Perhaps you have a secret identity … perhaps we all do.
I have watched Superman most of my life, starting with the 50’s TV show – black and white repeats at my Dad’s house with the “mole men” and other threats to humanity. Later, taking my little brother to see Christopher Reeve – about a year after Star Wars, sitting in the theater at Tyler Mall in Riverside – I remember it so clearly, it’s amazing. Since then, it has been a parade of actors, some pretty bad movies, a few good ones. They all shared one fascinating ridiculous pretense – that when Clark Kent left the office, no one recognized him as Superman – usually just because of a pair of glasses (although I guess the colorful tights might have distracted some). No kid wanted to be dull, forgettable Clark – they wanted to fly, be faster than a speeding bullet, and muscles til next week. I particularly wanted to have destructo vision – still waiting on that.
But, whenever Clark was gone, no one wondered where he was, usually. Even smart Margot Kidder set aside her suspicions. He never seemed to miss deadlines or have performance reviews, or worry about job security.
And of course, he never retired.
Perhaps these days you dream of retiring, not having to go into the office (although right now that may be a few feet away from the kitchen), being “free” to do whatever you want. And, you may worry about money being enough, or health insurance – I did. My plans didn’t include retiring before 65 – but I reached a point where, for a lot of reasons, I made that choice. I took the leap – without a cape, without the ability to fly, and without a job – it was just time to stop looking and move on. This month, my first “early social security check” will arrive, and hopefully that will cover my health care for the few years left before Medicare kicks in – if those programs survive. And, of course – if I survive. That IS my intent, but … hey, is your 2020 going as planned?
What I didn’t realize in this process – from the point where my job search, my dream career in my new home, didn’t seem to be “taking flight”, to the soul searching about budget and goals and what would be best for my new marriage and our lives together – is how much my sense of who I am was tied up in my job. That it was … my identity. So much so … it surprises me.
The past few weeks I have been shredding. Not the “muscle building” kind, the paper kind. Destroying records of my past – financial reports, resumes, representations of the care I put into my work over the decades. Job reviews, applications; cover letters, offer letters, acceptance letters – resignations. Going back to the 80’s when I never EVER would have predicted where I would be and what life would look like now. They all become pieces of trash. Decades of records that have no ongoing purpose.
Then, I finished going through my hard drive deleting files … deleting the electronic footprints. My career, all the efforts to convince someone to hire me, all the reports to demonstrate my contributions; the reference lists that, for the most part, were never called. It is sobering, a reminder that we have to sell ourselves to strangers, to package our skills and strengths and make it a glossy ad for everything we offer to solve the needs of our employers. Stacks of “certificates” to show I completed my required education for professional licensing going back more than 35 years … now, all – meaningless. All those bytes of energy, effort and stress – Zap!!
What remains? Of all the things I did in my jobs, the ones that matter most are the lives I touched – the people I hired, or worked alongside to help, to coach, to encourage. Their careers, their families, their dreams continue, and I am glad I could be a very, very small part of it. I am also grateful to everyone who had faith in me – in my potential, my contribution – usually they believed in me more than I did myself, hopefully I delivered on their expectation – but whatever the outcome – the door is closed, the desk is cleaned; the “trash” file on my Mac with the old files is empty, the shredder refuse going into the blue barrel.
That identity – what was so central to my being for decades – is now, just a memory.
Every stage of life – retirement, unemployment (I’ve been there), every door waiting to be opened – holds an opportunity to become – maybe not a superhero, but, to go after your dreams. What I have now that I didn’t while working – is time. You can earn money, but you cannot earn – or buy – time. That clock is ticking, and no one knows the final closing time. What do you want to accomplish before you “leave the office” of life? If you don’t know that tomorrow will come, how do you live today?
Perhaps it puts things into a bit of a different focus; maybe not. I am certainly adjusting my focus (again, where is that destructo vision, please?). In all this I remind myself that I have much to be thankful for, and the opportunity to share, with my love, good things ahead – quiet good things at home daily, and hopefully, adventures yet to come, in places we now only dream of visiting one day, together. I am no longer defined by a job description or pay rate, there’s no resume on file, and pretty soon, the suits, ties and Florsheims will go to charity. Like Clark Kent, I have left the building, but I have no phone booth to change in, no secret identity – but I get to form a new one. NormL, the new release. I get to work on choosing it, within limits. And that is pretty cool. I hope you too will see that your future still holds amazing promise.
Will I fly? We shall see. But so far, I haven’t bought a cape.
3 thoughts on “Clark Kent has left the building”
This struck me as your best work so far, though I can’t completely share your view on retiring the past or not being able to shape an innately unpredictable future. I think all of us can look back on memories of things well done, lovely moments, keeper experiences that we wouldn’t give back. Similarly, looking ahead, we can make plans, do things, give back, and pay forward — all in satisfying, “glad I did that” ways. If you’re not there yet in your new incarnation, well, there’s something to think about.
Dan, thank you so much … I don’t feel like I fully was able to express my feelings, and may have left a wrong impression. I am very grateful for my past, and excited about the future – but so much of what defined me, for so long, is now less relevant, if not irrelevant. I am struck by the depth of my identification with work and career, and the void is very much in my thoughts – I am just surprised by how much feelings came up for me in “discarding” and “cleaning out”, both physically and internally. If there is value in this for others, perhaps it is in assessing how we handle change, whether expected or unexpected – and there is plenty of the latter these days. But I am moving towards a meaningful future! There are so MANY future possibilities it is amazing – and good things do lie ahead!
Loved this one. I am not a writer I keep it simple.