Unpacking Your Briefcase

I recently asked DIL #3 what my son would like for his birthday.  She suggested a leather “messenger bag.”  At the risk of sounding old, I asked what a messenger bag was.   She sent me a link.  It looked like an updated, much more urban/modern version of a briefcase to me.  You remember those, right?  It was that hard leather bag that we would stuff all our extra work in that we couldn’t complete between 9-5. We would sanctimoniously take it home on Friday afternoon and then never pull it out the entire weekend.  Or maybe that was just me.  Now that we are retired, we need to unpack that briefcase and replace it with a much more interesting bag full of items we will be using in retirement. 

I was a nurse for my entire professional career.  You just need scrubs, a comfortable pair of Crocs, a stethoscope, pen light and bandage scissors with you when you are working in the clinical environment.  However, as with most careers, once you are in it long enough you move into management.  So, I spent several years in hospital administration and then as an instructor and administrator at our local community college prior to retiring.   I carried my papers and other work items back and forth in a more feminine version of the briefcase.  Several months into retirement, I finally got rid of that bag and have not looked back.  It has been replaced by a much more interesting bag full of items that I can now enjoy between 9-5. 

My newly repacked bag full of things I enjoy doing in retirement.

Items I would haul around in my briefcase and how I have repacked them to fit into my retirement life.

Goals and strategic plans

We all remember these.  The senior administration would develop goals and an overarching strategic plan for the company and then we were tasked with coming up with our department’s goals and strategic plan that would support the overarching ones.  It kind of turns my stomach just writing about it.  I always worked for companies that I believed in and felt were making a positive difference in the world, but building a strategic plan to meet their goals was agonizing.  I had plenty of goals for our division; I just had to figure out how to make them fit appropriately under the company goals. 

We also had to have weekly goals that we were expected to share at our “standup meetings.”   I don’t know if they still call it that, but they were all the rage several years ago.  My last supervisor jumped on the bandwagon and every Monday morning we would have our standup meeting where all her reports would gather in a circle while standing (so we did not take too much time or get distracted talking about what we did over the weekend) and discuss what we had on our plate for the week.  Personally, it felt like a contest to see who had the most to do.  A lot of my job seemed to be putting out fires, so my goals kept spilling over from week to week, which probably made me appear suspiciously lazy.  (Whoever came up with the idea of standup meetings should be hung by their toes.) 

Now I sit on a retirement board of two, with Mr. U.  We typically meet for morning coffee time (sitting down) where we talk about our goals and plans for the upcoming year, day and/or week.  These vary, just like the diversity of retirement does.  One week it may be planning a trip, and the next week it might be preparing to paint our kitchen cabinets.  It also includes short term goals like an evening out to dinner, having the grands overnight or inviting people over for a pizza party at the Gathering Place in the yard.  We also discuss our own personal plans and goals for the day.   This might include, hobbies, chores, or some short excursion. It is enjoyable because these are plans and goals of our own choosing that enhance our retirement life.  And… morning coffee in my bathrobe with my bestie discussing our retirement plans is way more fun than a standup meeting in heels at work. 

Annual self-evaluation 

You know the one.  A few weeks prior to your evaluation with your supervisor, you were asked to complete a self-assessment.  You dutifully completed it and turned it in.  Then when your supervisor wrote up your evaluation, it looked suspiciously the same as what you wrote.  Plagiarism at its’ best. 

Now my self-evaluation consists of whether I am meeting my own plans and goals for retirement.  Did I get the huckleberry jam made this week, take my dad a homemade meal, work on my new sewing project or clean out the closet, as planned?  I write in my journal most mornings.  I jot down thoughts and what I want to accomplish for the day.  I will also look over yesterday’s list and enjoy the satisfaction of crossing items off that I completed.  It is a very loose form of a personal strategic plan and self-evaluation.  The beauty of it is, if I don’t get to a particular task, there is always tomorrow to do it.  The benefit of writing it down is that I am more likely to do it and it prevents me from putting it off for too long.

Budgets and financial reports

I have never really like working with numbers, and budgets make me yawn.  I would much rather write a narrative than plug numbers into an Excel spreadsheet.  But paid employment requires us to do several things that we don’t necessarily enjoy or “excel” at.   Besides, I always felt like there were too many variables to develop an accurate budget.  It is just an educated guess at best.  But then you are held accountable to it.  I would dutifully try to get projections from vendors and prompt faculty to think ahead about what they needed for the next academic year, when they just wanted to get through the current year in one piece.  My stomach is churning again writing about it. 

In retirement we still need to be accountable to a budget.  After all, you don’t want to outlive your money.  However, it is more fun because you have control over it and if you plug in the numbers thoroughly when planning your retirement, it is pretty easy to stay on track.  There are still variables like the stock market, healthcare needs, inflation and whether Social Security will still be around in 15 years.  We tried to counteract these potential losses by buffering our budget with diverse streams of income.  We also paid everything off prior to retiring so that we do not have any monthly bills, other than phone, electricity, etc.  Therefore, we could live on quite a bit less if the economy took a major turn for the worst and did not bounce back.   Once you develop a retirement budget where you can live within your means, then you can sit back, relax, and enjoy spending all that hard earned cash.  After all, money is just a tool to be used to live your life well. 

Name tag and lanyard

My name tag was also a swipe key which gave me access into my office and various rooms in the building.  Of course, the lanyard had the company logo on it.  Our nametags had our credentials and title on them.  In leaving work, we also left behind the title that took so many years to achieve.  That can be a little hard to swallow.  However, our role at work, and the title that went along with it, took up a lot of our time.  A lot. 

When we retired and shed our work role and title, we also shed all the time and energy it sucked from our daily lives.   What it left us with was a lot more time and vitality for all the other roles in our lives.   Roles that I cherish and want to spend more time on: wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, friend, blogger, outdoorsman woman, creator, and probably the most neglected role of all….myself.  Retiring has allowed me to repack my bag with what nurtures me and makes me feel alive again.  So go ahead and unpack your briefcase.  Matter of fact, get rid of it.  Replace it with a colorful bag full of things that you have time to indulge in now that you are retired.

In full disclosure, I got the idea for this blog post from the book, Repacking Your Bags by Richard J. Leider & David A. Shapiro. It is an excellent book about reimaging our lives and letting go of what is preventing us from living our best life now.  While it is not necessarily written for retirees, the information can easily be applied to the retirement process.  Matter of fact, I included it in my favorite top 10 retirement books.

On the home front

Speaking of budgets, summer is the perfect time for free concerts, street fairs and farmer’s markets.  Don’t forget to include them in your strategic plan for summer!  

4 comments on “Unpacking Your Briefcase

  1. Oh, the goals and stand-up meetings! I lived and breathed strategic planning for so many years. It was painful and often unproductive. I love this particular blog, Marian. I am going to unpack and repack my bag! Thank you!

    1. Hi Karen –
      I was just watching a show the other night and the new boss was having a stand-up meeting. It still made me cringe. I had forgotten (suppressed?) how frustrating it was to have meetings or work that turned out to be unproductive. While I really enjoyed my career, those reminders make me appreciate retirement even more. I hope you continue to enjoy repacking your bag!

  2. This is a unique approach to redefining ourselves in retirement. The “briefcase” would include kitchen & gardening tools, recipe books, walking shoes, good books & music. No clocks, tight schedules around the work day, name tags, policy & procedure manuals, administration levels w/ chain of command, time sheets. Ten years into retirement, I’m still not over the slow mornings vs hitting the deck running. My mom used to say she had a morning meeting with herself – a time for reflection and planning. I do that now with morning coffee in my favorite chair looking out the front window at the horizon.

    1. Hi Mona –
      Those are some wonderful additions to refill your briefcase with. Slow mornings are still one of my favorite things about retirement too. I hope I never get complacent about them. I am almost resentful when I have to set my alarm. I love, love, love your mom’s name for morning time… a meeting with myself. Smart woman.

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