Ruda Landman: Starting over – Brilliant insights on reinventing yourself!

Ruda LandmanHow do you cope with yourself after you retire from a high-powered job in the fast lane? The sad truth is that many don’t. Financial worries are an issue, but often overlooked are self-esteem and trying to understand who we are in a world in which we are labelled by what we do. Stories abound of people who, once successful, struggle to find deep meaning and real joy in their everyday lives when they move on to a different lifestyle. One of South Africa’s most popular television hosts Ruda Landman tackles this issue in her brilliant blog, first published at BrightRock. She explains how she has embraced the change, slowly reinventing herself into someone who can relax, live life and – perhaps most important of all – move beyond being that person whose broadcast profile defines her identity. – JC

By Ruda Landman*

About six years ago my older brother retired. He seemed to have arranged his affairs really well. He moved from Windhoek to Swakopmund and still had a number of clients for whom he worked as company secretary, which kept him busy from nine to twelve every morning and gave him some income.  His wife set up an artist’s studio, organised exhibitions and started giving classes in making greeting cards. They were – and they are – happy.

But it wasn’t like that from day one. I remember him saying, soon after the move: “It’s not the doing nothing. It’s the being nothing.”

In our society we define people by what they do. I left M-Net’s Carte Blanche seven years ago, after nineteen years as co-anchor. The first question people ask is, “So… what do you do now?”

I have no easy answer. I am still, daily, astonished by my good fortune that for seven years I have managed to pay my share of the bills through freelance work – training, teaching, mc-ing, public speaking, translation, script writing, and some TV presentation. I am also a director of Media 24, which is really important –  it engages my interest and gives me a baseline income.

But how do I answer the question? What do I “do”? In other words, how can people classify me? In my brother’s words, what am I?

It’s easy enough to say that it’s other people’s problem if they want to classify you, put you in a neat box. The problem is that we also see ourselves that way. We all want to “be” something – a journalist, a lecturer, an engineer, an HR manager.

Without a central focus, I felt bereft, adrift, as if I had lost my firm outline and become a blob. What was I if not the Carte Blanche presenter? The word “discombobulated” suddenly acquired meaning, in spite of the fact that I was finding all kinds of interesting things to do and seeing money coming into my account every so often.

Money is part of the dislocation, of course. It is severely frightening to suddenly have no fixed income and no clearly defined idea of where you are going to find it. Only after a number of years when my tax assessment confirmed that I had indeed managed in the previous year, did I calm down from near-hysteria to a mild panic.

I see other friends coming to the end of a more formal career and going through the same emotional and practical white waters.  One of them has just retired after a lifetime in the education department.  She is 63, healthy and energetic, highly skilled and qualified, with a lifetime of experience – but she did not want to keep doing the same job even if she would have been allowed to. So what now? Like me, she is adrift, bereft.

To make it worse, we are both Calvinists born and bred, the work ethic written on our bones. We need some worthy cause, some duty to perform. That is what Good People do.

How does one deal with this? I think the most fundamental requirement is that you must make peace with it in your own heart. It can be such a relief not to “be something” – like the Carte Blanche presenter. I don’t have to refrain from screaming with laughter in a public place, or swearing in company, or whatever. I do not represent anything except myself. What a joy!

Next, I have learnt not to share my discomfort with random strangers. It’s not fair to respond to someone simply trying to make conversation with an answer that belongs in a therapy session. I have formulated a light response which is the truth but perhaps not the whole truth.  It works.

Finally, relax and live life! Let go of the Calvinist script. Life is there to be enjoyed. Be sensible, of course – you cannot spend what you do not have, and if you need/want to earn, you cannot be too picky.

If you can find something to do which will utilize your skills and hold your interest, great. South Africa needs you. But don’t do it because you feel you should. I am leaning more and more towards a baby’s view of the meaning of life: minimum pain, maximum joy.

* Ruda Landman is best known for her 19 years as co-anchor of M-Net’s Carte Blanche. Ruda has been married to political-economic analyst JP Landman for 36 years and their only son Johannes recently left home – another change moment!

This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes.

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