Out of the Office: Truly gone girl

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

A friend who had once taught a blind person how to play golf gave up on me after two lessons. Much as I can lose track of time when strolling through Pinterest, my abilities in the make-it, bake-it, craft-it world are abysmal. And how much more time can I spend with family before we all start throwing leftover Jell-O salad at each other?


Ah, yes, retirement. As my birthdays began piling up, I needed answers Google didn’t supply: How do I retire from a job I love? How do I leave a place I cherish? How do I walk away from co-workers I treasure?


Carol Hibernating Fox

I just did. Retire, that is.


I didn’t just up and walk away, however. Instead, I took to heart the need to clarify where and how the new me would fit into this world. And, the biggie: What to do with all that free, rambling, unscheduled time?


Binge-watch 241 episodes of Dr. Who? Travel around the world? Brew dandelion wine? OK, two of those do sound promising. But please, we’re talking real life here.


So last year was the time for some strategic planning, as the suits might say. Business jargon makes my ears bleed, but you get the picture.


And who might provide the most helpful advice and emotional counsel? For me, the answer was obvious: Those founts of inspiration, recent Notre Dame graduates, could teach me a thing or two. Seriously.


Here is what former Notre Dame Magazine intern Kit Loughran ’16 had to say in her “Goodbye, Flex Points, Hello, FaceTime” blog last year. When she left the University bubble for the “real world’s everyday-9-to-5,” she found the new experience of “adulting . . . at times overwhelming, challenging and straight-up terrifying.” However, she also discovered “the adventure of experiencing every kind of new: intellectual, professional, financial, social and personal.”


Her bottom line for adulting: “it’s a chance to take some risks. It’s learning as I go.”


New graduates and I are clearly on different ends of the age spectrum — okay, let me just say it, they’re young, I’m old — but we face similar challenges. First is that pesky budget. New grads who might once have relied on Mom and Dad suddenly face rent and utilities and, God save us all, automobile insurance. Retirees who once relied on a steady paycheck might suddenly face elephant-sized medical bills when the doctor decides you absolutely need a medication that your Medicare supplemental calls “Tier 5,” which means it’s a race to see whether your money or your life expires first.


New grads have to figure out how to stay in touch with college friends, many of whom might be scattered across the country. Kit does it online or with FaceTime or group messages. Retirees can do all that stuff, but we also face a bigger issue, as members of our social group sometimes, well, die. There’s no strategizing for that.


Oh, dear, it seems I’ve started focusing on the negatives here. And while death and destruction-by-health-care-costs is certainly a big part of what differentiates the young from the old, I can’t let those “straight-up terrifying” issues overshadow my senior adulting agenda.


And so, when I considered what young Kit had to do in her new life, I realized old me had the luxury of choosing what I wanted to do in my new life.


Which is what I did. I now have a list of various things I want to do, and it even includes taking some online classes — back to school for me! — on a semi-relaxed schedule, because taking it slow is a definite retirement-life perk.


On those days when I’ll wish I were back at the magazine, talking to co-workers about IPAs vs. stouts or what on earth that email from an irate alum really meant, or editing a story about the wolves of Yellowstone or a day in the life of an ER doctor, or grabbing some free food out of the snack drawer, I’ll take a tip from Kit. Instead of looking at what I’m missing, I’ll appreciate what new adventures I’m experiencing.


Or, as my retired husband told me, trying to calm some of my anxiety about my unfettered new world: “Just wait until January, when you can wave at the snow piling up outside and then crawl back into bed. You’ll love it.”


Carol Schaal, who retired in late September as managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine, has begun working her way through the first of the creative projects on her list, none of which involves cooking.