A long time ago, I read in Woman’s Day magazine that a true go-getter changes jobs every three years to avoid stagnation, which meant I was overdue by seven years.
After 10 years of writing for a daily newspaper, I had had enough of the corporate scene. The most enjoyable aspect of it was that my mother was also on staff and we’d often have lunch together. But I had learned everything I wanted to learn there and ached for freedom.
When I was offered a temporary position that would mean a pay increase and the opportunity to become a freelance writer when the job ended after the 18-month period, I jumped on it. That was 16 years ago.
Just recently, my husband achieved his own freedom of retirement. In 1994, he had already been working at a pharmaceutical company for too long. He was 33 and had been there since he was 18.
His father, also an employee there, had gotten in the door the same way, as a janitor. In fact, he followed in his father’s footsteps the whole way through. First, he became a chemical operator. Though he enjoyed mixing chemicals to be used in making certain drugs, he worried about the dangers of chemical exposure. At first, I assumed that was the only downside.
Then I discovered the politics of shiftwork, which changed each week. I was only happy when he worked 9 to 5 like I did. When we moved in together I especially dreaded the 4 to 12 shift, which meant I had to get up, get ready for work and get out the door, all while he was still in bed. Getting out of bed was never my forte anyway, but in a brand new relationship? Terrible!
Then, I’d get home first and have a lot of free time on my hands, which wasn’t so bad. But if I wanted to see him at all that day, I’d have to stay up past midnight. When he worked the midnight shift, I had the bed to myself. But like everything else, I got used to it. What I couldn’t warm up to was the situational mood disorder it created in him when he didn’t get proper rest.
Eventually, the company sent him back to school for three years to become an instrumentation technician, which meant an initial $30,000 pay cut, with the promise of having a completely stable well-paying and slightly less dangerous job on the dayshift. But he would still be exposed to some of the chemicals and situations that turned too many of his co-workers into diabetes and advanced-stage cancer patients, and worse, corpses way before their time.
It was bad enough that he got hurt so often, though they were mostly manageable non-life-threatening injuries like burns, cuts and bruises, except for the skin cancer he had removed from his face. But I worried for his safety every day I was able to kiss him goodbye before leaving. It still amazes me that he didn’t turn to alcoholism like some of his co-workers, or substance abuse or develop some kind of prescription addiction to manage his anxiety.
Ever since his last day, which fell on his 34th anniversary, he’s been giggling nonstop. Just for fun, he says, “I have to get up early tomorrow and go to work. No, I don’t!”
Though I may never retire simply because I enjoy my work, we are now on more even ground. And he’s only retiring from his day job. He is still a musician, a wood-worker and all-around creative person. It makes me happy that he is finally out from under the dark cloud he’s been living under for so long. The moral of this story is this: Life is so short. Do what you love to do.