I accomplished my main retirement goal within the first seven seconds of the first day. At precisely 5:30 AM, as it had for forty years, my despised alarm clock blared Monday morning mayhem into my sleepy skull. Eyes still closed, I reflexively reached over to spank the snooze button when I realized with a start that this day was different. Today, this work dog had slipped the leash: I was free! Free to do whatever I wanted for the whole day. Free in a way I’d never been in my entire life. No parents, no boss telling me where I had to be and what I had to do. Free as an eagle sailing an updraft over a high mountain lake. Free as a lion slinking through the tall grass on a broad African savannah. Free as a dolphin leaping along big surf off a black Hawaiian beach. Free! Living for the pure joy of it. No longer waking every weekday and having my first thought be, “Is there any excuse I can use to get out of going to work today?” Not tethered by mid-year reviews, yearly evaluations, customer ratings, puny raises, or my boss’ scowl. Never again driving to work ruminating about all my long overdue projects while praying that I wouldn’t get sidetracked by the crisis du jour, only to get hit as I stepped into the office by two hellish crises du jour. Not looking over my shoulder at computer savvy younger employees or an ambitious subordinate. No longer one email away from disaster. Free of the weight of my boss’ expectations and my own petty ambitions. No longer having to make good impressions each time I interacted with every single person up my supervisory chain. Free of the burden of having to always say the politically correct thing and of constantly editing my speech to avoid giving any, even dimly perceived, offense because that was absolutely verboten. No more awkward small talk with my fellow nobodies as we waited for the important people to show up late for meetings. Not having to make everyone laugh at some halfwitticism during and, most critically, at the end of meetings. No more pretending that something of great consequence had been accomplished during a meeting and solemnly discussing it with another employee as we exited the conference room. No more spreadsheets. No more PowerPoints. Never again having to sit through any presentations of any kind. No more charts. No more fiscal years. Never again having to live under the tyranny of a supervisor’s moods. Never again counting to ten before responding to a provocative email. No more heart palpitations as I frantically search my crashing computer for the CYA email that will exonerate me from responsibility for some misbegotten project that has finally exploded into the flaming fiasco it was always destined to be. No more weekends and holidays ruined by a work crisis. Never again staring forlornly out my office window at sultry summer, crisp autumn, snowy winter, and balmy spring days. No more Microsoft Office updates. No more searching for lost files and documents. Never again fearing that the last thing I’ll see in this beautiful world are life-sucking fluorescent lights as I’m gurneyed feet first out of my office. No more thermostat wars. Never again feeling your heart thud against your chest when you’re suddenly ripped from the deepest REM sleep by the horrifying realization that you screwed up something crucial at work in some unfixable way. No more Human Resources, Accounting, IT, or Legal. No more impatiently waiting for vacation requests to be approved. Being free to drink a beer with lunch – or breakfast. Not having to answer calls I don’t want to take. Never again filling with dread while watching the lengthening shadows of another mournful Sunday sundown as I pondered whether this will be the week that my ineptitude will finally do me in at work.
As I lay in bed with my hand poised over the snooze button, all these memories and more swept over me in a tsunami of regret – and pride –because, even when weighed in the scales of the Old Testament, forty years is a long time to persevere through suffering.
And so, on the seventh second of my retirement, I fumbled in the dark for the alarm clock’s power cord and gave it a yank. Then I slowly rolled over and dreamed my way into the Promised Land.