I really can’t believe that I am about to write this. Its not that I am unhappy with the freedom of retirement. I went to Florida for a week on a whim. I spent a week skiing in the Rockies, something I could only dream about for the past twenty years. I get up each day and set my own schedule. I have even learned to skip the guilt when that schedule includes just kicking back with a good book. And yet, I am about to tell you I am missing something.
I’ve thought about it for a while now and at first I wasn’t sure what it was that was missing but the other day, having a very leisurely two hour breakfast with my wife, it became clear. Deb asked if I was actually missing doing tax returns, something that kept me locked in battle from mid-January to mid-April every year for the past thirty-five plus years. I was quick to answer, and apologies to any former client reading this, no way. How would I be missing the stress, especially in a year when the tax law changes are creating countless more hours spent in planning? How could I be missing the hours stacked on hours of time spent at the office? The simple answer, I didn’t miss that. But I was missing something and that turns out to be something I can’t replace.
Tax season, as it has always been known, is more or less a war. It starts well before the first W-2’s or 1099’s hit the mailboxes. It begins slowly as the office and staff gear up for battle. Even before the first client enters through the doors, there will be hours of training on the law changes, software updates and procedures that will be put in place to handle over seven thousand tax returns to be compiled, reviewed, signed, filed and mailed all before April 15th. It will speed up in mid January and by February 1st will consume everyone in the office, demanding conservatively eighty hours a week just to keep up. So where am I going? What masochist would miss that? Well…..me.
Don’t get me wrong, its not the hours, its not the work, its the workers. I said it was a war. In a war, you lean on the soldiers around you. You depend on them. They become your family. Tax season was no different. We were all in it together. We knew when the stress or the hours were getting to one of us. We stepped in. We encouraged. We told war stories and we laughed. We were comrades and only someone who dealt wth it could understand the connections we formed. If knowledge made you proficient at solving tax problems, empathy saved you. That’s what I was missing. I was on R&R while my comrades were going to battle together. I missed the companionship, the hugs, the general encouragement from people going through the same process.
So here is the reality, at some point you step back from the battle and it moves on without you. I will, for as long as they will include me, go back for the occassional lunch or the social hour, but I know it won’t and can’t be the same. Their battle stories will now be their stories and not mine. Conditions will change, and people will change. Life will evolve. Eventually, just as Thomas Hardy wrote, I won’t be able to go back home, the home that work, during a tax season, always became. That family of co-workers I battled along side will have moved on, fighting new battles, their battles.
Every person who retires will go through, to some degree, this feeling of loss. I am missing it now and though difficult, I must find a way to come to grips with it. I will need to find things and people to fill my days and eventually, I will leave the battle behind. I will leave the battle to those younger and still energetic enough to fight it. If any of them are reading this now, here’s my advice. Hang together, appreciate each other and realize that one day you will miss it as much as I do. But for now, as tough as the hours may be, as stressful as the work may seem, you have comrades in arms who are sharing it all. That’s what I miss and always will.