The course of one’s life is marked by many transitions, some joyful, some full of stress, some tragic, and many perplexingly unexpected. Some happen to us directly and some to others that can affect us in the most profound of ways.
When I was in college, I was very much attracted to a certain young woman whom I felt I could not ask out. She was pretty, vivacious, and she seemed so much more socially adept than I, leading me, as a somewhat introverted pre-bloomer, to feel thoroughly inept in her presence. Even were that not the case, she was a friend’s girlfriend, and the unwritten but always to be observed buddy code absolutely forbade my acting. As a result of all this, I settled for “just friends”. In my senior year, when I got accepted to medical school, she jokingly announced that she’d never let me be her doctor, even if I were the last medicine man on the planet. Everyone who heard her say it had a pretty good laugh. Even me, actually.
Eight years later, I was the chief resident in obstetrics and gynecology in a university teaching hospital, and one day she, this same, lovely young woman whom I had not seen since college graduation, came to see me. Tragically, she had become quite ill with a chronic, debilitating disease but had gotten married before being diagnosed and now wanted a child. Her internist, several other specialists, and I were all most unenthusiastic about this, but she persisted, became pregnant and, sheepishly recalling what she had once said, then asked me to take care of her. I did, and she ultimately delivered a healthy son. She had gone through a courageous, self-determined transition to motherhood involving substantial risk but had come through it well and was now a happy mother, albeit still grappling with her disease. And I? I , too, had gone through a transition, somehow feeling validated as a doctor in a way that I had not before.
After residency, I joined a large ob/gyn practice with six other MDs. At the end of my first year with the group and three weeks after the birth of my wife’s and my first child, the group fired me, essentially because one of the partners and I had had a falling out and he wanted me gone. Once over my shock and disappointment, I decided to open an office about six blocks away, starting my own practice with eleven obstetrical patients who had determined to stay with me and a distressingly large (for my former group) number of gyn patients who also elected to remain with me. The practice became very successful but, after 7 years and for reasons too complicated to detail here, I sold the practice and transitioned my career over a period of several more years from fully clinical to the developing area of administrative medicine, a role in which I have continued to grow and establish myself ever since.
So, why do I bother to relate these few examples of transitions? Because I will very shortly be retiring and, as it is for other transitions in relationships and career activities, retirement is one of life’s major, stressful events.
I’ve been looking forward to retiring for quite some time, and I’m not consciously ambivalent about it at all. But subconsciously is another matter, and recently I’ve been dreaming.
I’ve always had certain recurrent dreams of the kind many people have – nothing unique about that. They’ve always been those in which I’m in situations for which I’m unprepared, often involving time in school when I can’t find the right classroom, keep a schedule straight, or when I’m totally unprepared for some important examination. (I’ve never had one of those dreams where I’m naked in public.)
But the recent dream is a new one: I’ve just been accepted to medical school and am planning to leave home to go to wherever the school is, which isn’t clear in the dream but is evidently far away. The catch is that I know that I’ve already graduated from medical school and I’m not sure why I’m going back.
The interpretation seems pretty obvious to me: unresolved conflict over the impending transition to retirement. Anxiety over aging and loss of a piece of my identity also probably play a role. Yet, if I weren’t dreaming about this (and remembering it), I wouldn’t know that there was any conflict.
I have much to keep me busy in retirement: family, friends, hobbies, travel, ideas about volunteer work. I know it will all turn out well, but it is going to be a different kind of transition from those I’ve gone through before, and like so many transitions – changing relationships, jobs, the loss of parents, illness, marriage, the birth of children and arrival of grandchildren — the path through it will not necessarily be straight. It will, though, always be interesting.
People who don’t seem to know the difference between “effect” and “affect”. Every time I see this in someone’s writing, I find that the effect on my affect is to affect me quite negatively. Somehow, we need to effect large scale correction of this common error.