Up until a few weeks ago, two words have ignited angry emotions inside of me.  This has been going on for the last ten years.  It all peaked at a recent funeral for a long-time pastor/friend of mine.  At least three times that day, long-time acquaintances asked a variation of those two words, “How’s retirement?”  Earlier that week, a local business leader asked the same question at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon.  It’s been a regular question for years.  But, four times in one week?  I was internally seething with anger by the week’s end!  As I was reflecting, I became aware of all the red flashing lights and the dangerously peaked gauges on my emotional dashboard. Getting ready for church on Sunday morning, I made a decision.

That next week, I scheduled an appointment with a psychologist friend who leads a counseling and consulting team connected to our church.  I needed to explore why those two words kept on detonating an emotional bomb inside of me?  Two words that were most likely intended by the questioner to show an interest in my life, were causing me deep distress.  Why this internal over-reaction to another person’s innocent interest in my well-being?  For a few decades, I’ve known that I should always question a disproportionate reaction to an event, activity or words.  That’s true when observing the reaction of others and it’s also true of myself. 

Unpacking this volatile internal emotional response to a simple inquiry of “How’s retirement?” has led me to five observations about myself and my inner values:

  • I dislike assumptions.  While I did carefully plan and orchestrate a leadership succession plan, I’ve never retired. I’m still working full time.  People assumed that changing my role from Senior Pastor to Founding Pastor and calling a young successor to be the Lead Pastor at Cape Christian ten years ago meant I had retired.  Few asked me for clarity on my current role.  They assumed.  A mentor told me years ago to just divide the word assume into three parts:  Ass-U-Me.  That’s what happens when you or I assume.  It makes both of us look like donkeys. 

  • I dislike gossip.  I’ve spent the last decade responding to the hated two-word question with, “Where did you hear that I retired?”  In most cases, the response was “someone told me you did.”  No one asked me.  No one checked out the facts.  They just passed on an untruth.  That was a part of my anger. 

  • I dislike mediocrity.  I have always been drawn to visionary out-of-the-box leadership. Long-sighted leadership that plans for a preferred future is one of my strengths.  Not thinking ahead and defaulting to “whatever happens” is less than what God has designed us for.  Middle-of-the-road average leadership always disappoints me.  In my way of thinking, developing a succession plan for the organization that you birthed should just be a normal part of growing toward level five leadership.    

  • I devalue retirement.  I have come to realize my thoughts are counter-cultural.  Most every working American looks forward to the day they can sit and do nothing.  Not me.  Fishing, boating or golfing doesn’t appeal to me.  Even my hobby of photography doesn’t look good as a full-time option.  I guess I’ve watched too many retirees move to Florida and get super depressed.  In fact, as a police chaplain, I know the inside story.  Every year, dozens of retirees in our city commit suicide.  No purpose.  No meaning.  No hope.  Nothing to get out of bed for in the morning.  In contrast, I love what I do.  I love seeing the transformation of lives.  I love helping the team take new territory.  When someone thinks I’ve retired, that isn’t a positive step for me.  I’ve watched as people obsess about their retirement date—count it down on their smartphones; talk about it every single day to every person they meet; and they let up on the accelerator, put it in neutral and slowly coast to a stop.  Now, I plan to slow down and decrease the amount of time I spend in the office a few years from now.  But for someone to think that I retired at age 55 when I implemented the succession plan by moving out of the driver’s seat and taking another seat on the bus, goes completely against my values—because I don’t value retirement as my ultimate goal.

  • I discovered that few understand the cost.  As I reflected with my counselor, I realized that a significant part of my internal anger at the “How’s retirement?” question had to do with something I hadn’t verbalized publically.  I was angry that people potentially thought that I was so well-positioned with my financial resources that I could just choose not to work anymore and be set for the rest of my life.  That bothered me more than I was aware.  Quite the opposite.  By giving up the highest-paid position in the organization, I’ve significantly sacrificed financial security.  And there have been plenty of other less measurable costs to my ego by giving up control and taking a much less visible role in the organization I founded.  But I’m still convinced it was the right decision.  I have absolutely no regrets.  And the organization has prospered greatly because of the implementation of a succession plan.  

So, I’m doing better these days.  People continue to ask about “my retirement.”  But now, I don’t feel the rage rising up in the way that it use to.  In fact, I smile (I put on a fake smile before) and ask them where they heard that I retired?  I joke that “you can’t believe everything you hear.”  And I share that I’ve never retired and the truth is I’m still working full-time and I’m loving my role at this season of life.  I explain to them that I intentionally developed a succession plan for the well-being of the church that I started and it’s one of the very best leadership decisions that I’ve ever made.  And I encourage them to go to my Successful Successions blog and read more about it if they want to know the Why behind the What.  And some have.

Here’s my reminders for the holidays:  Life is too short to be angry.  Pay attention to your inner self.  Self-awareness is a treasured leadership skill.  Seek the counsel of professionals.  Have fun.  Humility is necessary for emotional health.  Let the Prince of Peace give you His peace.  Merry Christmas!

What areas of your emotional health do you need to be in tune with these days? What is your next step in getting healthier? I’d love to hear more!

18 responses to Two Words That Made Me Angry

  1. Julia Wasson on December 17, 2019 at 8:05 PM Reply

    Another awesome blog…and I SO AGREE that self-awareness is critical. I do think some people have more of an inclination towards “Emotional Intelligence” than others but everyone can learn the art and SHOULD learn about themselves, why they react positively or negatively to specific situations. It’s for their overall health, growth and stability in life. Again, great blog!

  2. Cheritt Gingerich on December 8, 2019 at 12:02 AM Reply

    Well said dad….I mean Dennis! I have witnessed since you have stepped down from the lead role at Cape Christian you have been just as busy, if not more so, then before…just in a different capacity. Your involvement has not only been inside of the church but has reached into the community and further! Whether it’s with the police department, city council members or other local officials you have been and continue to be involved in the lives of others outside of the church and yourself and have been blessed with the gift to do so! Last year, when you won the Elmer Tabor Award at the Excellence in Nonprofit Performance Yearly Awards, there was one line that described that award: The Elmer Tabor Award recognizes outstanding philanthropists (who) … demonstrate leadership that inspires others to a life of generosity. You earned that from doing what you are doing and it certainly was not an award for retiring and sitting in a La-Z-Boy and doing nothing! I love the post and keep up the wonderful work that God has inspired you to do!

    • Dennis Gingerich on December 11, 2019 at 10:57 AM Reply

      Thanks Cheritt for your words of blessing! Love hearing from my son!

  3. Timothy Hamilton on December 7, 2019 at 1:13 PM Reply

    Pastor Dennis, thank you again for your transparency. Looking from a different prospective, we also see many retire, ie. police, fire, military, government workers, only to go to work for another agency. Working for retirement, not because we have to. Others we see, appear retired, but still working in ministry until God calls them to His Glory. This is the greatest retirement yet to come. The cruises were great, the mini vacations exhilarating, but the greatest is the one that won’t end and we don’t set that date, the creator does. So enjoy your “retired life”, the others prospective and press forward to next next one, all the way to the final one.

    Blessing, as the Bless Others
    Tim Hamilton

  4. Janet Schultz on December 7, 2019 at 11:41 AM Reply

    This is very good Dennis, we all have things that trigger emotions. When I think of the word retirement, I think of someone who has to be at home, and cant do anything. The rest of us can do all kinds of things .You are a perfect example of someone moving on to a new season and enjoying life to its fullest plus doing so much for others. Thanks for sharing we all need help sometimes, and its available.

  5. Gregge Johnson on December 7, 2019 at 9:33 AM Reply

    This is a Wow ,,,realization reading for you , and me ! Thank you for being Honest. I wish I had a job ,,,,,,so I could get some rest and normalization. I have been retired for 9 years ,and love every 6 Saturday’s Of the week . Some days I wonder how did I ever have time ===to be married for 40 years, raise 4 children , 8 Grandchildren and 2 dogs -AND have a JOB – ! We worship at Cypress Lake United Methodist,,,, and your post is what our pastor talked about ===== So many people are getting Counciling on how miserable they are being RETIRED! Your post reminds me of what I said a long time ago ======= It’s important what you do , but also WHO you do it for !

  6. Ron Hostetler on December 7, 2019 at 9:01 AM Reply

    I had the same problem. I’m 73 1/2 and last year was the first year I didn’t do something to earn money, so my answer was always “I’m self employed.” Now that I’ve reached this age, I don’t mind admitting I’m “retired”. But I find I am busier than I ever was. I rarely am able to finish my to-do list for the day. Being the full-time domestic engineer is way more time-consuming than I ever thought. I don’t know how people do it AND raise kids. Spending time with grandkids is exhausting. Maybe when I get old I’ll work on my golf game or try fishing. Now when people ask “How’s retirement?”, I just say, “I’ll let you know when I get there.”

    • Dennis Gingerich on December 11, 2019 at 11:00 AM Reply

      Great response… “I’ll let you know when I get there.” Might borrow that one!

  7. April Coutant on December 7, 2019 at 8:39 AM Reply

    I couldn’t agree more with everything you said about “retirement”!

  8. Lee Carnahan on December 7, 2019 at 8:26 AM Reply

    Great insights! Your unwavering purpose inspires me.

  9. Cyd Notter on December 7, 2019 at 8:12 AM Reply

    Great insights, Dennis, thanks for sharing the importance of figuring out what triggers us and the encouragement to deal with it.

  10. robinvdb on December 7, 2019 at 8:09 AM Reply

    And I thank God that He made you this way – to faithfully
    help His church in times of transition.

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