July 25, 2019

Retirement is Like Graduation...Sort Of.


"The decision to retire is a graduation of sorts. We were like students that have left high school. We had no desire to return. We had learned what we needed to learn, given all that we had to our careers and now it was time to move on to other things."

This comment, left by a reader on an older post, jumped out at me as a rather novel way to think of retirement. In a very real sense, retirement does mean graduation from something we have known for years. It is leaving behind the familiar for the unknown.

Think back to your own high school days. Graduation was probably a big deal, if not for you, then certainly for your family. Maybe relatives came to watch your big day. It is likely a gathering at your home, maybe a meal for everyone, was planned. You dressed in your Sunday best (remember that expression!) even though that long gown would cover everything. 

The day dawned clear and promised to be hot. After all, it was late May. But, chances are you didn't really notice. Today was the unofficial official start of your adulthood. You were itching to find out what the future held.

If you went to college, I'm pretty sure graduation wasn't as big a deal. Even though you invested four or more years and untold thousands of dollars in getting that diploma, the sense of excitement wasn't the same. The end of High School was a much bigger highlight in your life. If that is not true, then why do so many folks return for a reunion 20, 30, even 50 years after that day?

Graduation marked a transition from one part of your life to another, a stage with what felt like unlimited possibilities. Whatever followed good old Lynnfield High would be controlled by me! I was the master of my own domain!

Well, that's not really what happened after 12th grade. In my case, college followed immediately, then establishing a career, putting in my 6 years with the Army Reserves, marriage, and all that came after. I had a firmer hand on the wheel after leaving home, but other forces dictated much of which way I turned.

Retirement has some of that same type of mixed-message feeling. As the reader said, " now it is time to move on to other things." Yet, we are not Robinson Crusoe, on our own island, free of any responsibilities except to stay alive. Life has a way of insisting that we remain firmly attached to much of what came before. 

For over nine years on this blog I have been making the case that retirement is just one phase of life. It is not a magical time when all cares and worries fall away like leaves from a tree in October. It is not a time when the rules of nature and society no longer apply.

Retirement comes with a full compliment of responsibilities and obligations. As long as you are on this side of the grass, there will be things you must do, whether you want to or not.

But, and this is a big but: how you meet those responsibilities, control your mind, your emotions, and your knowledge, is much more your decision, your choice. The ultimate currency, time, is your friend rather than your master.

Retirement is like graduation, sort of. It is a step forward that opens doors to opportunities that you could only have imagined. What you make of them is up to you.

32 comments:

  1. Retirement by choice might be likened to high school graduation, but those who entered retirement via job elimination or health crisis will, unfortunately, probably not have a perspective that's quite so bright. The company Alan worked for eliminated his position when he was in his mid-50's and had been with them for more than 35 years. Apparently, it was good for the bottom line to get rid of the well paid IT guy who had worked his way up to six weeks of vacation. Alan was bitter about his "retirement," but he enthusiastically celebrated mine when I decided to leave the workforce.

    Your last paragraph struck me, Bob. For my parents' generation, retirement was viewed as time to begin winding down. I believe that many retirees today view it as a time to gear up for the next chapter of their lives.

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    1. I think you're right that many retirees think about gearing up. I wonder if this puts too much pressure on people. I myself feel I want to make the most of my limited time whether by having fun or by being of service to others. How to do that is the question.

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    2. Mary: yes, those who don't choose to retire go through a very different set of emotions. Even though the end result is the same (retirement) the path is very different.

      Susan: What folks do with the freedom of retirement is a very personal decision. Some take on big new challenges, others enjoy a slower, less pressured approach. Mary is right about previous generations seeing retirement as a time to wind down. Those of our age hopefully see it as another stage of life, to be lived fully, whatever that means to each of us.

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  2. Graduation from high school was a more memorable time since it did mark a true turn for many of us, from living under our parents rules for many years, to pretty much anything goes (at least it was that way in the early 70s). Retirement was not that way at all and more akin to when I graduated the University of CO, the institution I just walked away from after the last class and never had anything to do with them again (did not attend graduation, have never responded to their endless appeals since 1978 to send them alumni monies, etc). When I retired I turned my back on the company and people I worked for and have never had a single thing to do with them since other than keeping in touch with a person I worked with now and then on Linkedin or social media.

    I guess I have always had the mindset that if something is over it is time to move onto the next great adventure, whether it is leaving after graduation and getting married and a job, or whether it is retirement with all the possibilities it offers. Why waste time on things that are essentially done when there is so much more to do looking forward?

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    1. I have never been even remotely tempted to attend a high school reunion. My 50th was 2 years ago and I was on somebody's radar to urge me to travel back to Massachusetts to see people I didn't remember. I passed.

      Like you, I see High School (and college) as part of my life that was important, but is 45-50 years back in my rearview mirror. When I graduated, I was done.

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    2. I have no desire to go to a reunion, but I have reconnected with a few special friends from high school/grade school because of facebook, and over the years we do our own reunions.Last one, 3 of us met up in Cinncinatti , 2 years before that,Denver..

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    3. I imagine those get-togethers were fun. You could focus on the special people who were memorable.

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  3. I was forced to quit working by illness and injury. And, it appears I will never get my PhD. That lack of education is the hardest for me.

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    1. Obviously, that was an important goal for you. I gather an online approach to get the PhD won't work?

      Anything we hoped to achieve but couldn't due to circumstances out of our control can bother us for a long time. That is very understandable.

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  4. I wouldn't remember my high school graduation if you showed me a video or me getting that diploma. But my college graduation was truly a special day. I was old enough to be a mother to my fellow classmates.

    But I do love the comment you quoted at the top and generally agree that retirement---if not a forced retirement---is comparible. I separate forced retirements due to health or downsizing from planned retirements because, in my opinion, there is more fear involved than anything else.

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    1. Like you, I have zero memories of my actual High School graduation. I didn't attend my graduation from Syracuse University. Except for a handful of names I remember, I have no contact with anyone from that period of my life.

      "Mother to my fellow classmates" .....how wonderful. Getting your degree somewhat later in life changes the importance, I am sure.

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  5. At this time, my husband is like a senior in HS, with just a few months BEFORE he retires. He is excited and it's getting harder and harder for him to get up and go in. We called it, Senioritis, when I was in HS; those last few months before graduation.

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    1. Is he taking some "Senior Ditch Days?" That was part of our tradition in the last month before graduation.

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    2. Yes, he took the month of July off and is looking at some upcoming 4 and 5 day weekends.

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  6. I love the new larger font. My old eyes thank you!

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  7. "The ultimate currency, time, is your friend rather than your master."

    Love that!

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    1. That really only happens twice in life: when you are a young child lost in play, or after retirement.

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  8. Retirement does feel a bit like graduation now that you mention it. I have a couple of friends that I worked with and still see periodically. But other than that, I have nothing in common with my former co-workers and can't imagine seeing them again. OTOH, I graduated from a small h.s. with 63 people in my class, and you can bet we know everyone at those reunions. I have been to a couple of them, but honestly, I'm not enthused to attend another. Facebook tells me all I need to know about what's happening back there, and it's a long trip for a few hours of socializing. As for retirement, I have more freedom and time now that I did after graduation. And I LOVE this: The ultimate currency, time, is your friend rather than your master.

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    1. My class was probably around 150. Even though I was in band, theater, and Student Council, I doubt I could remember more than 4 or 5 of the kids. I must not have been very social as a teen.

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  9. The difference for me is that I hated high school and I loved my job. I was ready to leave both stages of my life and didn't look back, but I left one with bad memories and the other with wonderful memories.

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    1. I did't dislike High School, I just haven't carried any of the connection with me. My creative writing teacher instilled a love for the written word that has never left me. That is the most important legacy of that stage of my life.

      Even though the travel wore me down the last few years, I enjoyed my career and sense of accomplishment.

      But, like High School, when work ended I was ready to graduate to what was next.

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  10. Good analogy. You graduate. Then what? You've gotta figure it out.

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  11. Retirement is like a graduation for me, a graduation from the job that I have had for almost 41 years. I planned for mine and my husband's early retirement at the age of 62. My husband's went off without a hitch and he is happily working part time (20 hours a week) at a job he loves and for a company that actually treats their employees with respect. He was a letter carrier for the US Postal Service prior to retirement. I had planned to have my knee replacement surgery this coming October , stay on medical leave until I turned 62 this coming Jan. BUT in Nov. the Health Care System that I work for decided to close the Rehab unit that I had worked in for 37 years and not honor the fact that I was supposedly grandfathered in to not work as a Float RN and even though they were supposed to re-open my unit as an acute care unit, they decided to keep my unit closed and use it's staff including me as Float nurses , not only in the ancillary hospital where I worked but also in the main trauma Center Hospital! Since Rehab was considered non acute, they gave me 2 days orientation on an acute care unit and one day of education and said,"you can now work on any department". As fate would have it, my knee deteriorated very fast causing me to take a medical leave and have my replacement surgery. Because I was off for 5 months, I did not have a job to go back to since my unit was closed and they did not seem to have a position for me even though it was supposedly guarenteed that I would have a position. I had already decided that after my medical leave I would resign even though I am not yet 62. Luckily, I had invested wisely in my 401K which I pulled out at the age of 59 1/2 and reinvested it. I will be able to live off money I have in an IRA for the 6 months until I turn 62 without touching the annuities that are set up to start paying my monthly when I turn 62. Yes, I am bitter that after almost 41 years of service I was treated this way but those who make the most money and get the most vacation time have targets on their backs anymore. I am looking forward to not working and being able to do a lot of things that I was not able to do after working full time night shift for 37 years an then going part time for the last 3 years. So I am excited even though my retirement came a bit earlier than I had planned! And I can't wait to see what the future holds for me and my husband and no, I will not be taking a part time job. I have plenty of hobbies to keep me busy!!....Love your blog by the way!!
    Deb

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    1. Love having you as a reader, Deb!

      Your story is heartbreaking, and anger-inducing, and all too common. Our sense of community and looking out for each other, or even honoring basic commitments are relics of the past. If you project where the unrestrained greed and selfishness will lead, the picture is not pretty. Think French Revolution.

      The good news is the attitude you are adopting and the joy you see ahead of you and hubby. We can't do much to control a system that cares nothing about anyone not in its upper echelons. But, we can control how we approach each day and what we will make of it. I am predicting you are going to have a very satisfying retirement.

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  12. Like Tom says - You gotta figure it out. Retiring without a plan is like planning for the wedding day without investing energy & thought into the marriage & relationship: planning for the birth day without thinking about parenting this little person for years to come; buying a car or building a house without planning for maintenance costs. You get the picture. I think I read it first in this blog - it's important to retire to something, not just from something.

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    1. Most of us leave high school with plans, some highly improbable but dreams nevertheless.

      Retirement can begin the same way. Goals and dreams are meant to change, to evolve. But without something it is very likely we will drift and find ourselves in a place not of our choosing.

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  13. I don't know,Mona, Ken and I 'Planned" but really, after a year or so, we saw that most of our plans just didn't "gel.." We ended up not really wanting to RV or leave home for weeks on end. We didn't enjoy mountain life ,after moving up there.. (well,I didn't..) and overall we have settled into different routines and activities than we originally planned..I think we need to plan loosely, and go into retirement with a sense of adventure..explore a little,experient a little,talk with other retirees..see what's out there..and how you end up wanting to spend your time... every year we seem to change it up a little, in year 6 now..never boring!!

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    1. We are free to shift with our moods and inclinations. I am progressing with my guitar course and will start oil painting (!) this week, following Bob Ross videos.

      This period of creativity just happened without planning. But, I am free to see what happens.

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  14. Because I retired from a career as a college professor, the similarity to graduation was marked. I remember discussing the similarities with several of my graduating advisees during that last year. At many colleges and universities, rituals related to retirement are intertwined with graduation festivities. And I think it's relevant that college graduations are usually called "commencement" -- the beginning of a new, exciting stage of life.

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    1. You're right: commencement rather than graduation for college. That term is a good fit with what usually follows....the real beginning of adulthood, ready or not!

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  15. To me, retirement did not feel like graduation. Graduation felt like the celebration of an accomplishment whereas retirement felt like the loss of a career and an identity. It was only after I retired that I realized that I didn’t miss my workplace at all, and that I really loved my new retired life.

    Jude

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