Am I unemployed…or retired?

I got back from vacation in Hawaii to learn I was losing my job. The company whose corporate technical magazine I had edited for the past eight years abruptly decided to stop publishing. The issue we had just put to bed would be the last.

The job—which was part time and freelance—came to me shortly after I was downsized out of my last staff position. It was a perfect fit. I worked out of a home office, on my own schedule, editing articles and managing the page flow. I loved canoodling with the writers—engineers and other smart people from many countries—and I loved our small but mighty art-and-editorial staff.

The magazine was a quarterly, so there was downtime between issues. And because this was a corporate gig, it paid better than standard editorial work. Deflation has collapsed pay scales in the publishing industry to the point where friends with decades of experience are offered a pittance for freelance editing.

Because my magazine had been in existence for 30 years, I assumed it would stay afloat pretty much forever. I imagined I would have the luxury of staying or leaving as I saw fit, and figured I might quit—officially retire—some day.

Now that day has come, and in the aftermath I’m unsure whether I’m unemployed or emeritus. I’m guessing I’m not the first Boomer to be ushered into retirement by a pink slip instead of a gold watch.

Should I chase new opportunities, wait for something to drop in my lap or hang up my hat and declare myself done? If the latter, can I afford it?

I suppose I’m of retirement age, though it’s hard to say just what that is anymore. People older than I am still work, and plenty who are younger have left the work force. Then there are all those friends in their 50s who wish they could retire early. I guess it depends.

My magazine’s publishing schedule gave me plenty of time off between issues, and I always looked forward to those interludes. It was great to have free time before the next cycle started.

But time feels different now. With no future issue to gear up for, time seems formless, shapeless and vast.

One thing I liked about my job was the way it kept me engaged with the world, exposed to new ideas and interesting people. It got me out of my bubble. Perhaps the key to a successful retirement will be finding a fresh way to engage, a new sense of purpose and a new source of intellectual stimulation.

Last week I met someone whose main retirement activity is trekking—or tramping, as it’s called in some places. He’s just back from Spain, where he walked more than 600 miles from Malaga on the Mediterranean coast to Santiago de Compostela on the Atlantic. The year before, he hiked New Zealand.

I’m probably not ready for roughing it. But the conversation made me realize that if I can think big, not small, retirement might hold some interesting surprises for me, too.



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