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Baumel Joseph: Retirement is for the birds

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(Flickr photo)

I did not retire at the usual age and have no plans to do so – at least not yet.

When my husband retired, I did not join him. I loved teaching and could not imagine stopping.

Honestly, I had no idea what I would do with my time. I was fully engaged with my research and my students. And, quite frankly, the money didn’t hurt.

But the issue of leaving the workforce raises lots of questions for many of us. The decision, and the concomitant lifestyle, are not easily absorbed, and it can be frightening.

At this point, I am struck by my good fortune in having a job that I love and the ability to keep at it for so long. When I advise graduate students, I warn them that in the current academic market, the data indicates that only 10 per cent of PhD graduates will actually get postings in colleges and universities. This means that the vast majority of our students will not get work in the fields for which they are training. That is an alarming fact.

Clearly, I was fortunate. Moreover, I never had a well-defined plan. I happened to like school, so I went to graduate school. We came to Montreal for my husband’s career. I had no career plans of my own. After a very bad experience in a doctoral program in New York, I left academia for good – or so I thought.

Friends asked me to teach here. I happened to be good at it. Colleagues asked me to teach in university. Others encouraged me to get my doctorate. Quite remarkably, and without my active planning (although with a lot of hard work), a career path opened. But not having planned my path into the profession, I did not plan an exit.

Retirement is a part of most adult life plans. People accept that they will train, work and then retire, in order to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labour. This seems to work for the vast majority. Many use the post-employment era to travel, develop or explore hobbies and spend time with family. Life enters new territory and, if health permits, it is a time of great discovery and excitement. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. Poor health, both physical and mental, can destroy one’s retirement years. But the hope is that there will be many good years to come.

READ: BAUMEL JOSEPH: PAYING ATTENTION IN THE DIGITAL AGE

So why am I not retiring?

I could be glib and say that I don’t have a hobby. But the truth is more complicated, as I imagine is true of most people’s reality.

I do still want to teach. I enjoy it and my colleagues. And I need gainful employment. But I also know that by not retiring, in some small way, I am denying my aging process. Retirement acknowledges an admittance into the next phase of life. Are those of us who don’t retire refusing to take the next step? Probably.

Additionally, the options of what to do in retirement are less attractive for many of us. No bucket list, no big travel budget, no hobbies, just a keen enjoyment of friends, students and family. All of these are easily accomplished while still actively working. Significantly, my work is not too demanding. My university insists that at age 71, full-time faculty must start working half time, which means that while I am still teaching, I usually only teach one course per semester. It’s great work if you can get it. So why retire? Life is good for now.