May 17, 2023

More of Your Retirement Stories - Continued


In what has become an interesting series of posts, this time around I an providing the response from reader Jean P.

 Biggest inspiration/mentor: 

My college Sociology professor, Ann Marie Keenan. When I got back the second of four short papers assigned in her Sociology 101 class, she had added a note on the bottom, “I hope you are thinking about graduate school in sociology.” Well, I wasn’t. In fact, I don’t even think I knew that such a thing as graduate school existed (being the first person in my family ever to go to college). She continued to press the point throughout my three years in her classes.

I remember running into her in the student union on the last day of classes in my sophomore year, when I was celebrating the completion of my four-course foreign language requirement (not my strong suit). When she asked me what language I was going to study next and I expressed incredulity, she said matter-of-factly, “You need two languages for your PhD.” She made extraordinary efforts to help me. 

In our junior year seminar for sociology majors, when we read and discussed a book a week. On a scholarship with no money to spare, I couldn’t afford to buy all these assigned books. When I could, I took the books out of the library; when I couldn’t, she loaned me her copy (a sacrifice I didn’t truly appreciate until I was a professor myself many years later). 

She was disappointed when I planned to pursue a career in social work and not a graduate degree in sociology after graduation from college; but, five years later, when my planned social work career had ended in failure, it was because of her that I considered a PhD in sociology as a possibility and because of her that I found my true calling.

Lessons about money: 

Money was tight in my working-class family, and my father, especially, made sure that we children were taught what things cost and how to budget and save for what you wanted. Even as a four-year-old, I already knew that if I saved up my two-penny a week allowance, I could get a nickel chocolate ice cream cone in week three. Those saving habits and budgeting skills stayed with me throughout my life, allowing me to live within or below my means. 

The most difficult financial hurdle for me in retirement was figuring out how to spend down savings. I finally decided on the strategy of treating my monthly social security benefits and my quarterly RMD distributions from retirement savings as income and budgeting accordingly.

Thinking about old age: 

I certainly absorbed many negative messages about old age in my youth, but I was also aware of alternatives. When I was sixteen, I met a distant relative, a widow in her late seventies, who was lively, adventurous, stylish, and fun. I was star-struck, and although I never saw her again, she stuck with me as a role model for my old age. 

My thinking about old age shifted perceptibly when I was fifty and experienced a cancer diagnosis with a lousy prognosis (20% 5-year survival rate). Suddenly, old age became a highly desirable achievement! I greet each new year as a gift and an adventure and like to think of myself as “growing old, with an equal emphasis on both words.”

Wisdom of advancing years

The greatest joy and surprise of my advancing years is how much I continue to grow and change. I don’t think I expected this to be such a happy, exciting time of life, and I try to get the message out to younger people that there is much to look forward to in our advancing years.

Miss about career: 

I suppose if there’s anything I miss about my college teaching career, it is the opportunity to meet and mentor young people. Mostly, though, I have been able to find ways to continue to experience much of what I loved about my profession while sloughing off the parts of the job I found burdensome.

Would I do it again: 

I have no regrets about my career path and would do it all again in a heartbeat! (even the false start on a failed career, an experience from which I learned a lot)

Thank you, Jean for your encouraging and openly honest responses. I found your insights and reflections fascinating. 

Readers: check out Jean's two blogs: Jean's Garden and Stepping into the Future.


  1. Fantastic story of your life Jean!!! Congrats on your survival and taking advantage of "growing" old. :-)

  2. This was a great read. And it also led me to Jean's blog. Thanks!