Is there life after retirement?
When I decided to take early retirement in 1994, after 36 years of teaching at all grade levels from pre-school through graduate school, I had a couple of positive models to guide me. My father and my older brother both retired at 58, and their enjoyment of life after retirement led me to believe I, too, would enjoy it as much as they. My sister-in law had also retired at around 58, and she was as supportive as my brother in my decision to take advantage of the "golden handshake" extended by the state of Illinois to those who had more than 30 years of experience, but who were under 60.
Now that I've been retired for just over a year, I find myself using the cliche: "I don't know how I had time to work." It's true. Just as we will fill a storage space to its capacity, we also will fill what we see as a storage space in personal time to capacity.
I'm finally finishing off my basement, a 21 year goal. As I write (late June of 1995), I'm finishing the process of relocating all my perennial flowers into a central location, so I have even more joy from the early daffodils and tulips and the current Asian lilies and day lilies. My picnic benches finally look as I want them to, the dock on my pond is surrounded by moss roses and vincas, and my chrysanthemums promise a brilliant fall.
Of even greater delight in retirement is the time to read what I want without thinking about the time I should/could be spending on grading student papers or preparing a lecture or reading Deborah Tannen's latest book. This is almost sinful delight. There is sheer luxury in discovering as you are totally involved in a mystery that it's 10:30 p.m., then realizing that you don't have to get up in the morning and that if you could read until midnight and finish the novel, no one will be the wiser. (This realization is especially pleasurable on a Sunday night.)
A friend in another discipline made up copies of a hand out he gave to people when they asked about his retirement. On it, he indicated he was retiring because, after 33 years of teaching, " . . . if I have to make up and grade another exam, I'll go crazy." I am thankful--daily--that I don't have to go to meetings. I went to a meeting of the annuitants of the University, a local organization for retired staff and faculty that's part of a state-wide organization. It seemed to me after about an hour of what portended to be a day-long meeting that this was an organization for people who miss having meetings to go to. I felt particularly adult as I walked out in the middle of the first session. I have met my hours of required purgatory in meetings.
A good friend, 14 years older than me and the first Ph.D. I directed, retired several years ago. She wrote me:
Retirement, as you have observed, brings new dimensions of physical and intellectual freedom. I see so many younger, brilliant friends struggling against barriers that crumble with retirement, barriers that may be professional or personal or both. This, I think, is especially the case with women. Because a woman is committed to her own intellectual growth, some people expect her to be frigid, humorless, and hairy-legged. She is pressured to conform to the expectations of others. Often a woman feels unable to claim her independence, especially during a period that has become synonymous with exploring the boundaries of individual freedom. It results in a high degree of personal frustration with which she cannot always cope. And so, she often seeks a man to pin her fear and anger and exhaustion on. Independence [is] tantamount to intimidation rather than challenge and opportunity for growth and self-assertion. Claims that a father, son, husband, or lover "has ruined my life" [are] a denial of one's own responsibility for his/her own fulfillment.
My friend went on to comment that retirement allows time for such considerations to gel. Retirement gives us the time to look back and ". . . recognize the innocuous happenings on which we wasted so much psychic energy and permits us to relax and redirect our energies." The book with the marvelous title When I Grow Old, I Shall Wear Purple says it all, especially to women. Now, in the late twentieth century, with life expectancies growing older and older, not to plan for one's retirement and not to see retirement as an opportunity for growth is to doom oneself to unhappiness and frustration. I'm now working part-time as a consultant, training on-the job scientists on how to write up reports of their research for in-house and regulatory agency approval. I'm simply taking the skills and talents I developed as a teacher and applying them in another setting.
Retirement, like commencement, is a signal of the beginning of a new and exciting life. Retirement is a joyful and happy time, perhaps the happiest time in life. I awake each morning with a full agenda and find I have to write notes to myself (much as I did when teaching full-time) to help me keep track of what I hope to do each day.
"Is there life after retirement?" is probably the wrong question. For me, retirement has been and is becoming so fulfilling that I will probably soon be asking myself, "Was there life before retirement?"