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.