Every life transition brings its own emotional response, even when you are the architect of your own transition. Many transitions are gradual, even semi-conscious. You have been planning to buy a new bigger house and finally all the pieces come together, and you move, only to find that the new house doesn’t have the same feeling as the old house, and the switch in the powder room is in a different place than the old one and it takes months, even years, to reprogram your brain to automatically turn on the light. And you momentarily resent the new house.
Retirement is like that. Retirement in modern society is seen as a desirable change, something to look forward to, though even that takes some planning and adjustment. Sudden job loss is not so pleasant.
I had no plans to become an author, and certainly no plans to retire. I had worked hard to build up a successful management consulting/executive coaching practice and I saw myself continuing that business for as long as I could, so long as health and circumstances allowed. I had thought in my late 50s another ten years might be a reasonable target. But when I reached age 62 I thought 72 might be a reasonable target. As I approach age 72 I’m thinking that finish line should be moved out a bit further – another ten years? Luckily for me, or perhaps unluckily, I have an active mind (or perhaps it is a mere self-image), and idleness is not my friend. When I live only in my head I get depressed. I imagined myself shifting emphasis and diverting energy to other enterprises (slowing down?) but not retiring. So when I found myself struggling to write my book, The Dynamics of Management, I didn’t then realize this was the beginning of my own diversification. I published my two family memoirs about the dogs, and my marriage, and set up my own publishing company to promote my books. I bought a license for the afspublishing.ca url, set up the website on my ispservers and through it started promoting my books; I even had my website completely overhauled last year, though where I found the energy for all that I do not know. I now find myself having to force energy back to AFS Consulting which has much higher potential for actual revenue than my publishing enterprises. I’d rather immerse myself in the world of words. I have five more books in my head, or in various stages of readiness for publication, and I am spending a lot of time on these blogs.
When Marlene turned 64 she began to think about retirement. She didn’t really want to retire but she was feeling social pressure – at age 65, you retired.
Naturally she raised the question with me. Marlene was an extrovert and tended to say what she was thinking. She and I had been married more than forty years and while she knew her own mind – she often surprised me with her decisions – she consulted me when she faced a significant decision. Or maybe she didn’t really consult with me so much as think out loud. She had been a stay-at-home Mom and enjoyed her children as they grew up. And then as they ventured out of the nest she started her third career as an Education Assistant in the School Board.
Eleven years later, out of the blue, she asked me,
“Do you think I should retire next year?”
“Where did that come from?” I asked in return.
“Oh, you know, we just turned 64 and I figure this should be my last year and I should put in my notice.” (She said ‘we’ because our birthdays were just three days apart, and we were the same age.)
“Did someone raise this question with you?”
“Your brother. Everyone.”
My brother, though two years younger than me, is a retired school teacher and had retired seven years earlier, at age 55!
“Yeah, he was on the Freedom 55 plan, but he hated his job, or perhaps he loved his job but hated his boss. Anyway, I think he was nuts to retire so young.
“But who is everyone? People at your school?”
“No, it just seems like I should retire.”
I thought it unlikely that she was getting pressure from her co-workers. Marlene was pretty private about things like her age, and she sure didn’t look like she was about to be 65. If anything, she looked fifteen years younger than her actual age. She had fair skin and her face still had that tight glow of youth. She was slim – even though Marlene was forever saying she needed to lose five pounds – and she carried herself with an interesting combination of poise and enthusiasm. Her complexion was fair, her hair a blonde tone of brown which she had worn short since she was twenty. These days it was a bit blonder with a little assist from her hairdresser. She didn’t use much makeup, but she always made sure she applied a little blush and her lipstick was fresh.
“I thought you enjoyed your job?” I opined.
“I do love my job!” she said, “especially the kids.”
“Even when they swear at you?”
“Even when they swear at me. They are just crying out for more attention.”
Marlene had been a paediatrics nurse in her first career, but at the first opportunity got pregnant and started her next career as a stay-at-home mom. For twenty years she raised our three kids, Shannon, Ryan and Alison. She began volunteering at Alison’s school and soon caught the principal’s attention. No surprise there. Thus began her third career as an education assistant working with developmentally delayed and behaviour-challenged children. She was a natural. I used to remark she was a natural because she had her own problems with attention deficit. Marlene didn’t object: ‘Yeah, I think I ‘get’ those kids in ways the teachers don’t,’ she would often say. And the kids got her, even if they did swear at her.
I commented that most people retire, if they can financially do it, because they hate their jobs, or they hate their bosses, or just because ‘they should’, or because they think retirement is just one long vacation. But that often isn’t the answer. Happiness comes from feeling valued and appreciated by others, from using your talents and skills in some useful and productive way. I had no intention of retiring any time soon.
“We may be human beings,” said I, sagely, “but we’re also human doings.
“If you did retire, what would you do?”
“Oh, I guess I would tutor kids who have learning difficulties. Maybe volunteer in the schools,” she said without a trace of irony.
“That’s what you’re doing now” exclaimed I, “and you’re getting paid for it!”
After a period of silence I suggested, “Why don’t you follow your own philosophy and take it one day at a time, or one year at a time. There is no compulsory retirement age anymore. You can work for as long as you want, and, you will accumulate more pensionable income that will serve you well into your old age.”
Marlene put off her retirement decision for a year but as she approached age 66 she pulled the plug. Her co-workers were astounded – she was so good at what she did, not just with the students, but with all her co-workers – and they couldn’t think why she would want to retire. She brought sunshine to work every day. They were going to miss her.
“What are you going to do in your retirement?” they asked.
“Well,” she would reply, “I have a friend who runs a little therapy horse ranch for autistic children and I’m going to help out there. And my son’s two kids are five and three and need daycare next year so I’m going to take care of them.”