When I was in my 40’s, I went to dinner at a conference with a group of faculty members. A friend of mine knew someone else at the table would be 65 years old in the summer and asked innocently, “So are you thinking of retiring?”
The colleague clapped and said, “I don’t play golf, so why should I retire?” His tone cuts off any further conversation, but I remember, “I don’t play golf either. Does that mean I’m not going to retire? ” Until then, I did not think of retiring. Yet I began to think about retiring, and when I retired two years ago, I was glad I did.
Last month, longtime friends and I zoomed in to catch up. At one point, the man mentioned that they were going to teach a class in the fall. They retired a few years ago, and with the same innocence of many of my old friends, I asked, “Why are you doing this?” My friend replied sharply, “Because I am upset with my mind. For this. “Conversation ends.
These two interactions booked how I came to think about retirement. I would often advise annoyed undergraduate students and career early teachers not to stop practicing. I appreciate that raising young families and trying to get a term often means they have very little time on a jam-packed day. “When you’re feeling overwhelmed,” I would say, “that’s the day you have to exercise. No one will win if you’re sick.”
I have tried to follow my own advice. And I now acknowledge that the habits I have developed along the way have put me in a better position at a new stage in my life. Here are some of those habits.
- Meditate. Meditation in the morning before I go helps me. I am able to slow down the urge to flit from work to another task and make sense of the day ahead of me. Periodically throughout the day, I would pause for a few seconds before starting a new task, concentrate on my breathing, and start again. I found that I was able to focus better and less crazy. There are many good apps available to help you do this, but I use Walking Up.
- Memorize I had a high school English teacher who memorized his students’ poems. He said it added “a rose to the garden of your mind.” We were all upset about the work because it wasn’t great, but secretly I enjoyed being committed to a poetic memory. I’m back to memorizing the work of the great poet য়ে Yeats, Neruda, Angelo-not just because I like the joy of words, but because it helps to ease my memory.
- Fast. When I was in college, there was a movement called Fast for a World Harvest. For the next several years, I fasted periodically — the longest was eight days. I now try to fast two days a month. Rosa has nothing to do with weight loss. When I fast, I am brought to a greater sense of being on earth. Just as meditation enables me to be more thoughtful, so fasting enables me to be more connected.
- Exercise. The epidemic was effective in grounding us in our homes. My husband and I couldn’t go to a gym, but we could walk about two hours a day. I stretch every day, and my rules get longer as another part of the body starts to hurt me. We keep walking. I run, and we hike a lot. Being outside, like fasting, brings me in touch with nature.
- Read on. The point is not just reading, reading with someone else or in a group. Last year, five of my friends and I had a zoom conversation about James Joyce Ulysses. This year, a different group is reading Jose Saramago’s novels. I took a class at St. John’s College in Santa Fe last year Brothers KaramazovAnd this summer I’ll take another one from Kazuo Ishiguro When we were orphans. I’m finishing reading all of Dostoevsky Monster With a friend. Literature reflects on me, and reading in conversation with others helps me to think through difficult things that I have not considered.
- Involved. Democracy is under threat. Climate upset. Fascism is on the rise. Inequality is on the rise. Homelessness is rampant. Racism is all too obvious. Gun violence is local. I feel completely comfortable giving voice and authority to those who are young, but not participating in some fashion means simply embracing discrimination instead of helping to eliminate them.
- Experience and experimentation. I tried new adventures that I could never do while teaching. I got my interest in chess back. I’m learning more about jazz. We travel two months a year, and this involves visiting art museums and attending classical music concerts as well as hiking. All I try to do is avoid scrolling through Facebook, watching the breaking news of the day and following other unnecessary activities.
- Deal with death and death. I lived as a gay man during the AIDS crisis. I had to start thinking about death and dying at a young age because I saw so many friends die. Today at my age we all know relatives, friends and colleagues who are dying. Of course, death is inevitable. Reaching this stage of life should enable us to think about what life means and what others mean to us. When I look back on my life, some of my most meaningful conversations lead to those who were dying of AIDS. In those moments, I not only supported the person, I also found what I wanted out of life. Same thing today.
If you are in faculty I offer these thoughts on how to prepare for retirement, not as a recipe with a necessary list of ingredients. We all have our own recipes. I think, though, that it is a mistake to be so married to our work that we think the only option is to play golf অথবা or to retire. If we develop habits early in our careers, we will be better prepared to add them when we retire. We will be able to see leisure as a different stage of life, yet one that is still full of hope, challenges and the ability to think through many of life’s big questions.