This month I celebrate my eighteenth retirement anniversary. For decades I’d honed the craft of teaching. I’d mastered the art of developing creative lessons, generating systems for managing the mountain of folders, books, tools, and learning materials that hourly threatened to snowball into chaos, and did my best to meet the needs and demands of my students. Now, I was setting out for the great unknown of the post-livelihood life. What next?
I thought I’d begin my retirement looking after my mother. The fact that we lived 800 miles apart was admittedly an impediment, but I did my frustrated best. I spent countless hours on the phone with physical and occupational therapists, nurses, recalcitrant doctors, and social workers. I visited local care homes and assisted living facilities, got on waiting lists, and filled out forms. I was miserable and my mother was not a whole lot better off than before I’d stepped in and threatened her independence.
The following summer I participated in the National Writing Project at the University of Vermont, a month-long class for educators both present and past. I was stimulated anew at being with colleagues again, so in the fall, I took a position at a nearby Waldorf School. In addition to saying blessings, doing recess duty, and attending endless weekly meetings, I worked with small groups of kids struggling with reading and math. I reveled in my three-day workweek and the chance to work with children without the responsibility of a classroom, but after four years I’d had enough.
It’s tempting to think of my thwarted foray into parent care and those years in the Waldorf community as false starts, but both inched me closer to discovering the work of my post-livelihood life. Now, I spend much of my time banging away at a computer. The writing is hard, frustrating, and at times enlightening. I earn no money for these hours of toil. Sparrow, a frequent contributor to The Sun magazine, claims to make five cents an hour, but he gets published. My writing habit costs money. But writing pays off in a deeper understanding of myself and the gratifying sense that each time I complete a piece, I have brought something only I could bring into this world.
Writing isn’t all I do, of course. There’s the occasional foreign travel, canine care, time with friends, and as the Buddhists say the ubiquitous wood to chop and water to carry. Writing just happens to be my way of continuing the journey of self-discovery. This year nationwide, an estimated 60,000 teachers will retire. That’s a lot of talented and experienced people on the threshold of a new phase of life. Some will look after grandchildren or learn to play the ukelele. Others will become climate activists or health care advocates. Alas, many will take up Pickle Ball. All will face the demands of aging.
The dictionary defines retirement as a time of withdrawal or retreat. To retire literally means to go to bed. So don’t retire. Forget the hours in the recliner watching daytime TV. Forget fantasies of endless white beaches and margaritas. You’ve got better things to do.
You’re working for yourself now.