My university’s human resources department is offering a series of retirement workshops. One in particular caught my eye: Are You Psychologically Ready for Retirement?” I am psychologically not ready for this workshop! Nor, apparently, do I have time while working to attend a session for those of us “five years or less from retirement!” I’m pretty sure that being “financially” ready to retire will never happen. I can’t predict how long my “retirement” will last or what the stock market might do to my savings. Financial readiness is going to require a leap of faith. But “psychological readiness?” Now I have another concept to add to my retirement worries.
It was in this frame of mind that I saw Robert Brent Topin’s essay in a recent issue of “Perspective,” (September 2012, pp. 37-38), the newsletter of the American Historical Association: “Strangelove for the Classroom; How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Retirement.”
Topin writes that he approached retirement joyfully, with plenty of plans for new projects – in human resources speak, he must have been emotionally ready. But it didn’t take long before he missed lecturing and class discussions and wistfully longed for engaging talks with colleagues about “history.” The “permanent sabbatical” that he anticipated evolved into a search for some way to reconnect with the community he had retired from. Topin named his feelings the “Empty Classroom Syndrome (ECS).” His solution, one he advocates for with passion in this essay, has been to teach history to senior citizen students through a local life-long learning institute.
Tobin’s choice may answer that readiness problem for some, and his essay suggests that banking psychological as well as financial assets should be part of retirement planning. Yet I am left wondering why one should retire, if the result is to substitute unpaid teaching for the kind that now results in a paycheck? The life-long learning role would provide structure and establish obligations to be met in otherwise structureless days of retirement. But I’ve got that structure now, and with retirement no longer mandatory, why should I want to trade employee status for that of volunteer?
Or is it the youth of the people I now teach, rather than the bank deposit I receive every two weeks, that makes me “unready” to trade one group of students for another? Our relationship as teacher and student is mutually beneficial – I can offer them experience that comes with age and practice; they, in turn, offer me insight into the present – insight I would not gain from students in a life-long learning institute.
I do believe I am not psychologically ready to confine myself to an age-segregated community. I wonder, not when, but if I will ever be. Still, I will now be filing the evidence of my psychological planning in a folder right behind the one marked “retirement finances.”