Carnett: Finding what I'm here for

I retired five years ago this week.

Unbelievable. Time flies when you're having fun!

I was 63 when I closed my office door for the final time and walked off into the sunset. But it was time to go.

I stepped down after 37 years as Orange Coast College's director of community relations. I had several different job titles over the years, but it was always essentially the same task: public relations. And I loved it!

I wasn't happy about retiring when I did, but I honestly believed it to be the proper move for me. I'd been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease two years earlier, and felt I owed it to myself and to my employer to bow out gracefully before my skills began to erode.

I didn't want to be known as "That guy who used to be bloody good but is now just bloody."

Though I've frequently missed the job over the last five years, I've never regretted having made the decision I made. My big concern at the time was, "Will I be able to handle retirement?" I feared I might be miserable.

I've always been a workaholic. During my 37 years at OCC I kept extended hours, I was never an 8-to-5 guy. And due to the nature of the job, I often worked weekends.

I was dedicated to my duties because I deeply believed in the college's mission to help individuals build better lives.

When I retired, I departed via the Coast Community College District's human resources department. It reminded me of Fort Lewis, Wash., in 1967 when I processed out of the Army after three years of active service. I turned in my M-14 rifle, my duffel bag, boots and uniforms. Then I stuck out my hand and received my separation pay —- in cash!

No cash this time.

As I checked out in 2008, one of the district's HR staffers informed me that I'd accumulated nearly 425 sick days in my 37 years at the college. I hadn't been keeping tabs.

As that great American philosopher Woody Allen once said, "Eighty percent of life is just showing up." I showed up. I never took time off except for one surgery and rare bouts with the flu.

And, oh yeah, there was that Hawaiian honeymoon, for which I actually used vacation days.

The HR lady assured me she'd never run across an employee with that many accumulated sick days. Funny, but in my five years of retirement I've had more doctors' visits — by a factor of three or four — than I did during my entire 37 years at OCC.

Do I miss OCC? You betcha! Do I miss the people there? More than you can imagine. I treasure many wonderful memories.

Now that retirement has set in, what am I doing with myself?

Well, I've been writing this weekly column for almost four years, and relishing it. From the time I was 14 I wanted to be a newspaper columnist. I finally achieved my dream at 64 (a significant age, according to Beatles' hagiography).

I attend a couple of Parkinson's support and exercise groups; I travel the world with my life-mate, Hedy; I read a book or two each week; and I spend lots of time with my kids and grandkids. Further, I enjoy time with my 89-year-old mother.

I haven't written a press release in five years — I wrote more than 70,000 in 37 years — and feel no compulsion to do so. I've also not attended a staff meeting in five years or delivered an oral presentation requesting funds to a campus budget committee. If I never do either of those two chores again, I shall not be sad.

The church that I attend is in the midst of a six-week teaching series titled, "What on Earth Am I Here For?" It's a series I should have attended 35 years ago, but better late than never for this old boy.

Having a purpose at my age is a blessing from heaven.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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