There used to be a joke around my office that one day we’d be successful enough to have a second retirement a la Desmond Tutu.

See, the South African Archbishop had retired twice in his lifetime- once from his political life and then again from his public life. An office full of late baby-boomers kids, we could hardly get past the anxiety of putting together a career to worry about retirement- first let alone second.

As reports about the Dalai Lama’s announcement that he would retire from his political life, I thought back to our crude Desmond Tutu joke. Maybe the Dalai is only on his first round of retirement but no matter, either way the leader of the exiled-Tibetan government will be letting go of his political responsibilities and choosing to live solely as a spiritual being.

While most media outlets reported on the Dalai Lama’s announcement to focus on the future of Tibet, the best quote from his Holiness has nothing to do with Tibet’s struggle against Chinese oppression. It was last year when the Dalai was quoted telling reporters:

“I’m also a human being…Retirement is also my right.”

His words reminded me of a Boston Globe article I had read years ago about research on the power of choosing to be alone. In the article, “The Power of Lonely,” author Leon Neyfakh writes:

“The nice thing about medicine is it comes with instructions. Not so with solitude, which may be tremendously good for one’s health when taken in the right doses, but is about as user-friendly as an unmarked white pill. Too much solitude is unequivocally harmful and broadly debilitating, decades of research show. But one person’s ‘too much’ might be someone else’s ‘just enough,’ and eyeballing the difference with any precision is next to impossible…Insofar as there is a consensus among solitude researchers, it’s that in order to get anything positive out of spending time alone, solitude should be a choice: People must feel like they’ve actively decided to take time apart from people, rather than being forced into it against their will.”

I think as Black women, we are still coming to terms with the idea that taking that white pill is okay; that stepping back is not selfish- it’s necessary. So many of us play multiple roles on a daily basis without ever getting to just be. As we switch our different hats on an off, we always have something over our heads that tells us our public responsibilities are more important that our private needs.

Today, choose to go for your retirement- first or second- and promise yourself the gift of some solitude. Recognize that even spiritual leaders find themselves in need of recluse, because being always “on” is exhausting. Realize that taking time to walk away from it all is not only a choice, it is your absolute right.

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  • Great Article. Yes, sometimes you have to walk away before then and move on to something that is less stressful. Peace is priceless. He deserves it.