NEW BEGINNINGS: RETIREMENT AND RE-INVENTION

Robin Lawrason
March 20, 2007

I find it is time to re-invent myself once again after the third retirement in ten years. First, from a career in education trying to teach wary learners new ideas and techniques to improve their own lives and work. Then from a busy non profit art festival that received submissions from around the world and over 30 countries for four hectic years. And now from the charity for which I have worked over the last nine years here in my retirement paradise.

Less stress! A new beginning! That was the whole idea of the first retirement. After twenty years in a constantly changing high stress position in university teaching technologies, I suffered a sudden heart attack at age 52. My heart just stopped, but luckily I was in the Emergency Room by that time. After a speedy resuscitation and a double bypass, I was back to work in just five weeks. My best intentions to reduce the stress went unfulfilled. Four years later I decided to resign long before regular retirement and fled to a less stressful life in an idyllic setting in the sun.

I dreamed of writing. Of reading. Of travel. Of learning fluent Spanish. Of just plain relaxing in this wonderful place of eternal spring.

But that old Type A personality would not give up so easily. Not to mention having a partner who could not sit still for more than a few minutes. When he declared “Let’s put on a Film Festival,” I sighed, but agreed to play Judy to his enthusiastic Mickey. And miraculously, patrons supported the idea, volunteers emerged and new film theaters were completed within a few short months. We raced to set up juries, obtain paying sponsors and develop media coverage locally and in Guadalajara and Mexico City. Thanks to a busy website, 99 entrants sent their films, videos and screenplays in that first year.

Many in the village pitched in and helped with the juries, the organizing, the hosting and the staffing. The faithful came to the parties and screenings each Festival week in November for four fast-paced full years. But the big time sponsors, journalists and celebrities needed to grow a Festival into the major leagues, were not so easy to lure to our tiny fishing village in central Mexico. And the stress was now taking its toll on frayed nerve endings and relationships.

Time for a new beginning. And so I retired again. Another opportunity to re-invent myself. Now I could return to writing, reading, working on my Spanish. Or could I?

Needing some activity to fill the void and finding the charity that I had volunteered to help since moving to Mexico in need of a new leader, I happily agreed to serve. Admirable charity work with like-minded volunteers. What could be stressful? I would begin again to work with others to raise funds and interest in our community to help the many poor families who could not afford medical care for their children. Together our expanded executive board and pool of volunteers helped more children and raised more money than ever before at numerous fund-raising events. These events, part of the social life for many in our retirement community, were amazing productions organized by some of the best event planners at Lakeside. We celebrated and auctioned off shoes, hand bags and jewelry as well as gourmet dinners in the homes of our patrons. We raised more money each year and received more donations, memorials, bequests along with contributions from church groups and businesses.

Our generous community funds dozens of worthy causes for children, for animals, for the arts, for the environment and for numerous other interest groups. Charity events are an important part of our busy social lives and all contribute to worthy causes. But each group must compete for public attention, donations and volunteers. All a challenge and often fun, but stressful too.

Yet doing good deeds for others in Mexico is not always a simple or stress-free task. Government agencies must supervise all non profit groups to ensure the money goes to the intended cause. Good policy, but its implementation requires knowledgeable accountants and auditors to make regular detailed reports. Any charity here must work hard to be sure in a foreign language and culture that all the “i”s were dotted and “t”s were crossed. Failure to do so can lead to fines and even the rumor of liens on leader’s homes from state and federal authorities. Is that stress enough?

A second session with open heart surgery in a triple bypass lead me once again to re-evaluate my stress level and lifestyle choices. Perhaps it was time to re-invent myself yet again. There are many capable leaders in our community. None of us are indispensable in the good work we all do here. Perhaps the time had come again to decide not to be the “decider” any longer. After finding a worthy and eager successor, I began my third retirement.

Many friends have asked what I will do now with all my free time. All I can say that it will be a new beginning. More writing. More reading. More travel. More Spanish. More care of my health. And definitely less stress. Or perhaps stress management courses? All promises to myself I know I may not be able to keep. Will the dreaded A type syndrome rise again and thwart my well-intentioned re-invention? Or can I harness it to productive, yet less stressful activities?

One of the greatest gifts our community offers, is that opportunity to re-invent oneself in a new environment. I did it twice before, why not once again. Maybe I can find a life on the stage. Or design new or renovate old homes. Or write a best-selling novel. Or discover a cure for heart disease. Damn, this re-inventing business has its own stress level too. But life is good! Or to quote a long time Canadian friend and resident here, "Life is almost perfect.”

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