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By Catherine S. Merican
After over 40 years in the work force, I retired at the end of June.
It still hasn’t really hit me yet. It still feels like this “not-working” thing is, somehow, temporary, and that, eventually, I will have to return to my previous schedule.
I started in the insurance industry, as most people I know did, pretty much by accident. That is, I knew nothing about it, and had never actively thought about working in the field. But I had finished college, and I knew I couldn’t just keep on working part-time at the local Five & Ten forever. Nor did I have much interest in working at the Five & Ten on a full-time basis.
My first move after graduating in 1978 was to head to London for several weeks. I’d visited once before, in the mid-70’s. I had a friend there (we met through some sort of T. Rex – the band, not the dinosaur – fan club, as pen pals, and are still in touch). I was a huge rock music fan, and considered London the “mecca.” Plus, I had literally no idea what I wanted to do, so I figured, what better way to put off that life-altering decision than to revisit London?
Once I came back, it was time to start transitioning into the world of adults.
I had majored in English and minored in Art. In other words, I wasn’t really qualified to do much of anything. I had no interest in teaching and was only marginally talented in the arts, so I hit the “help wanted” pages.
I was still living at home, and didn’t even drive yet. (I finally got my license a few years later, at age 27, but driving just does not come naturally to me, and I am a ball of nerves behind the wheel, so I’ve never really driven on a regular basis. The world is better off for that.)
I saw an ad in the Boston Globe for a file clerk at Continental Insurance in downtown Boston. We lived near the commuter rail station, and I had gone to college in Boston, commuting on the train and subway, so I was very familiar with the public transit system. This, I thought, could work.
In my interview, the people were very nice, but their reaction to my application was unexpected. They told me I was “seriously over-qualified” for a file clerk position, what with my college degree and all. They suggested I would be a good candidate for the Underwriting area. Sadly, they had no available positions at that time, but suggested I check back.
I had no more idea what was involved in “underwriting” than I did nuclear physics, so I did what any sane person would do. I showed up at the offices of Sentry Insurance in Concord, MA, and told them I wanted to apply for a job in Underwriting. The fact that I knew the word “underwriting” seemed to impress them, and I was hired as an Underwriting Clerk.
I spent five years there, and even got my driver’s license, eventually moving into an Underwriter position. Frustrated by not being promoted after several years, and dating someone who lived in Boston, I decided to search for something in town. I don’t even remember how I found the listing for the job at American International Group, but I did, and I got hired as a Senior Commercial Lines Underwriter. After 18 pressure-filled months, during which I learned a great deal, I made a change, moving to an insurance agency as supervisor of a small commercial accounts department. It’s always a good idea to try a job in management, if only to discover, as I did that not only did I dislike the agency side of insurance, but I disliked supervising people. Just not my thing.
From there, I went to Hartford Insurance, where I spent 10 years as a Senior Production Underwriter. A nearly-3-year stint at Royal Insurance followed. Finally, in October of 1999, I accepted a position at Safety Insurance, in the Product Development department.
Safety was a small, regional company. They had recently expanded their appetite to include commercial property and casualty, which was my specialty. For the first couple of years, I wrote manuals, coverage forms, and such. I was very much involved in rolling out our new products, and in working with the software company we used for our rating software. Lots of new things, things I’d never done before. I loved it. Eventually, there was little to do on the commercial side, as our products had all been developed and implemented. I spent some time working on some of the personal lines products, but my heart was still in the commercial area. I was friendly with the Commercial Underwriting manager, and he finally convinced me to come over to his department, and I found myself once again as a Senior Commercial Lines Underwriter. I spent the next 18 years as one of the more experienced and knowledgeable folks in our department, handling some of our larger and more prestigious agency books, as well as doing a certain amount of mentoring of new underwriters.
Last year, I negotiated a deal with my Director to transition to a part-time position, working on developing training materials for the staff. I would work from home, two days a week. My last day in the office was Friday, February 7.
As we all know, COVID reared its ugly head soon after that. My husband began working from home as well, and I have to say, it actually worked much better than I would have predicted. On my work days, we basically saw each other at lunch time. On my off days, I was in and out of the house, doing a lot of the grocery shopping, cooking, doing housework, and too often just lazing around, playing games on my phone.
As 2020 was nearing an end, I had to decide whether I wanted to continue what I had been doing. There was enough left to do to keep me busy, for sure. I agreed to stay on until the end of June, 2021, and then retire. A big factor in the timing was my naïve belief that COVID would be ending. Silly me. I had plans to spend days in Boston, taking photos, meeting friends for lunch, seeing movies when they first hit the theaters, and to read more, and to finally work on the novel I’d started in 2014.
So here I am. It’s been about seven weeks since I turned in my company laptop and started collecting Social Security. To tell the truth, I still feel kind of lost. I’m not an underwriter anymore. It’s been such a huge part of my identity for so long, it’s actually kind of…scary. If I’m not an underwriter, what exactly AM I? My husband, who is younger than me, still works full time, and will be doing so for 5 years or so. My best friend still works full time. We don’t have kids, and therefore, there are no grandkids for me to spoil. There isn’t even a dog to walk!
At the moment, I still tend to get up early. Some days, I jump on the spin bike we bought last fall, then shower, make coffee for myself and my husband, sit down and look at my emails, the news, etc. Often, I’ll spend the day cooking. I’ve always liked to cook dishes that make multiple servings, so that I can freeze those and have meals for a few weeks. I have been meaning to start doing some baking, having watched the entire British Baking Show series. I still haven’t started back on the novel – but I recently signed up for and started an online writing course. It’s a start. At least I’m thinking about writing.
Not too long ago, I met another retired friend for lunch in town. That was fun, but also expensive, so I don’t see that happening more than once or twice a month.
I am not ready to start going to the movies. As much as I would like to, thanks to the Delta variant and the number of unvaccinated folks even here in liberal Massachusetts, I just do not feel I want to be in a crowded theater right now. (But, damn, I want to see that new film with Jennifer Hudson playing Aretha!)
The weather has not helped my ennui. It seems like it’s almost always either pouring rain, or oppressively hot. That can’t last forever (can it???), so I’m hopeful than I’ll soon feel inspired to get out and take walks. Bring my camera. Check out all the little shops in our downtown area. We moved to this town after Labor Day in 2019, so we’ve yet to have a spring or a summer here that didn’t involve a pandemic.
Taking the writing class should help as well. Already, after the first lecture, I am thinking about my novel, and what changes I want to make, what direction I want it to take. I know that, once I actually start working on it, I will likely become focused on it. It’s the “starting” part that’s so hard.
This year, I also started doing the New York Times crossword puzzle. Did you know the puzzles get increasingly more difficult as the week goes by? I can now consistently finish the Monday, Tuesday, and sometimes even Wednesday puzzles.
I’m taking baby steps towards embracing this new phase of my life. I’ll be fine, I know I will, I always am. I’m just trying to adjust to this.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.