In case you have not already heard – retirement can be a real shock to your system. There is a lot that goes into that reality. Probably most important among the factors is that we, as a society, tend to identify ourselves with our work. When introduced to somebody new the most common first question is, “So, what do you do for a living…?” Our work becomes our identity, and when we leave our work, it can seem as if we are somehow less or that we are diminished in some way. It is not uncommon to feel as if one has just faded away and less vibrant than when working. This applies to all retirees, but I want to illustrate the point with what it is like for many who retire from the military.
I recently retired from the Army and saw that effect in more than just walking away from the career I knew for decades. The emotional response that is so common is displayed in a way in the identification cards the military issues. When a person is actively serving in the military, that person gets a full-color ID card. The body of it is white, it has a graphic of an American flag waving proudly, there is a full-color shield representing your branch of service, and (probably most importantly) your photo is in full-color. The entire ID is vibrant.
Once you retire, you get a blue Retiree ID Card. It is officially blue, but in person it appears kind of a blue grey color. All of the text and graphics are in black and white. And, (probably most importantly) your picture is in black and white. The entire ID is different variations of grey.
Although the sample photo provided has a stock photo of a man in a tie for both, in reality, the ID Card for the person still serving with have a picture of that person in uniform. A uniform with rank, badges, and other emblems of identity that the service member can read as easily as reading words on a page. The uniform reinforces and can even create identity. The more vested one becomes in the military, the more you have to wear on your uniform. This results in the more respect one receives being tied to the uniform. In the Army items such the badges awarded to Paratroopers, Pathfinders, Rangers, and Special Forces (AKA Green Berets) and other signs of accomplishment evoke pride in self and respect from others.
Then the day comes when the uniform comes off, and the ID Card goes from full color and vibrant to grey. At that moment if you tied your identity to your ID Card and all it represents you emotionally can find yourself feeling old and grey and faded into the background. You can feel as if you are suddenly no longer the person you were.
That is the thinking of an existentialist. Don’t worry if you have never heard that term before – it just means you have identified your identity with the externals and is an almost universal way of thinking in society today.
I want to suggest to you that such thinking is way too prone to emotional upheaval and with that bad decision making. I urge you to be an essentialist. You are a human being, you are either male or female, and that is what you are – that is your essence. No matter what you do in life, the reality is you are a human being in general and a male or female human being in particular. As your various stations in life change, as you go in and out of doors and engage in a lifetime worth of opportunities, your essence does not change. You are a man or a woman just as God designed you. No matter what it is you are doing – you are you, and you do not need a uniform, a job title, an ID Card, or anything else to be fully you.
For God formed your inward parts; God knitted you together in your mother’s womb. Praise God, for you are fearfully and wonderfully made.
~ Psalm 139:13–14 (adapted)~