Retired, Inspired, Re-Fired(Up!)

by Barbara A. Bruner '76

“Wow, you’re retired? You don’t look 65.”

“I’m really glad to hear that since I haven’t turned 50 yet.”

Okay, that’s not exactly how the conversation went, but pretty close. Although most of the people who matter to me were very happy, supportive, and maybe just a little surprised, there were some curious reactions as well when news of my retirement circulated. It can best be described as: “If I have to get up and go to work every day, who in the hell are you not to?”

Almost as if I had uncovered a secret and was deliberately withholding it from everyone else.

After all, I wasn’t born rich, was maybe only moderately smart, was a single parent, so that by definition means I’m struggling financially-right? One longtime friend was gracious enough to apologize for a response somewhat along the lines of “Did you win the lottery or are you engaging some sort of illegal activity?” I am happy to say we laughed about it afterwards, but the fact that I have worked nearly all of my adult life, couldn’t it just be that I live frugally and invested wisely? Well, that’s not the whole truth, but it is far closer than elther of the two alternatives that he offered.

The truth is, I am and have been incredibly blessed, but that began well before I retired in my late 40s. In 1976, when I graduated from Scripps College, the fact that I was pregnant made finding employment essential. Although at that time it was not quite as stigmatized as it once was (this was definitely pre-Murphy Brown), I had a job interview terminated abruptly when the interviewer seeking to clarify a “discrepancy” on the application wanted to know why I had entered “single” rather than “divorced ” When I provided the explanation, it was almost as if he preferred an outright deception to the truth.

Thank God discrimination that blatant seldom happens now. I was fortunate that my parents, although not thrilled with the situation initially, have always been a source of support. The transition from the nurturing environment at Scripps to the comparatively harsh realities of the real world was abrupt. The much-needed job was slow to materialize but motherhood was certainly full time.

My decision to major in human biology (chosen at the last possible minute in my junior year) eventually led to a 24-year career in pharmaceutical sales. It contributed to my growth and overall development in a number of ways. I worked for five different companies during that time, not all of which were a compatible match. It was the last position with a well-known biotechnology company that provided a climate of mutual respect and a working environment which allowed for a high degree of personal satisfaction for most of the 12 years I was there. And, I should mention lucrative stock options.

Now, I mostly avoid the word retirement altogether. Instead I say (somewhat grandiosely), “I’ve made the transition from the corporate world to community service” What that really means is, I volunteer as a child advocate and serve on the board of directors of the state organization. A little like in my previous job, I write reports, attend meetings and conferences, take conference calls, etc. Unlike my previous job, reimbursement for expenses incurred, more often than not, comes out of my own pocket. The satisfaction comes in something other than salary and compensation. Further, I immerse myself in fund raising and other charitable causes that speak to me. And true to the habit established nearly three decades ago at Scripps College, I take classes and travel to fulfill the need to see and learn more about the world around me.