My friend Jan is retiring this year. I have followed her Facebook posts about celebrations hosted by friends to honor her past contributions and toast her retirement, but I find more interesting her obvious enthusiasm. An enthusiasm grounded in plans to mark the transition by transplanting herself to a new space. Soon she will move from Memphis to a small and quite beautiful island off the coast of Maine (and the photos she shares make this island seem like utopia). Jan’s approach to retirement looks more like a “going to” than a “leaving behind,” more a start than a finish. Is it the “going” that is making retirement appear to be such a positive step in her life?
Retirement has seemed so much like a loss to me – the loss of income, the loss of focus, the loss of a structure that has shaped life for decades. Jan’s story, in contrast, is one of anticipation, of something to be gained in retirement. I sense that she will not need antidepressants when she settles into her new accommodations!
Jan once told me I didn’t need a retirement mentor, I had only to anticipate, as she has done, ways of “following my bliss.” I am on leave in the fall – and I am surely anticipating those months of concentrating on a part of my job that is most rewarding and ignoring the parts that sap energy and drag down spirits. Can I make this leave a test-drive of retirement? Just to see if a life sans teaching, sans university service (tho not sans income), really is blissful? Certainly the semester sabbaticals were blissful in the past, even when filled with work…but while navigating those leaves I wasn’t thinking about trading in the old car for a new one with different buttons and pedals, an complicated instruction manual, and a new lease on life, all of which have an unfamiliar and slightly scary appearance. Perhaps I should begin to think of retirement not as the new car I will need to learn how to drive, but as my familiar old car with new detailing and the back seat removed to store the memories. Certainly one needs a comfortable car to follow the road to bliss.