What is retirement anyway?

My former student Jenny got me thinking about the concept of retirement. When I posted that I was on the faculty for two schools and going around the country doing presentations, she lovingly said that it sounded like I was too busy to be retired. And that was an interesting point. After all, what is retirement – or better yet, what is it supposed to be?

I remember thinking in 2008 when I made the decision to retire that there was no manual to teach you how to do it. For me, I spent at least the last fifteen years of my “formal” working life on a treadmill that was insane. Working 80 hour weeks, always high pressure, dealing with community issues and demands, and all underscored with the politics of working with elected officials. Sounds crazy doesn’t it – but for a very long time I was energized by it and got satisfaction from accomplishing lots of things in the relatively insane environment called local government.

When my mother died, that all changed. The things that once energized me no longer made sense. The things people would get upset about seemed unimportant – and with life being so short, spending 80 hours a week doing something that gave no satisfaction just seemed ridiculous.

But when you retire, there is a moment when you question your purpose – what am I supposed to do now? From the literature I have read regarding retirement planning, most people have a financial plan in place when they decide to retire but they fail to have a life plan. And although being financially secure is extremely important, it does little to address your purpose for being. And if that is not addressed, then you hear the stories like that of “poor Joe”,  he worked so hard all is life just to retire and die.

Right after I “retired”, I took a few months to just “be “- get up in the morning and see where the day took me. Quite often it took me hiking, or planting in my garden or having lunch with friends, or training for the Bolder Boulder. Then it took me to part time work at Crate and Barrel (my fun job that I love and do a couple of days a week). But eventually it took me back to where it all began – teaching.

My career started out teaching Theatre and Dance in after school programs at Hiawatha Park in Chicago. I LOVED IT!  Directing and choreographing plays – doing all elements of play production, working with some of the best young people Chicago had to offer – and learning from them as much if not more than they were learning from me – that was heaven. Developing Chicago Park District University was another career high for me – putting together training programs for over 1200 field staff complimented by University credit programs they could take was an incredible high for me. And it occurred to me that the first love of my work life was education and being involved in the educational process. And without consciously planning for it, I came full circle to where it all began – teaching, educating and learning just as much if not more from the people that I teach.

Now I work on schools for the National Recreation and Park Association. And I travel around the country (at my own pace) presenting on a wide range of topics that deal with what we used to call “soft” skills, but are really core skills that every leader and manager (or leader and manager wannabees) need to master. Its fun, and I am always learning – what more can you ask for?

So I guess it all depends on your definition of retirement. I thank God that every day I now do only what I love and that I am young enough, healthy enough and financially secure enough to do it. That is my definition of retirement and with that being the case, then yes, Jenny, I guess I am completely retired!

2 thoughts on “What is retirement anyway?

  1. Jan,

    Your blog has really made me think about “now.” How important it is at a young age of 42 to make sure that what I do and choose for work is satisfying & that I get great enjoyment out of it. I’m a long way from retirement and yes, when I get there, I want the part-time work to be fun, too!

    Thanks for sharing – I always look forward to your blog posts.



    • It took me a long time to figure this out – and if I can make others think about this, then I feel I helped. Thanks for reading my blog – I look forward to your comments.


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