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My Encore Career as a Blogger: An Unlikely Pilgrimage

Posted in ChicagoNow, July 31, 2014 (Cartoons by Marcia Liss)

When I retired last year from my career as a preschool director, I was at loose ends. So, I did what most retired women in my community do. I joined a book club, looked for a place to volunteer my wisdom and years of experience, and went out to breakfast with an old acquaintance.

My first book club assignment was to read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. It’s about a recently retired and frankly boring Englishman who embarks on a 627-mile walk to see an old acquaintance who is dying of cancer. Not the pick-me-up I was seeking, but I always do my homework.

Much to my surprise, I loved the book. It spoke to me as a recent retiree. Life was all about the journey, and it’s never too late to start a new journey. This was the perfect book for me to read as I began my own unlikely pilgrimage on the web.

On the other hand, the volunteering thing was a bit of a disaster for me. I even wrote a bitter post about it early on (not too proud of that one), in which I said,

“Now that I am a woman of a certain age on the volunteering end of the equation, I wonder why so many doors are so difficult to open. Why are “community volunteers” (translation: retired people) only used as a last resort by schools, which prefer to have parents (translation: young people)? … I am left wondering about the experiences I have had seeking an opportunity to make a meaningful volunteer contribution. Is it my “retired” status? Is someone my age viewed as too old to be useful?”

Ouch. I was a bit frustrated and bitter. Since I had been a school administrator for many years, I wanted to help out in a school as an office volunteer. But my expectation of being welcomed with open arms by a principal who didn’t know me was highly unrealistic. Much like Joyce describes Harold Fry, I felt, “It was rather that he had passed through life and left no impression. He meant nothing.”

Now about the going out to breakfast part. It’s not something I do that often, but I found cartoons by Marcia Liss on my Facebook feed and really loved them. I thought there might be some synergy there, and I was right. She was just a bit ahead of me in her reconciliation with her retired status, which turned out to be very helpful in getting over my funk.

The first cartoon we collaborated on is at the top of this post. She listened ever so patiently to my whining and drew a fabulous cartoon that reflected exactly how I felt. I had time, enthusiasm, and experience to offer, but I couldn’t find the right door. At that point, I was feeling what Marcia wisely called the “Loss of the Boss” syndrome. I felt at the mercy of others who didn’t want to open their doors for me.

What I have learned after many breakfast meetings and collaborations with Marcia is that I never needed to have anyone open any doors. I just needed to create a new path for myself.

When I first started blogging, there was a lot I didn’t know. It was not so easy after a career in which I was Executive Director of a school I founded. As a newbie blogger, I was struggling to learn the ins and outs of writing short blog-worthy pieces, doing Internet research, trying to get comfortable with WordPress, setting up a Facebook page, and writing a weekly emailed newsletter.

Guess what? I came to love it. Sometimes my posts were well-read and other times almost ignored. Sometimes folks made complimentary comments and other times not so much. But I learned to enjoy this new path for the sheer joy writing brought to me. And here’s where Marcia sees me now:

On his strange pilgrimage, Harold discovered, “It was the journey that mattered.” That’s pretty good advice for any retiree. Find a path for yourself and just keep walking. It’s the experiences you have along the way that really matter.


by Laurie Levy
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