A Grandfather Reflects on a Year of Retirement
It’s a bone-chilling winter afternoon, too cold to go outside if you don’t have to. Days like this I wonder why Oma and I continue to live here. As I warm myself by the fireplace, I begin to think about what I’ve accomplished in my inaugural year of retirement after an uninterrupted thirty-eight-year career.
I’ve come to appreciate time for simple reflection, an aspect of living that gets crowded out when you’re working full-time. Sometimes it feels like I’m on a perpetual vacation, losing track of exactly what day it is. No longer a slave to the regimentation of daily work, I can simply enjoy watching a menagerie of birds searching for seeds and suet in Oma’s feeders.
On most days by 7:30 a.m. I realize I have nowhere to rush off to, so I limp through the morning until it’s time to walk Chloe. Later I exercise, read and practice the guitar if the mood suits me. I’ve picked up the volume and pace of reading, mostly some wonderful fiction but also some professional books to stay current and keep my mind sharpened. I relish the rediscovered solitude, but sometimes I miss the daily interaction with co-workers and friends. Occasionally I run into a former colleague who tells me I’m missed at the office, which reminds me that my contributions are appreciated and not forgotten.
Instead of 24/7 concerns about corporate growth and profits, customers and employees, I’ve discovered new ways to occupy my mind. I worry over whether your sister, Natalie, will fall off the monkey bars, or accidentally slam your little fingers in the door. I am apprehensive about whether our investment portfolio will last twenty years in light of the economic meltdown. And I am preoccupied with what valuable contributions I can make to leave the world a better place. I have a nagging feeling that with substantial education and experience I should be on the verge of accomplishing something big. I just haven’t figured out what my passion is, although a recent Chinese fortune cookie said, “You can expect great things to happen soon.”
All this has led me to contemplate exactly what “retirement” means. By the year 2030 about 132,000 people in Dane County will be over sixty—almost double today’s number and by then nearly a quarter of the population. This is not my father’s golden years. His generation viewed retirement as the ultimate leisurely existence well deserved after suffering through the Great Depression and two world wars. My dad lived twelve years past his retirement. My goal is to live to my 100th birthday, December 12, 2044. In that time I could have another career and “retire” again. And why not? Thirty-six years is a long time to just putter around.
So what am I doing to keep busy? I have filled out my newfound free time with volunteer work, accepting new roles and discarding other less interesting responsibilities. I’m serving on the Edgewood College Board of Trustees, a school driven by a powerful, inspirational mission to be a “community of learners committed to building a just and compassionate world,” compatible with my values. Edgewood has also asked me to teach a class on organizational effectiveness and improvement. There are few greater pleasures in life than sharing knowledge with eager-to-learn students. I am also helping United Way raise the millions necessary for everyone in our great community to enjoy a good quality of life.
And, like thousands of other early baby-boom retirees, I’ve morphed into a “management consultant,” reestablishing a professional identity by appointing myself president of my own firm and offering my experience and wisdom to anyone who’s willing to pay for it. (Happily a few have.) In many situations, I simply enjoy sharing that knowledge.
So far, the activities I’ve chosen satisfy my need to continue personal learning, teaching, helping others achieve success and happiness, and have you and Natalie be proud of me. I’d rather be doing many other things, too. Here are my top five:
1. Watch the sun rise atop Mt. Rainier
2. Sail the San Juan Islands in whaling season
3. Write a best-selling novel
4. Play guitar at a rock ’n’ roll camp
5. Start a business, make millions and give it all away
Although it’s cold, I’ll take Chloe out and mail this letter.
I love and miss you and your sister,
Opa in Madison
Martin Preizler is president of MPAworldclass and formerly president and CEO of Physicians Plus Insurance Corporation.