What is your job?—a poem about retirement

Cartoon of man leaving a building called JOB.Inc, walking on a yellow brick road towards a cloud called Freedom.

About to retire? It’s OK to grieve for your job.

What is your job
when you no longer have a job?
What is your work
when you don’t go to work any more?

When you “retire”
you gain such a lot—like freedom
and time and multiple choice.
But when you leave

you have losses as well
so be ready to grieve
for loss upon loss:
a function, a voice

a dress code and your daily bread
a reason to get out of bed
a social life, a schedule
a ladder, a label

a space and a fable
and at your very core
a sense of who you are
and what you’re for.

These precious gifts
need reinforcing
not when you leave
but before.

Rachel McAlpine cc by-2.0


Even if you hate your job, it’s worth noticing what you gain from it. Listed in this poem are certain fundamental benefits of life as an employee or business owner or professional, in other words, someone who for years has “gone to work” five days a week. We can find substitutes for everything we lose when we retire from paid employment—but expect a period of adjustment, and don’t be surprised if you feel down. Some people adore retirement from day one: they have usually thought in advance about a new way of life that has a schedule, a purpose and a social life.

26 thoughts on “What is your job?—a poem about retirement

  1. Mr. Wapojif says:

    Albert Camus was a goalkeeper for a amateur French football team… and one of the 20th century’s greatest writers. “You are your job”? You are what you make of it.

    Innit.

    1. So he was a writer, and writers never retire. And he had a very cool hobby that provided a social life, exercise, a role and a uniform. Perfect.

      1. Mr. Wapojif says:

        Absolutely!

  2. mpardi2013 says:

    I found me before I found “a job”. So, whatever I did from there on was me being me. I lost nothing when it came time to just continue being me.

  3. mpardi2013 says:

    I found me before I found “a job”. So, whatever I did from there on was just me being me. I lost nothing when it came time to just continue being me.

    mpardi.com

    1. How cool. How triumphant!

  4. I loved work. I love retirement. I am content. Good luck? Good planning? To be honest, a bit of both, and help from others!

    1. Fabulous, isn’t it? A love of life continues to feed itself, year after year. Especially when we can recognise our luck and acknowledge help from other people.

  5. Anonymous says:

    we should find a new name for retirement which encasulated all these benefits.
    and a way for me to comment on your blogs.

    1. Yes to the word. Now that makes two people who cannot comment. Is anyone out there who can help? I’ve hit a dead end so far.

  6. Dan Antion says:

    Mine is approaching fast. I think I have given it enough thought, but I’m looking forward to it.

    1. You will thrive I am guessing.

      1. Dan Antion says:

        Thanks.

  7. Susan Taylor Brand says:

    I plan on writing for my job so I don’t have to retire. That said, the retirees I know seem pretty happy with the Endless Summer picture of retirement. And my mother, for her part, joined the school board for 8 years of recreational fighting.

    1. Love the picture of your mother’s idea of retiring. No doubt very satisfying!

  8. I don’t have the word ‘retirement’ in my vocabulary and that to me feels very liberating from the deeply entrenched societal beliefs we are often weighed down with. At 69 I’m still working and loving it and will continue to do so in one way or another until I no longer can. Working, in whatever form that takes – and it can take many varied forms – is to me is what life is about. It is an opportunity to share my accumulated skills, wisdom, knowledge and my immense life experiences with others who one day will be in the situation where society expects them to retire. Maybe my story will inspire them to say no to retiring and yes to life in its fullest.

    1. Perhaps your story has already done its work, for I believe that people in their 70s are the fastest growing segment of the workforce.

  9. chattykerry says:

    Beautifully put, Rachel. Retirement is an odd thing in the US. Many people carry on working right through to their 70’s, others retire too young and end up volunteering all week long. We wonder, with baited breath, how long we will live versus how long will our money last.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    It took me a while to adjust to losing the title of Professor, but finally adjusted. I still do the same things I did then–reading and writing. Just don’t have to correct essays any more.

  11. srbottch says:

    As W Churchill said, “Never retire! Never! Never! Never!” No, not the English Churchill. Wally C from Buffalo. On a serious note, it’s still fun to have a job that gets you up in the morning and out the door. At least, I enjoy it. 😎

    1. Sounds delightful. You’re wise not to let that go lightly when it’s such a pleasure.

  12. cedar51 says:

    I lost any form of full employment when I was in my early 40s and spent around another 15yrs, trying to deal with that…my health is now self-managed and I do the best I can. Yes, during those 15 years I worked as unpaid volunteer in 2 different “jobs” but they were very part time, and often I was missing for weeks, laid low. Around 2004 when I was in my mid 50s, I found I could do things, not employment – but things…
    Now I’m formally retired and I do what I can, when I can…often now achieving way more – because I’ve learnt some serious lessons particularly in the “self-managing model”

    1. Those self management skills are vital and it seems you gained them against the odds. Amazing that you often achieve more now!

  13. It took me time to adjust. I felt a weird guilt about not working,almost as if it were something to be ashamed of.

    1. So odd! But you knew what was going on.

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