I must have been asked that question 1,000 times in the weeks following the announcement that I would retire.
“Why?” by the way, was often followed by “Can I have your job?”
The job? Daily newspaper consumer columnist.
Being part voyeur and part fairy godmother for thousands of readers was a fun, very public undertaking. As I said to readers in a heads-up-I’m-outta-here piece “I discovered that my dominant fear when taking this position (there would not be enough questions) was replaced with reality (I would never, ever be able to answer every one).”
In what other line of work do you have the opportunity to advise folks on the safety of drinking one’s own urine (generally it\'s not beneficial and can be counter productive when one is dehydrated, advised a urologist) or to illuminate readers on the fact that Santa’s reindeer (who sport antlers in a myriad of December illustrations) must be females? Males shed their antlers by that time; females retain them to protect young and look for food. Ho, ho, ho indeed!
But there were also the troublesome, less-than-bright queries to be addressed such as “In references to live music what does â€˜live’ mean?” “How long is DNA evidence viable outdoors?” or “In a disaster how many people in the country could be put in aircraft and kept aloft for six hours?” And I worried that I would make a mistake in print (I’m human; I did) and that I would miss it. (Turns out everyone really is an editor).
So each day at my desk and in the community was unique – the questions, the answers, the sheer joy of unraveling problems for folks. Being able to provide assistance - a case of Tootsie Roll Pops here, a sold cemetery plot there, a returned deposit for a Christmas tree) was a blast. I enjoyed the work.
But the job was one thing I was, not everything I was.
After more than 15,000 published answers and easily twice as many unpublished ones, I was ready for a change.
How did I know?
Years of chasing my life - including everything from volunteer commitments to family - were beginning to take a toll. Truth was, I was missing some great opportunities - travel with my husband, a chance to enjoy my adult children who were out of school and settled in their careers with (tada!) benefits like dental insurance. Yes, it was when I could not go on a trip to Hong Kong with my husband that retirement began to look very tempting indeed.
And even without the carrot of travel, his attitude toward my full-time employment changed over the years. The man who was thrilled when I took this position years ago (\"So much comes out of your mouth, Jane, thank goodness we can sell some of it\" were his exact words) now answered every small job-related complaint with “Hey, you know where the door is.”
So I began cataloging the things I missed in my *non*-work life (errands on my own time, a hair cut appointment later than 7 a.m., anonymity, a day without a deadline) as well as things I did not like about my job (annoying, drama-infused desk mates with incessantly ringing cell phones, the uncertainty that pervades newsrooms these days, increased unremunerated responsibilities, the feeling that I was never EVER finished, angst about copy details). To be fair, I also mentally noted the things I loved about my job (helping others get from Tuesday to Wednesday, the support of savvy co-workers, free parking downtown, access to Lexis-Nexis, a modicum of community notoriety, a steady paycheck). Other parameters? I had reached the magic age (55) which allowed access to company health care and frankly, my paycheck was not the rent check.
Slowly the cons loomed larger than the pros.
At the end of a few months of mental accounting, the decision was an easy one. With no grudges, warnings or issues on the table, I gave notice.
Because I wanted to.
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