Today is an important day. I have given it a lot of thought, and I’ve decided to take an early retirement. Today, I am retiring.
You’re confused, understandably. So I’ll explain. But where to begin…
I guess I’ll start in Harrisburg, PA. I moved to Harrisburg about six months after I graduated from college. I had managed to leave Fredonia State with a barely presentable resume and zero job offers, despite a banging final GPA. So when I finally got a job offer in another city, I jumped on it. Granted, it wasn’t New York City, nor was it anything I was interested in doing long term, but it was better than nothing.
I lasted just under two years in Harrisburg. I met some great people and had a hell of time cheering at the Farm Show Complex (that’s really its name) for the Harrisburg Heat, a major league indoor soccer team. But Monday through Friday, staring at multi-colored spreadsheets and making copies for middle-aged men who couldn’t be bothered to figure out the Xerox machine, I would wonder exactly where I’d gone wrong and questioned the point of having bothered to go to college at all. I was wildly disappointed in adult life.
Graduating with a B.A. in Psychology, I knew it was only a matter of when, not if, I was going to go to grad school (I’ll save my opinionated rant about our culture of having teenagers decide their future for another time). Seeing this as an opportunity to change direction, a do-over of sorts, I thought about the things I’d like to get paid to do. Around this time, Trading Spaces on TLC was all the rage. And since I had such a great time customizing my first apartment, interior design seemed like a good way to go.
I packed up all of my stuff (again) and moved to a city where I knew no one (again) on a Saturday and started the accelerated summer session that Monday. Sweet Lord Jesus. That summer was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Since it was an accelerated class, assignments and projects that you’d normally have a week to work on were due the next day. After a while, I just stopped leaving the studio. At any given time of day or night, you’d find no less than ten design students in the studio with paint on their faces, Exacto blade cuts on their hands, and tears in their eyes. We didn’t sleep. We ate only things that could be found at the 7-11 across the street from campus. But I kind of loved it. Despite the omnipresent tears of exhaustion and a chronic lack of a shower, I loved the fact that our homework involved sitting in city parks with sketch books. And that it was REQUIRED we go to the Art Museum for class.
It was an intense and difficult three-year program, but I did it. I went to school full time and worked nights and weekends at various restaurants in the city. The downside of pursuing this endeavor on my own was that there was no second income to lean on. So while I knew it was a better move in the long term to take a low paying internship at a design firm, in the short term I had Philly-priced rent to pay and restaurant land just paid better. So it was not surprising that when I graduated in 2005, it was with no job offers, no prospects, and a slight feeling of failure.
It was close to a year before I finally got a job offer. For the second time in my adult life, I had a job offer I wasn’t particularly excited about. The money was borderline insulting. By the time I showed up on my first day, the woman who’d hired me had been fired, but it was all I had. So, I took it. I was there for less than a year when I found an opportunity at a residential design firm that was more in line with where I wanted my fledgling design career to go. I got the job, got a big increase in pay, they gave me a laptop and a work phone. I’ll tell you what, that Razor flip phone really made me feel like I had made it.
This brings us to 2008. Right about the time that the world started free falling. Wall Street had ruined everything, Americans were losing their jobs at the speed of light, and houses were being foreclosed on with a depressing regularity. People couldn’t afford their homes anymore, so they sure as shit couldn’t afford to pay $100 an hour for me to tell them what kind of sofa they should buy. So, like thousands of other hardworking folks, through no fault of my own, I lost my job. One Thursday morning, I showed up to work only to find out that I didn’t work there anymore.
I’m no stranger to disappointment. In fact, I pride myself on managing life’s disappointment like a champ. But this one hurt. It hurt bad. I don’t mind telling you that I worked my ASS off at that job. I came in early and stayed hours past dinnertime every day. I did everything I could to do a good job, to make my clients happy, and keep my insane boss content (you know those crazy, creative types). And to see that, in the end, it didn’t seem to matter, that it was all for nothing was really hard. Not to mention the shame of losing your job. UGH. I got laid off in September, just in time for the holiday season. So at every party or family dinner, I awkwardly tried to come up with a response to “So, what are you going to do?” or “How’s work?”
I’m going to level with you; it sucked a million.
While the economy was down for the count and design jobs were almost nonexistent, I did what I had to do to pay them bills. I waitressed. I hostessed. I answered phones. I house sat. I dog sat. I had two or three part-time jobs at any given time. I did that dance for close to 18 months when I stumbled upon a temporary but full-time position at Sunoco, Inc.
The original plan was to stay there for a year or so until I figured out what the next step in my design career would be. That first year zipped by. In all honestly, I could not have cared less about the nature of the work or the subject matter at hand (pension plans and retirement benefits). But I being my father’s daughter, I equate my self-worth to the job that I do. So, I worked hard; as hard as I could, because… Actually, I don’t know why, that’s just what I know to do. It wasn’t too surprising that I was eventually offered a permanent position. The money and benefits were exponentially better than what I was getting working in the creative field (which is such bullshit, but we can talk about that another time). So for the third time, I settled for a job offer I was lukewarm about. I figured the bird in my hand was better than waiting to see what might not be in the bush.
One year became two. Then three, and then four. I was painfully bored and unchallenged, yet still working my face off to get everything done and to make everyone happy. I got promoted. I received bonuses. I was no longer living week to week or paycheck to paycheck. I could sign up for automatic bill pay without fear that I might accidentally overdraw my checking account. I could go out to dinner with friends at a moment’s notice without having to do complicated math afterwards to see just how fucked I was going to be for the rest of the month because I spent $40 that night.
But I was MISERABLE. So miserable that, after I while, I stopped noticing how unhappy I was. My friends noticed. Well, some of them. Other friends living the same grind would kind of just brush it off and chalk it up to the idea that being a grown up sucks, and that’s just how it is. We lived for Friday, when we’d celebrate that 5/7th of our week was over so we could finally enjoy life for two days. We’d go out on weekends, get drunk at brunch Sunday morning, and lament about having to go to work the next day. I worked a lot, made the most I could out of my two weeks of vacation, and decided to continue to stay comfortably miserable until I could figure out what I should do next.
Then, something big happened. The first of two game changers. Sunoco was sold. We were bought out by a small energy company based in Texas. While initially it was hard to say what exactly this would mean for us, I felt safe assuming that it wasn’t going to be good.
The transition of being acquired by the new company wasn’t an easy one. We lost lots of people while departments were re-organized, yet we acquired more and more work. Bonuses seemed to fade away, other perks were phased out, and all the while we worked harder and harder just to stay above water. And let’s face it, to keep our jobs.
Eventually, the inevitable arrived. We were given the choice—move to Texas or get laid off. Oof. Well, I can’t go to Texas. With all due respect, Texas, NO. I can’t. I’m too cynical, too pro-gun control, and too Northeast for that big red state. And while I agree, The Misadventures of Liberal Girl in the Lone Star State would make for a great comic book, I think in actuality, it would only ruin my streak of not being arrested for disorderly conduct.
I was being asked to go somewhere I didn’t want to go to do something I didn’t really want to do, my job. For me, it was a no-brainer. But interestingly enough, a lot of people didn’t see the situation quite as clearly. I was reminded A LOT that I am not married, that I am not in a relationship, and that I don’t have kids. “Why wouldn’t you move? You’re alone. Now’s the time make a big move.” “You don’t have a husband or children to worry about, you should totally do it.”
Ok. First of all, you don’t need to remind someone who is on their own that they are on their own. It’s not like I forgot, or like I lost track of the fact that I have no one who is obligated to help me in life. Also, it’s insulting. The implication is that because I don’t have a husband or kids there is nothing else in my life other than my job that might prevent me from picking up and moving to another time zone and my least favorite state. Being single without children just makes me easy to move, logistically speaking. But once I get to Texas, I don’t have a husband or kids to keep me company. With no friends or family, I’ll ONLY have my job, which we’ve already established, I don’t love.
So, as I do, I tortured myself trying to figure out what to do next before time ran out. I couldn’t get laid off again. What would people think? I would look like the world’s biggest idiot. “Oh, you know Raina, she just can’t seem to get it together.” I would come home after nine, ten hours in the office and try to look at jobs. But it just made me more anxious, depressed, and confused. At this point, I’d been out of the design game longer than I’d been in it. Not to mention, going back to design meant a major, MAJOR pay cut. And that would make me feel like a failure. So, I guess I just have to make a career out of HR and benefits, right? But I hate it so much. This is how it would go every night: I’d look at the job postings I was qualified for, I’d decide that I didn’t want to do ANY of that, I’d get frustrated and scared, so I’d stop looking at job posts and spend the hours left before bed watching Parks and Rec.
I did this for months. Meanwhile, at work, I was suffocating. I started crying in the ladies room with regularity. I had gotten very good at straight up sobbing without making a sound. That’s a talent. I just very truly didn’t know what to do, what I should do, what I was supposed to do. I couldn’t shake the feeling that time was passing me by, which was terrifying, and I couldn’t figure out where I’d gone wrong, how I’d let it get to this. There had to be more than this; this couldn’t be it. Life can’t possibly be just working this hard to pay bills until I die. And if it IS, then why should I bother?
By now, it was the winter of 2014. That’s when the second big thing happened.
Ol’ Raina B. had something of a health scare. No need to worry. I’m fine, totally healthy. But for a month in December, there was a possibility that I wasn’t. I’ll tell you what, the mere suggestion that you might have cancer (or may develop it down the road) will really shake things up. It was during that month, from the time when I heard the news to the time that I got the test results, that I came to my conclusion.
Everyone was right. I am on my own. And if there was ever a time to make a move, it’s now. So I decided that not only am I not going to take a job in Houston, I’m not going to take any job. Instead, I decided to ride the Sunoco train to the end of the line, and then I will take that severance package and take a leap.
I don’t know what I’m going do exactly; I have some ideas and some loose plans. I’ll figure it out. I always do. Looking back, I see that I have made it through some pretty unpleasant times. It wasn’t easy, but I am a smart girl and a hard worker who does what it takes to pay my bills and take care of myself. I’ve done it before, so I know I can do it again. And this time, I am almost ten years wiser and with more money in the bank (and a better understanding of how not to completely piss money away).
So, yeah. I’m retiring. I am retiring from the world of desk jobs and “careers” and two weeks of vacation. Instead, I am going to try out all of the little jobs and creative endeavors I would normally wait until retirement to test out. I am going to travel and take the trips I want to take now, while I can still walk miles at a time and while my knees can still handle going up and down stairs. While my back can handle carrying around my bag, my laptop and my yoga mat. And then, when I can’t do it anymore, because either the money runs out of my desire for adventure does, I’ll come out of retirement.
I mean, let’s be real here. Mine is the first generation to be worse off than our parents. My generation very well may be the first to be unable to retire in the traditional sense. And if that is the case, if there is the very real possibility that I am going to have to work for the rest of my life anyway, then I’m going to take a break now. While I can. While I’m still on my own.
I would like to thank the friends who have pushed me into the conversations I tried so hard to avoid, who wouldn’t let me settle for comfortable misery. I would like to thank the family members who haven’t preached about how irresponsible I’m being. I would like to thank JJP for reminding me that I have more hustle in me than the average bear. And lastly, I would like to express nothing but gratitude to Sunoco/ETP and all of the people I worked with there. If not for the opportunity at Sunoco, and if I hadn’t overstayed my welcome by five years, I would not be in the position to take this chance.
Above all else, I want to sincerely thank everyone who played a part in showing me what I didn’t see for so many years: I am smart, talented, and driven with endless possibilities before me.
So I guess that makes today the first day of the rest of my life. There are many stories to come. Stay tuned…