THE ODDITIES OF A TRAVELING LIFE – WRITING AS RETIREMENT THERAPY FOR AN OLD GEEZER…by Patrick Burns
Sometimes it just doesn’t work out the way you thought it would.
I decided to climb off the corporate ladder nearly ten years ago, leaving Singapore and a senior HR management role with vague plans to spend more time on “interests” rather than work. Plans that hadn’t been fully defined yet but there’d be something to do with making music and I was also quite keen on learning to surf since I would be living in Southern California; that’s what you do there instead of working, surely?
I wasn’t quite calling it retirement yet but to all intents and purposes…
Some of these things happened. (Sadly not the surfing.) All was OK-ish…but I just hadn’t counted on the extent to which work had given me a place in the world, a sense of self-esteem and a range of responsibilities that defined who I was. It was only after I gave them up that I realized quite how much I needed them.
The years passed and I broadly adjusted to the new status. Of course, a life of leisure is agreeable but the sense that I was drifting – that I needed to go back to what I knew – would not go away.
I cast around to find something that would fill the void and it seemed increasingly obvious that I had a lot of experience and knowledge – nearly forty years of it, working all over the world – that I could tap into in some way.
So I began to map out ideas for a book on how best to establish an HR function in Asia… hmm.
Not surprisingly, the project crashed and burned and, with some relief, I junked it and began to focus on the fact that, when it came to living and working overseas, I’d been around the block more than most.
So, I had a go at writing a story about a memorable incident that happened early in my expatriate life: a curious event that occurred when I worked in the oil industry and found myself helping with a pipeline pressure testing job deep in the Sahara desert. My colleague and I were standing in the shade of a water tank in the blistering heat, waiting for the test to complete. We gradually became aware of a large black bird repeatedly flapping up from behind a nearby sand dune and then dropping down again, out of view. Our curiosity got the better of us so we went to see what was happening and this led to a remarkable discovery and a very frightening experience…
I won’t give any more away but the point was that I really enjoyed the experience of putting this down on paper and, without having to think about it too much, realized I had a number of other tales that arose from where my work took me.
I’d found a formula for writing that allowed me to shake off the dissatisfaction I still felt from dropping out of corporate life so suddenly and terminally…
The stories turned into a book, Far Away And Further Back, which was published a few months ago.
It’s expanded a bit beyond the ‘strange-tales-of-expatriate-travel’, straying into some family history but it’s essentially about some of the more interesting events and people I encountered in nearly four decades of living and working around the world.
Take it from one who’s been there: when it comes to finding a therapeutic way to ease the sometimes painful surprise of what the end of a working life brings, documenting the more interesting bits in memoir form is an option worth considering.
I’m no Marcel Proust but there’s got to be more to retirement than golf…
Patrick Burns also maintains a Facebook page Patrick H Burns which includes photographs and background information for many of the stories in the book.
Written by Patrick Burns
About the Author
In 2009, after more than thirty-five years of climbing, clinging onto, and occasionally sliding down the corporate ladder, Patrick Burns retired from an international business career in Human Resources. An opportunity to work on regional and global projects led to early specialization in international HR and the chance to live and work all over the world. This included four assignments to Asia, where he spent a total of eighteen years, as well as other regional roles covering Europe-Africa, the Middle East and North and South America. Patrick was born in Yorkshire in the UK and now lives just outside San Francisco. He is married with four children.