No longer shy about retiring

Ellen, Age 76

I’ve long been afraid of my own retirement, partly because I’d lose what I love to do, and I couldn’t imagine who I’d be if I weren’t employed. Most of all, I wondered and worried how I’d know when the time was right. And then it happened.

In May of this year I completed three years at my college. I received a letter from the Dean (I used to be a Dean myself) saying that my third-year review was coming up.

Some may remember the tensions of the third-year review, typically for assistant professors poised to rise in the academic ranks. I thought, “Really?” I asked my department chair and she said, “Really.”

Now this school has an incremental three-year retirement plan. It consists of the first year full-time, the second year three quarters or half-time, and the third-year quarter time. There is even the option of working full-time for all three years. That was it for me. The lightning bolt had struck. The sign, the epiphany. There is no way I would participate at my age, with my experience in a third-year review.

I’ve now announced that I will retire in three years, and I have no regrets. I’m reminded of the woman who chose a yoga class over a business meeting. That was her sign. This was mine. Perhaps I will start to collect stories—when did you figure out it was the right time to retire? Was it your own decision or someone else’s? (Hmmm, I guess I’ll always be a psychologist looking for my next project.)

What have I learned from the books I’ve read and written, the women I’ve listened to? What lessons do I want to bring with me as I am now heading toward my own retirement? Is there a “bottom line” to a meaningful retirement? Here’s what I’m thinking—actually my advice to myself—at this moment:

Combat ageism wherever you find it, and it is everywhere; Stay active in mind and body; Look to the future (Martin Seligman calls this “prospecting”); Identify your meaning and purpose; Expand and nurture your social connections (remember, there is no such thing as a happy hermit—Chris Peterson).

And finally, I want to channel George Vaillant for a moment: Question—Who are you when you no longer contribute to the GNP? Answer—A fourth grader.


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3 Responses to No longer shy about retiring

  1. BC says:

    Ellen, There is more to retirement…elderhood. Consider retirement and saging international. Both excellent resources to sort out all aspects of retirement and sageing is a very hopeful path about ageing. Retirement is a gift to become the authentic you and leave your past work identity. As stated by another poster…no one cares about the former you. You may want to become a retirement coach or sageing leader after checking out those websites. Your timing is perfect with a few years before you go. Retirement options has two validated assessment tools that will really inform and shape the developmental tasks of your third stage of life… elderhood. I am doing these programs now and they as are very very insightful and help me focus on my life meaning and integrating my life’s work to leave the legacy I intend to leave. As an academic you may find your next life career and the best is yet to be…go for it!

  2. Diana says:

    “Is there a ‘bottom line’ to a meaningful retirement? ”
    Understanding yourself well enough to know the person that you CHOOSE to be for the rest of your life. Now is the time to be true to that essential you.

    “Who are you when you no longer contribute to the GNP?”
    Someone who has come to understand that fulfillment isn’t about numbers.

    We lose our status in the world; no one cares that we were formerly a dean, or physician, or bank president. We’re forced back to being our essential selves. And we still have time to make that essential self a person of value to the world.

  3. Blog Mavens says:

    Love this post! I retired at age 75 and have never been happier fulfilling other sides of my personality. I find this stage of life exciting if you treat it as an adventure.

    Barbara Greenleaf

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