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What Do You Do?

May 14, 2015

By Mary Beth Wighton
In a conversation with a person you have just met, it is common to ask the individual what she does for a living. I find this question to be awkward. What should I say? I'm sick – I don't work? I have dementia – I don't work? I am disabled – I don't work? None of your business?

I'm sure you can see my dilemma. I ask myself, why do I find the question awkward? The reason is because I have been raised with the Protestant Work ethic. From a young age, I was taught that it was important to work and it gave me a sense of pride. Today, because I have Frontotemporal Lobe Dementia (FTD) I do not work and therefore, the feeling of pride has left me.

My first job was that of a T.V. Guide delivery girl. I was probably about 9 years old. I had a little white shoulder bag with the books in it. I would hike up and down our street and give people their guides. This job has obviously gone the way of the dinosaur!But, I'll always remember the source of pride it gave me and the feeling of the jingling coins in my pocket.

It seems that I always had some kind of a job. One time, while I was playing basketball in my driveway, a real estate agent approached me asking if there where any boys in the neighbourhood. He explained he was looking to hire someone to cut the grass of a house that was for sale. Being very confident in myself, I asked him why does it need to be a boy? I could cut the grass – no problem! He chuckled, and said I was hired. I'm thinking I was about grade six when this happened. Once again, I was looking for the jingling coins in my pocket

As I grew older, life would eventually lead me to Toronto for my new job in computers. In 1994, the world of internet, had yet to be taken main stream. Those were the days of faxing. I was hired to be technical support for a new Canadian product called WinFax. I was one of five girls on the floor of about 80 technicians. Needless to say, I experienced prejudice as people wanted to speak to a “real” technician – not a woman.

At the time, this company was the leader in its field of technology. It was an exciting company to work for. As I moved up the ladder, the expectation for me to travel increased. It was fairly common to receive a telephone call and be asked to be in California for the next day. For about two years, I commuted back and forth from Toronto to California. I was asked to relocate to the States, to live in Oregon or California. I declined because of my national Canadian pride.

Before leaving the company after 10 years, I had the great fortune of travelling, for work, to the following countries:
- Argentina - Italy
- Brazil - Switzerland
- Mexico - United States
- France - United Kingdom
- Germany - South Africa
- Ireland - Republic of Singapore
- The Netherlands - Australia

My next position was that of us being co-owners in an engineering recruiting company. It is a story of disappointment and failure. Nothing I am proud of. That's the way life sometimes goes. It is here when I started to display signs of FTD and, ultimately, I was put on a leave of work from my doctor. Thus, the beginning of the question: What do you do for a living?

It has taken me four years to get here, but I now know what to say: “I'm retired.” To me, the definition of retirement includes working for most of your life and then stopping usually at an older age. I meet one of the two criterion. The fact of it is, I will not live to an older age, so that criterion does not apply to me.

It's interesting the games our mind can play on us. Simply by thinking and stating “I'm retired” I have a new sense of ease about me. I do not fill guilty anymore for not being part of the 9-5 crew. I eat two bowls of ice-cream instead of one. I do not let the clock dictate my day.

Ultimately, this means I do not have to state the dreaded word ``disabled.`` I really have worked for most of my life. I have wonderful and great accomplishments to be proud of. The world-wide experiences have been most gratifying and educational.

But, the fact is the fact. It feels GREAT to be retired!Oh, and one more thing to add, although I’monly 46 years old, I’m starting to get grey hair. I fit in with the retirees, just fine.