ah Ha" Moment
“Oh, are you retired now?” “I heard you retired.” “How’s retirement?”
At first I was constantly quizzed. And I would rankle, recoil, refute.
“Nope,” I’d say, “Just left that job. I’m back to freelancing…”
And really, that was what I was doing when I did it. The fact that I was turning 62 and able to start collecting Social Security while I segued out of my position was only a slight coincidence or a case of good timing. That I’d been a freelancer before landing the job sixteen years prior didn’t mean anything to most who asked, who only knew me from my radio job. When you work in radio you are either explaining to people where your station is and what kind of music they play or you’re blushing as they gush how much they love the station and you. I was in that fortunate latter group, having been in the unfortunate former situation earlier in my radio career. I should tell you that it has been a mystery career as well, as it barreled forward in all sorts of directions including founding a cruise travel agency with my best, and another, friend.
But I’ve always considered myself a voice artist before everything else. At least I have since the first time I was hired to voice a radio ad. That was it. I was in love and hoped to spend the rest of my life partnering with a microphone. Fresh out of college, a surprise job offer came out of a research interview that got me my own office (dark and tiny, but it had a desk) and a job producing radio commercials. I was getting paid to write and perform in tiny 60 second plays. There were plenty of “Buy this now!!’ spots too. But the fun ones were, well, tons of fun.
But a few years in, and after getting on the air at a rock radio station that was something of a well kept secret beyond our small signal, I waved goodbye to employment and jumped into freelancing. Besides, I couldn’t play “Stairway to Heaven” ONE. MORE. TIME. I learned a lot, fast. You’d better if you’re the boss, bookkeeper, sales woman and talent. Within the first year, I was able to eke out enough jobs to justify my choice. And I kept it going for years.
And then another surprise job offer came out of a phone call that brought me to Long Island’s biggest radio station and on to their morning drive show as the new co-host. Turns out my attitude and sense of humor were what they’d been looking for, and I looked at it like another, albeit way longer and without a script, voice job. I took it, in spite of being a bit reluctant to give up making my own hours.
Fast forward sixteen years later. Sixteen years of going to sleep by eight to get up at 3:15 to start work at 5. Sure, the job was loads of laughs but getting to it could make you cry. And at the point that my alarm clock started triggering waves of sadness, and a strong desire to sleep past 3:15, I decided to return to freelance.
But when you’re in the public eye (or, in this case, ear) there are people concerned with impressions. The station did not want it to seem as if they were pushing me out (they weren’t) or that I was leaving because they were horrible (although they were). So they had a big on air send off, during which the word “retirement” was bandied about throughout the broadcast. That I kept correcting everyone who said it on air or off was a wasted effort on my part. They were adamant about flying that flag.
Even now, two years later, I still run into listeners who ask how I’m doing, now that I’m… well, you know what they say. I tell them either in minor detail or just a speedy grocery list of some of the projects I’m involved in, but then I start feeling like I’m talking too fast and trying to hard to convince them. And that’s when I understand why the implication bothers me.
Retirement usually refers to the gold watch, the dinner, the pat on the back as the new retiree packs up the briefcase or fills the last box with the pencil cup and their favorite mug and walks out of a place they’ll no belong. It’s not an age thing, it’s a dismissive, put ya out to pasture, we’ll take over now, go enjoy yourself kind of thing. It’s not old but done, over, bored and boring. It’s in our social culture. Women talking about how their husbands breathe down their backs all day, go to the grocery store with them, want to follow them around looking for something to do. I heard that from a woman I saw today, about her friends whose husbands suddenly have no purpose and are grabbing at them like life preservers.
I don’t hear that about women. I don’t know anyone who is officially, admittedly, proudly and happily retired even though I know a lot who have moved on from old, long held jobs. Oh, I take that back. I do know one. But she is overjoyed to have more time for acting, to be able to spend stretches of time in Texas with her grandson and is putting together a weekly music night. She’s not looking for ways to fill her time, rather she’s found the time for the things she’d been unable to fit in while working.
None of the women I know are trying to find ways to kill time. Everyone I can think of is actively plugged in to pursuits that give them great satisfaction, joy and a sense of accomplishment. We feed our souls while providing services, putting our skills and talents to work. And if we’re not doing it within the confines of having to punch in and punch out daily, well then, good for us. It’s not by accident that we’ve moved on to the occupations we have now. And in some cases, it’s fine if what occupies us isn’t tied to significant revenue or any paycheck at all. Sometimes the reward is in the doing itself.
So again, for the record, I’m not retired. I call it something else. I call it freelancing. I’m following my own pursuits, working at my own pace, taking leaps of faith, grabbing new opportunities, staying up late and sleeping til six. And this freelance life is going so nicely, I don’t think I’ll ever retire.
Cindy Clifford has a fascinating career story, and it continues.