A reflection on retirement and what that looks like
I have been in school for 56 of my 60 years on planet Earth. Seriously. I cannot even remember
a time when I was not in school, either as a student or an educator. I have had 56 first days of
school, and, come this summer, my 56th and final last day.
I am retiring. I swear I only just blinked.
It has happened so quickly…the end of this career. The past 39 years, the total of my
professional life, has been spent as a high school English teacher, girls’ basketball coach, and
high school administrator. Seems like just yesterday I was a 21-year-old first-year teacher,
barely older than some of my students, and now I am the senior citizen in a building full of tech-
savvy millennials who can’t even name all four Beatles or do the Time Warp.
When I started teaching, I used textbooks and made copies on mimeograph machines (oh that
smell!), and now teachers utilize web-based resources and paperless Google classrooms. I’ve
been to 39 graduations, 39 proms, made roughly 3,984,572 phone calls home, and had one
voodoo curse put on me by a slightly unhappy parent. It’s been a wild, fun ride.
Trust me, there are a couple of things about my job that I will not miss. Not one bit. I will not
miss bus duty, cold and wet Friday night football games, or my hour-long one-way commute. I
won’t miss conversations with parents who want kids to be held accountable, just not THEIR
kids. I won’t miss handling discipline referrals or being the female dress code police. I doubt I
will ever have another craving for school lunch. But there are things that I will absolutely miss.
My great colleagues. The process of teaching and learning. The kids- most especially the kids.
A reasonable person might think that impending retirement after such a long career would be
something gleefully anticipated. Finally, some peace, quiet, and all adult conversation. Not so
for me. I am finding the idea of retirement to be unsettling as hell.
I am not particularly worried about money. I have surely not gotten rich as a teacher and
administrator, but I have a decent retirement pension for life and have made some wise
investments. I am not worried (yet) about health. I have great insurance and I exercise enough
to somewhat counteract my love of all things food. I’m certainly not worried about staying
busy. If anything, I have too many hobbies…golf, working out, cycling, house and yard projects,
What I’m really terrified of is no longer being relevant. Webster defines relevance as “the
condition of being connected to the matter at hand; to know why it matters or why it is
important.” For every step of my life up to this point, I have been unequivocally certain of who I
am. I’ve been a vital cog in a complicated profession. I love what I do and I’m pretty darn good
at it if I might toot my own horn. I have mattered. The question now is how to matter beyond
the culture of a defined workplace.
Listen. I am no stranger to life transitions. I was a sister until I tragically lost my only sibling. I
was a wife before experiencing divorce. I was a teacher before leaving the classroom to become
an administrator. Those were extremely challenging transitions, but retirement feels even more
daunting. It feels so, well, final. Don’t only old people retire? Who will I be once I am no longer
who I am?
I am not having a pity party. Intellectually, I know retirement is not the end. Author Charles
Eisenstein calls where I am “the space between stories.” I am like the trapeze artist who has let
go of one swing but hasn’t grabbed the second one yet. I am hovering in mid-air and I have no
idea when I’m going to grab on to whatever comes next. What will my next story look like? How
will I discover it?
I do not have any answers yet. Being new to this retirement stuff, I guess I’ll be winging it a bit
as I figure things out. I am prepared for the fact that my ego will be challenged, but I am going
to resist the urge to jump right away into a new role. I will take some time to breathe, to enjoy
an entire summer on the beach, to finally organize that ridiculous closet, and to ponder the
reinvention of myself. In short, my mantra, for now, is to embrace the space.
In the meantime, maybe I’ll study up on voodoo. Karma’s a bitch.