When Are You Retiring?
It has to be said first and foremost…I love my job. I am a dean of students at one of the largest high schools in Minnesota. I have been for the last 17 years. Collectively, I have been in education for just over 34 years. And when I say that out loud I actually hear a little gasp in my own voice. I, capital L, Love working with students in high school. I love helping them to find out who they are and how to be their best selves…all in spite of being a teenager! And I love that no matter what year it is and no matter how long I do this work, I only work with 15 to 18 year olds every day, thus my perception about aging becomes skewed. I only see youth and opportunity and I can feel hip and cool saying new terms for new words, and I can even feel ok walking in wearing streaks of purple in my hair without being judged. Well not judged by everyone. And maybe not too big of a streak of purple. Or maybe I just wear a purple barrette…but my point is still to be made: I am surrounded by youth and it affects me by helping me to feel youthful. Until I don’t.
It just never occurred to me that one day I will be one of THOSE people who will be one of THE oldest persons working in the high school! That one day is here. And it plays out in a love-hate relationship almost every day.
Remember, I love my job. I love being able to brainstorm about new ideas, how to implement positive changes and look systemically at ways to address the ever changing needs being met for our school families. I love how I facilitate groups and and provide training to the staff and families. And now…well now everything has an ‘ed’ at the end of it. I facilitat(ed) groups and train(ed) staff and families. And I us(ed) to be ask(ed) for my perspective on our operational ways. Now I am not always asked. I am listened to, sure. But I am not sought out as I once was. If I am being honest, I am sad this has happened. I start to feel non-relevant. And I feel my age is part of the reason.
I tell myself I am not exactly sure of the reasons I am no longer included as I once was. I tell myself it is good to ask those who are younger to share their wisdom. But I also know there is wisdom in those who have walked before. From those who, dare I say, are older. And what I do know is I got older.
Now it seems the questions I am often asked have nothing to do with education and ways to implement strategies to better support our students and families. I am now the one who is asked when I will be retiring? When will I hit the ‘rule of 90’ for retirement benefits? I am now the one who could be the mother of a really large number of staff in the building. Do I offer to wipe the crumbs off their face like I do my own adult children? It is hard not to feel out of step. Out of sync. Out the door.
So the question I will ask myself is: How do I balance the dichotomy I am in? Based on some collective wisdom gathered, I will challenge myself to stay current. I will continue to write books on aging and looking through the lens of gratitude. I will provide presentations to other women to let them know we are not alone. There are many of us who are a ‘certain age’ and it doesn’t mean we are done. In fact, we do not have to succumb to the old rule of 90 or any other rule about aging.
I believe in the power of doing better. Being better. Not in comparison to anyone else or anyone else’s age. Just me being a better version of me. Because it’s the right thing to do.
Aging is not valued in our society as a whole, so it makes it hard to find pockets that do. Certainly any TV ad about aging will tell you to defy it by buying their product. It begs the question of why would I want to do that? After all…Aging is a gift. Not a gift given to everyone. With it comes some pretty great wisdom and experience. And with it comes the responsibility to know when to share. And when not to.
So is there a lessoned learned? Yes…there is always a lesson to be learned no matter our age. In my quest to find my relevancy, I have learned I still have much to offer. I am still in the game.
With aging comes some things that I might forget..literally forget! And that’s on me. In fact, I forget to let others know who haven’t known me all these years, what it is I have to contribute. That I have experience and a desire to still make a difference. Why would I assume they know? I am learning to speak my truths and offer up ideas. I don’t always need to be asked. And just like any offer of information or advice, mine might be taken or it might not be. But I do not have to assume it is about my age. Well at least not every time…Yep, I am still working on it!
Aging is tricky. Some things will happen whether I will them away or work with youth every day. But I do not have to decide that aging means I am less than. Because I am not. Aging is not a power over me.
Let’s be honest…don’t we all want someone to tell us we have food on our face no matter our age? So I will continue to offer my observation. My help. And may even brush off a few faces. And not because of getting older.
Because it is the right thing to do. For me.