Category Archives: introduction

Times of uncertainty

Bear with me: my set up is pretty spotty as I start this blog and try to pull my pages together. I wanted to post some initial content to see how things fit together — and to see if this might be a viable outlet. I needed to make some progress. Otherwise, I’d still be sitting in draft mode for the next year.

Now I’m seeing that people are actually starting to view these posts, so I should get my act together a bit faster.

My idea for this blog was to 1) write about the mental aspects of pending retirement and 2) to focus on post-retirement reinvention. Those ideas seemed awesome in February when I laid down some money to WordPress to start blogging. What a difference a month makes (!) because those intents have just become more difficult.

I don’t want to make my difficulties seem huge in the scheme of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have too many friends in the medical field who are fighting for their lives and the lives of others to believe that I have it overly rough right now. Still, I may struggle in trying to take the next steps in this transition — another unexpected lane change, if you will.

First, my retirement egg that was so healthy and fertile is looking pretty sad at this point. I get it, people (except for a few sellouts in Congress) are in a dither over the rapid decline in the markets. One part of me knows stock values will very likely go up again. But these are uncertain times, and we’ve not faced a near shutdown of the American/World economy quite like this. Will values indeed go up? And what will the economy look like at the end of this? Should I continue to work longer to offset the losses?

The thought of continuing in my job beyond the next year makes me nauseous. I’d rather retire on a small pension and let my nest egg try to recoup as I strive to get started in a new field. BUT… I may change my mind as the coronavirus situation unfolds over the next few months. My job and my salary might look a whole lot more attractive, depending on what happens next.

Second, our events planned for this summer are all looking at cancellation. While it’s too early to predict how the pandemic may play out in July and August, there may not be anything to train for as the organizers are unable to move forward with their preparations. In terms of training, my pool is closed, so swimming is out for now. No gym, so no spin class or weights. I can still cycle and prepare for our bike tour once the weather here calms down. Right now, it’s a bit like cycling in Siberia. I have my bike trainer and a TRX in the basement, both of which I’ve been using. The dogs are getting more walks than usual, but they don’t seem to mind.

The best thing would be to prepare “as if” the events were to be held. And if they aren’t, we’ve still done the work and (hopefully) made some gains toward 2021.

It’s difficult to live with so much uncertainty. Having a proper mindset ultimately will help. Now I just need to find it.

When to end a career

I never thought I’d consider retiring in my 50’s. Scientists are supposed to live and breathe their work forever. We become inextricably linked to our study. It’s why we get paid so little compared to other professions with advanced degrees. We learn to live on intangibles like recognition from an obscure organization or an occasional bone tossed from a grantor. But here I am, a career scientist contemplating my move out. I’m grateful that I am at a point where I can fully retire rather than ghost. At the same time, I can’t help but feel like a failure for wanting to retire.

Push and pull factors

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. My vision of my career finale was me, somewhere in my 70’s or 80’s, clutching my keyboard as they dragged me from my office. It had started as a dream career, and I would never be finished because I still loved my work that much. That vision has changed. Those feelings are gone. The job has morphed into something unpleasant and unrecognizable. The demands are crushing at the same time support for research is dwindling. Do more with nothing. People who I used to fund are now people who I compete against. And now my age and gender work against me. The decision to make the jump sooner than later was made easy, but it is not satisfying.

Not all of the factors in this decision are push factors. There are also pull factors coaxing me away. Factors like working on more fruitful ventures and making up for lost time with family neglected by an overly demanding career. My spouse is older and already retired, and I long for the freedom that he has. We want to go “do things” before doing things becomes too difficult. 

And I’ve grown resentful about losing my summers to fieldwork, every damn year for 30 years.

Retirement is all I can think about. It’s time to jump.

Following the emotional process

So what happens during the final year of one’s career, scientific or otherwise? What thoughts go through one’s mind during this shift? What tools can help prepare for the emotional transition? Obviously, everyone is different, and I can only speak to my situation. But I think it’s a useful exercise to chronicle this move in the next year. 

I suspect that the mental aspects of retirement are at least as critical as financial considerations, but we usually don’t visit advisers to determine if we are mentally prepared. Perhaps we should.

Why wait one year? Why not retire now? 

Even though I’m ready to retire, I lack a sense of completion. I’ve put so much into my projects that it would be a waste not to draw them to a close. Yet I can see me dragging this out far longer than one year. By giving myself a firm deadline, I’m forced to tie up loose ends. One year is a compromise between the push and pull, but knowing that I can leave at any time makes things easier.

What’s next? 

In the next year, I will be exploring the “what’s next” and how one might have a productive and meaningful second act in life. Is this really a retirement or a reinvention? What lifelong skills have I honed that might be useful in the next stage? My science skills are limited to a particular area — but are they useful for anything else?

God I hope so.

Sandy Bowe blog — an introduction

So, the facts

I’m a 50-something, soon-to-be-retired scientist who has worked in a natural resource field for over 30 years. I am a Wyomingite, having lived in this state since 1995. I’ve been married to the same guy for nearly 35 years, and we’ve raised 3 kids to adulthood. We have a small house on 6 acres located 7 miles from the nearest town. No trees, but lots of pronghorn. There are two rescue dogs in the house: an old, staid White German Shephard and a young, impulsive Kelpie mix. They drive each other crazy but are inseparable.

What the blog is about

I’ve started this blog to chronicle transition into a new phase of life — my lane change, if you will. From parent to empty-nester. Career professional to retiree. Yet, the transition is more than just changes in life roles. It is a passage to a life that is wanted rather than the life that was expected. Are we ever too old to do what we were intended to do?

I intend to find out.

I don’t know what that the next phase entails, but I know that it involves exploring physical ventures, such as bike touring, swimming, and running. Cliché? Perhaps. Every retiree wants to prove themselves, right? But I want to see where this goes and discover if there is a second career in this for me. Can an older woman jumpstart a career in some type of fitness realm? And exactly what might that look like?

The next steps

First step: get me into better physical and mental shape.

My job has kept me stressed/sedentary part of the year and stressed/physically expended the rest of the time. This needs more balance. My plan is to work to improve my strength and endurance so that I’m better prepared for a more physical lifestyle. I need to prove some things to myself and see if I’m really willing to work on my endurance goals. I was a competitive swimmer in my college days, and I want to try to compete again. Not just swim but swim really well. Then we have a bike tour planned for this summer, and I want to improve my speed and stamina. We’ve done this ride in the past and I was always a laggard. I want to do better. And, god help me, I might just have to run at some point during this COVID-19 pandemic because the gyms and pools are all closed. Bad time to reignite fitness training.

Second step: work through some complicated feelings that I have about the end of my career.

I am burned out, and I know that I need to leave my job for both professional and health reasons. I haven’t felt productive or capable for a long time. The struggle is both internal and external — the lack of adequate resources at work has left me feeling unworthy. I sense that I will be forever damaged if I try to continue in this position and in this field. Maybe I am already damaged. I do not exaggerate when I say that this job might do me in.

Third step: let’s see about getting past the first two steps, shall we?