February 28, 2013 by Jean
Today I took the first step into my future. I signed the papers to enter into a retirement agreement with my employer, Gettysburg College, where I have been a faculty member for the past 25 years. Basically, today’s signature officially confirms my intention to retire and commits me to a retirement date – September 1, 2014. You can see why this is only a first step; that date is still a year and a half away! But because the process of searching for a new faculty member is long and laborious, the College and my colleagues need considerable lead time to hire a replacement. Thus, if I am to retire at the end of the 2013-14 academic year, the deadline for officially declaring my intentions was tomorrow, March 1.
Although retirement is still more than a year away, I feel as though I have just begun a new and exciting life journey. I find college teaching an energizing, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally satisfying activity, but I have been feeling ready for retirement for several years and counting the years/semesters/months until I could make the wish a reality. My teaching schedule involves teaching five courses a year, three in the fall semester and two in the spring. Since each of these courses meets three hours per week, this may seem to many like a very cushy work schedule. But each of those hours in class requires several hours of preparation and even more hours of grading and one-on-one work with students. The reality is that each course demands about 20-25 hours a week of my time. During the two-course semester, that works out to about 45 hours a week – a full schedule, but manageable. It is the three-course semester, with its 60-75 hour workweek and too few hours for sleep, that leaves me feeling worn out. There are so many other things I want to do with my life, and my job just doesn’t leave me with the time and energy to do them.
Happily, my retirement is not quite as far away in reality as it is officially. Although I will be on the payroll through August 2014, my teaching responsibilities will end in May of that year. This leaves 15 months of full-time employment (including one more of those exhausting three-course semesters) between me and retirement. But signing these official papers makes me feel light-hearted. I have entered an official pre-retirement stage, and my transition to retirement will now become a more central focus of my life. It feels like the planning stage of a big vacation, full of anticipatory excitement.
There are many transition tasks that need to be attended to in this coming year, of which signing the retirement agreement was only the first. I intend to chronicle both the transition into retirement and my actual experience of retirement in this blog. I want to do this for myself because I find I live my life more fully when I take time to reflect on it. But I also hope this chronicle will be of use to other baby-boomers who will be traveling this path in the years to come.
Because I am an academic, a professional sociologist, I approached preparing for retirement with the skills provided by my profession. I did a lot of reading and research. I quickly learned that much of the writing out there on preparing for retirement focuses on financial preparations. But retirement is about much more than money; the money is presumably a means to the end of living. One helpful book that focused on retirement as a way of living was sociologist Robert S. Weiss’s The Experience of Retirement (ILR Press, 2005). Weiss did extensive and repeated interviews with 89 retirees from the Boston metropolitan area. What I took away from his analysis of those interviews is that the transition to retirement includes as central tasks the questions of what to do with one’s time and how to maintain social relationships.
Taking my cue from Weiss, I am planning to post about three different categories of retirement transition and experience: finances, time/activities, and social relationships. For this pre-retirement year, I will probably post once a week, cycling among these three basic categories. Once I am actually retired, I will post more often (perhaps once a week in each category).
Stepping into the future is stepping into the unknown. And the unknown is an edgy place, simultaneously fraught with danger and alive with possibilities. But this is a journey I am ready for, and I have taken the first step.