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“I spent 44 years studying retirement : then I retired”

This is the title of an article written by former professor David Ekerdt of sociology and gerontology at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and author of “ Downsizing : confronting our possessions in later life.”It appeared in the Wall Street Journal October 23, 2021.


I am sharing this and highlighting it because it may be the best insight or , for me, most relevant perspective of before , during and post retirement that I have seen. There are many paths and you decide yours . This article is a life time educator‘s summary of many years engaging others in their journey.

Following are some highlights:


“The Enigma of Arrival“ is the title and theme of a novel by Nobel laureate VS Naipaul .

What is it about arrival that is mysterious ? Simply that one’s imagination of a destination , even a place for which one has prepared and striven , will never quite be one’s eventual experience of the place.


Professor Ekerdt has made retirement the primary focus of his academic career as a sociologist all the way back to 1976 when he told his mother that he was going to study aging. She asked what do you know about it ? He acknowledged the fair point and began to try to answer her.


So , he embarked on much research , interviews , studies and surveys in his career.


While many things he studied were confirmed , he did face friendly questions about his new status. He had to devise an account of himself that he found appealing , even if it is not telling the whole picture.


Somethings he knew to be true , but had not realized how true ; for example, retirement ceremonies and rituals can be important.... it’s served as an important transition for him .


Perhaps the most unexpected thing about being retired is that despite everything he knew about thousands of retirees , there was still plenty that he wasn’t prepared for.


Maintaining a modest part-time status with the university , he realized how important technology support and having some space in which to work and store things were important to the job and ability to be productive.


Then there’s the wariness that retirees have about claims on their time. The Professor was asked to be a volunteer at a place that he loved and visited often , but declined , protecting his options after years of claims on his time from work , family and others.


Retirees overwhelmingly reported the great prize of retirement is freedom from daily obligations , no more schedules and your time is your own . He seems to have effortlessly and unconsciously downshifted from the self-imposed drive that was part of building a career . With retirement , that level of professional engagement has wound down and you can relax today , free of self inflicted urgency about what’s next.


Yet , his work-based habits of daily time management have persisted . He has a hard time shaking the accustomed discipline of the workday , and may not completely wish to do so . Waiting makes his patience wear thin. He asked himself whether his time has been well used or wasted.


He focuses on making time count ; that stubborn old motor has been running for years and has yet to slow down . Perhaps someday he can aspire to what a former boss told him: “ I got up this morning without much to do and I hadn’t finished it by the time I went to bed.”


He goes on to say he lives with a puzzling ambiguity , he has two angels perched on his opposite shoulders ; one whispers in his ear “relax“ the other asks , “ shouldn’t you be doing something?”


Another surprise , he found himself being newly self-consciousness about his age when out with others ; am I the oldest diner in the restaurant , or are people treating me differently?


There are plenty of negative stereotypes of older adults . The danger is that we retirees will internalize them , think less of ourselves or discount ourselves . He knows better than to fall into that trap and tries to resist it. Objectively his capacities and strengths are unchanged , but he’s reconciling himself to a new slot in the wheel of life . Which is why a number of retirees say they’re not retired , then they tell you about how busy their lives are.


Another surprise that in just 18 months he marveled at the way his old workplace had become unfamiliar to him. He may still receive limited communication , but being away from it , it’s plain that he couldn’t walk in tomorrow , sit down and readily resume all duties.

Things have moved on and every day the organizational knowledge and skills of a retiree like him can become a little bit more obsolete.



The final surprise for him lately is that he possesses a growing esteem for the generation coming up in their 20s and 30s. Preoccupied with his own work universe and aging ,he wasn’t thinking about early adulthood. Now , he’s paying closer attention to the millennials , the energy and the courage of younger adults are a wonder to his veteran eyes . I cheer for them because our communities will depend on their strengths.


Some retirees plan a clean break . In his case , he foresaw continuity for himself across the transition : same person , same interests and relationships . What is clear now is that he has arrived to the place that is further than he had imagined from the worker that he was , from the setting where he worked , and from the younger man that he had been . He has arrived only to embark…..

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