What Things Happened that Convinced Me to Stop Working

Like unusual March weather, my decision to throw in the towel blew in like a lamb, not like a lion. An occasionally bleating but otherwise quiet little creature of a thought that nuzzled me gently as it whispered retire. It’s time. The work world doesn’t want you anymore. It doesn’t value you and, let’s face it, you know you have nothing of value to give. It wants youthful, fast and inconspicuous. You have become something else.

The decline

The decline probably began about three years earlier. As a secretary, I did lots of tasks I could rip through quickly and accurately such as filing—until one day after completing a filing project and then checking it, I discovered a bewildering thing: I’d misfiled most of the documents. The signs were there, signs I chose to push aside in knee-jerk denial. But after some private moments like the filing incident, most of it started coming from employer feedback.

Slower than my peers

“You’re slow,” a temp employer told me the first time. “But I’m sure you’re more accurate than the others who are faster.” At first, I thought he was being kind with the latter remark, until he tried to hire me away from the temp agency that placed me there to do a brief data entry assignment, so he obviously didn’t mind that I was slower than my peers. Still, it threw me. I played it over and over in my mind. Slow. I’m slow? Since when? Maybe I was just having a bad day.

My perception was somehow distorted

Later on another assignment, I was hired to do some medical records data entry. On day one I handed my supervisor the records I’d completed. “Your work is accurate. You’re a bit slow, but it is your first day.” Again with the slowness! It threw me this time because my perception was somehow distorted. As though my internal clock was the old-fashioned sort that needs to be wound every 48 hours or it will lose time.

I moved on

On day three of that assignment, I got a call from my temp supervisor. The head of the department complained to her that I showed up that day wearing socks with sandals. “Yep, I did,” I began, “and she’s really gonna hate what I’ll wear tomorrow: a leg brace!” I’d told no one I had MS and still didn’t reveal it. I was told not to go back. I could have squawked about being accommodated as a disabled person, but I was still flying under the radar as such. So I moved on.

Stubborn me

The next to last temp job was as the exec assistant to the Chief of Police, and I’d be that until they hired someone from among any city employees that applied. I put in a few months and enjoyed it. But the slowness issue revealed itself once again. I was tasked with a report put together by analyzing some past files. I thought I was doing okay until the Chief very diplomatically asked me when I’d be done with it. I must have given a somewhat vague reply as he stood outside my line of vision. Suddenly he moved directly in front of me, though not too close, and asked for a more specific date. I realized I’d been in a kind of stupor and he must have sensed it. I told him it would be ready the next day and it was. I felt bad about it, he was much beloved by the community, great at his job and a nice person to handle me so well. Now the handwriting was on the wall, only in darker ink this time. But stubborn me had one more lesson to learn.

A final lesson

The last temp job taught me a final lesson during a product training. It started out rocky when I couldn’t see the computer monitor and said as much, probably none too tactfully. The trainer immediately fixed the problem very easily, something I couldn’t think to do myself. Then I struggled to absorb all the new information and realized at the end that I’d need to follow up with the trainer for a review. That seemed to initiate a visit from a manager, though nothing confrontational. I behaved myself well and nothing else happened. We were all laid off when the company announced it would close its doors. That was the last time I ever did office work at a brick and mortar institution.

Change is hard

Given all that, I still waited a year before submitting a claim for Social Security Disability. I was fortunate to be carried financially by a loved one that year, but I felt miserably guilty for not working and ashamed to be dependent. My value was so caught up in contributing to the workplace in exchange for earnings that it took a while to give myself permission to feel comfortable and relieved in the role of retiree by the time my Social Security checks started rolling in.

Change is hard no matter what the circumstances. It seems that the biggest challenge is having to get creative about new ways to see my value in the world, and in myself.

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