Back when the idea of retirement was just a distant glimmer, I often considered what it would mean. Like most, I usually thought about free time and how I would use it. Surprisingly, though, six years “post-career,” I’ve come to believe that retirement’s biggest surprise is also its most disconcerting: It’s the privilege, and maybe the responsibility, of finally being myself.

I always knew I wasn’t especially suited for the structure of an organization. But I also saw myself as adaptable, a team player, a valuable contributor. It would be easy to rationalize now why my career played out as it did, why I didn’t rise higher, why my ideas didn’t last longer, why I wasn’t more respected. That would be the easy way but it wouldn’t be (in the words of Ranger Doug), “…the cowboy way.” Objectivity is difficult, but without it there is no understanding. I see only now how ill-suited I was to to the life I was living: I wasn’t a good field biologist, my ideas were not that good, and I didn’t belong in an organization. In fact, as much as I considered myself a team player, I was constantly struggling against the yoke of supervision and organizational hierarchy.  

In retrospect, I used a system I wasn’t suited for to gain the benefits of that system: a secure job and salary, health benefits, an annuity, respect. But I paid a price in forfeiting my identity. I am at heart a poet and philosopher, a carpenter, a musician, a gardner. But all of that took a back seat to my 30-year acting job.  

There is no “lesson” here, just an observation. I did what the vast majority do, sold out to a system in exchange for security and identity. That I did so is no surprise. But understanding has only come with the freedom to consider objectively, now that the price has already been paid. And understanding comes with a price. Because now that I am free to recognize and accept who and what I am, what will I do with it?