I retired from teaching at 59 after 33 years as a classroom teacher. So, in keeping with one definition of ‘retirement’, I chose to no longer be occupied actively in my profession. I chose to re-tire from teaching.
When I was growing up, retirement was a goal. Sixty-five was the magic age when society said that we could and should retire from work. Somehow, it seemed to me to be like passing GO in Monopoly or a reward for having survived long enough to actually be able to stop working. Then, I was given to believe, I would finally be able to do what I wanted and explore the world and what interested me. The implication was, once I retired, I would at last be able to have fun and make my choices of what I wanted to do without having to meet obligations to anyone but mySelf.
In the world in which I grew up, retirement meant it was time to move on – time to leave. Retiring was not an option but something which I would be expected to do. As I write this, I remember my father. I don’t believe he could have ever retired from working. Hell, he couldn’t even take a vacation from it comfortably. And I remember my advisor at OISE. When he turned 65, the university told him that he had to retire. He wasn’t ready to do that and informed the powers that be that, if they insisted on forcing his hand, he would take them to court. They backed down and he got to continue doing what he enjoyed doing – working with graduate students.
What brought all this to my conscious thought? I was part of a discussion recently where the concept of ‘retirement’ and ‘retiring’ came up and I felt something move in me. My signal that there was something there for me to know about mySelf.
As I often do, I looked up the word in the dictionary. The usual meanings of retirement suggest removing oneself from work or active life due to age. There is an implication of becoming solitary or sequestered – of leaving behind one’s friends and colleagues and withdrawing from active engagement in the world. And the most daunting use of the word is being taken out of active service and scrapped as being no longer useful. To me, that suggests no longer being valuable or able to make a contribution to the world. Retirement implies retreat or a departure of some sort. Time’s up. Time to go. “A vaunt and quit my sight.”
Words have power not only to express what we think and feel but also to shape how we feel and our beliefs, values, and attitudes. I know that retirement has meant to me stopping working and I know now that, in some way, it has also meant that who I am and what I know and what I choose to do has little meaning and value to my world anymore. Like I’m not real in some way. If I’m not employed and drawing a salary then that would mean that I can’t contribute to my world and shouldn’t expect to. That’s what’s been behind the whole idea of retirement for me. And now I know.
There should be a better word to encapsulate all the potential that is retirement – choose differently, explore, try new things, be involved differently. I know that, while I chose to retire from actively being in a classroom and part of a school’s staff, I have not retired from being an educator. I will be involved with education, whether I’m volunteering or coaching or teaching privately or learning, in some form or other for all of my life.
And as I consider what I’ve written lately, I know that it is all about language – the underlying meanings which I carry for words and how these reflect what I believe about mySelf and my world.
So I’m no longer identifying mySelf as retired. I’ve taken a personally chosen sabbatical to turn in a different direction and to choose to explore what brings me a sense of wonder and self-fulfillment. And, in choosing that, I will continue to change and evolve and be a change agent in my world. I’ve expanded rather than pulling in on mySelf. So thanks to John and Kim and Pat and Louise and Sarah and Sheri for their ideas. And now, if asked, I will be able to say with great surety not that I have retired and, rather, that I have expanded.
Elvis [read Genie] has definitely NOT left the building.