Social Security

It has taken me a lifetime and a sudden change of circumstances to realize that I live life completely differently when I am without the “security” of job benefits like health insurance and retirement accounts. I’m only 15 years away from receiving Social Security and part of me can’t wait.

When I taught as a public school teacher, a percentage of my paycheck always went into my retirement account every month, like clockwork. I felt secure that when retirement came I’d have everything I needed readily accessible.

Now, I am  no longer a part of the public system, or any system. The money I put into PERS during my 17 years of teaching is locked up until I reach the age of 55 (due to tax penalties and since I am not adding to it currently). It’s taking me longer than expected to make the transition from teacher to. . . something else, and I have no money to add to my future savings. In fact, I’m using up my reserves but hopeful about job perspectives still.

This difficult transition has taught me about another kind of social security: relying on friends–really being forced to ask for help, I mean. Throughout the past two years I have made decisions both good and bad, which have brought me right back to where I began, which is looking for a job that is not teaching. I have found some friends more patient with me than others as I stumble through this part of my life. Some just shake their heads and turn away because it’s too painful to watch. Others sit down with me and talk, even though it’s painful.

These friends who walk with me are far more valuable than the Social Security that may (or may not) come to me in 15 years. They are the ones who keep me in this game; without them, I would have dropped out long ago. I live life now, knowing that it is necessary to rely on others–that I cannot do this life alone. Retirement accounts and Social Security might falsely convince one that one is infallible, prepared for anything.

While I know that saving money is a necessity for my future well-being, I also know now that honest and heart-felt friendships are imperative for my present well-being. This is what I am currently investing in. I am living my life as if it depended on my friends, because it does, and I don’t want to forget it.

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Arriving

Until two weeks ago, I thought I had finally arrived at a decision about what to do next with my life. After nearly two years of waiting, this arrival seemed like such a relief! It turns out though, that the decision was not so much an arrival, but a departure and it took some friends to help me see it.

I have been so desperate to leave what I’ve been doing for the past two years that anything seemed like an improvement, even giving up on trying to make a decision. So I  signed up as a volunteer to teach overseas. My thinking went like this: if I’m going to be lonely, I might as well be lonely in an exotic place like Indonesia; a change of scenery might be just what I need.

Two good friends brought coffee and sat down with me to ask, “what went through your mind as you sat down to apply for this volunteer position?” When I explained that it was a reaction against what I’d been experiencing, they pushed back. “You’ve thrown your cap over the wall,” they said, “but that doesn’t mean you have to follow it if it’s not what you really want to do.”

At the time, I argued that I was looking forward to “arriving”; to finally reach a destination in my life that would provide some sense of settlement. So my friends assigned me homework: write about what it means to arrive, and further–what evidence is there that shows I have not already arrived? And as soon as they assigned the homework, I gained insight into my life; into the present moment. Today.

Each new day I get to wake up and decide how best to spend my time. I get to ask myself, “what brings me joy?” This is an arrival all its own and I am so thankful. I’m thankful for these friends who arrived just in time to help me retrieve my “cap” and urge me to think again before following a negative reaction/impulseIMG_4146