Is It Autumn?

Retirement… and the Seasons of Change

As I walk my two energetic dogs near our local school and park today, I noticed that the leaves are “holding on for dear life,” most have not fallen nor started their usual color transformations. This is Western Pennsylvania in mid-October. What is happening? What forces are disrupting our cycle of the seasons… from the normal spring re-awakening of our senses, to the heat and glory of summer, to the falling temperatures and brilliance of color in the autumn, just before everything shuts down for winter? Global warming? (Well, it was a balmy 75-degrees today!) Or, nature’s way of holding on to the past… and living every moment to its fullest?

Well, one thing is for sure. You can smell that change is in the air… and in our lives as we take on the great trek to retirement  – a process, like the unpredictable and evolving seasons, which can self-empower and lead us to creative ways to self-reinvent and thrive.

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If you stop to think about it, full-time retirement embraces many of the analogies we use for our changing seasons. If those early years of education, staff orientation and induction, job training, in-service programs, conferences, etc. stand for rapid growth and the budding months of spring, perhaps summer symbolizes our career accomplishments and professional journey towards harvesting our special skills, experiences, and interests in early fall. One may accurately depict the onset of a gloomy late autumn and stormy winter weather as our release from the employment routine, the sudden free-fall of retirement, retooling and coping with the emotional turmoil of momentous life-style changes, possibly even a short hibernation (rest, reflection, and a less frenzied schedule of activities), but eventually planting the seeds of new goals, habits, perspectives, and expectations… which leads us back to spring – the season of renewed hopes, revitalized rebirths, and new beginnings.

“Retirement is the last opportunity for individuals to reinvent themselves, let go of the past, and find peace and happiness within.” – Ernie J. Zelinski

Research suggests that, as wonderful as the retirement “voyage” is for some, many do not find it “clear sailing!” Dr. Robert P. Delamontagne wrote in his book Retiring Mind (Fairview Imprints, 2010), “50% of retirees will suffer some form of acute emotional distress. This is potentially a very large problem given the fact that 10,000 people are becoming eligible for Social Security every day for the next 20 years in the US alone.”

In the event your job was cut or downsized, or you were forced into “early retirement,” you may even be in the partial grips of post-traumatic stress disorder, or experiencing some of the stages of grief and loss (http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-coping-with-grief):

  • autumn-1Denial
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Acceptance

At the very least, the passage to post-employment boils down to coping with a few of these very common emotional “bumps” along the way:

  • Loss of professional identity
  • Loss of goals, daily routine, and purposeful activity
  • Loss of social network and interaction with co-workers

“The greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions, and not our circumstances.” – Martha Washington

The good news? Yes, you can survive “Crossing the Rubicon” into retirement… and flourish while “living the dream” in your supposed “golden years.” Advice from gerontologists, psychologists, and other “experts” on aging include the following:
  • Prior to retiring, prepare for “life after work.” Cultivate interests outside the job, lead a healthier life-style, revitalize family relationships, and nurture friendships.
  • Stay engaged! Understand many “high achievers” never fully retire.
  • Take a break and self-reflect on trying new and fulfilling quests of work/life balance.
  • Find purposeful activities to do during your retirement.
  • Focusing on your talents and abilities, and set some new goals regarding how you want to spend your free time.
  • Because your brain’s reward center likes variety, give yourself an assortment of new or unique experiences.
  • Treat your first year of retirement as if you are interning.
  • Reprogram yourself to be less addicted to achievement (or linking your self-identity or self-worth to a job).
  • Limit your television viewing time (less than two hours a day!)
  • Plan some regular physical activity.
  • Revisit your creative roots and enjoy personal moments of “making music” – singing, dancing, playing instruments, composing, doing drama, writing, painting, sewing, woodworking, etc. – in short, CREATING SELF-EXPRESSION!

“If you were planning to spend the rest of your life in another country, you would want to learn as much about it as possible. You would read books about the climate, people, history, and architecture. You would talk to people who had lived there. You might even learn a bit of its language. Old age is like another country. You’ll enjoy it more if you have prepared yourself before you go.” – F. Skinner and Margaret Vaughn in TIPS Retirement for Music Educators, MENC 1989

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If you ask the average retired music teacher, “Let’s get together for lunch. When are you free?” you’ll probably witness the retiree whipping out his smartphone to check his calendar app. Retirement does mean freedom, but it often also induces a very busy schedule of new commitments, perhaps even related “encore career pursuits” involving music and education such as student teacher supervision, private tutoring, coaching sectionals or small ensembles, assisting local music industry in organizing music tours/trips or delivering rental or repaired instruments, babysitting grand children or others, care-taking for an elderly loved one, etc.

“There is no pleasure in having nothing to do; the fun is having lots to do and not doing it.” – John W. Raper

A lot of our retired members enjoy part-time positions in guest conducting, teaching or presenting at the college level, providing private lessons, serving in state MEAs or the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), or other consultant services like the special interest categories on the PMEA State Retired Resource Registry Index. Many of these jobs can be started before retirement, just expanded to fit your new-found flexibility of fewer conflicts or time constraints.

The best advice I can give to newbie retirees is to learn from your peers and the successes of others who have come before you. Read everything you can get your hands on from these online “gurus” of retirement:

Check out other articles at this blog (click on “Retirement Resources” at the right), and peruse my two blog-posts at Edutopia:

Finally, if you are a NAfME member and want to see a little of Atlantic City next spring, come to my session, “Living the Dream – Survival and Celebration of Retirement” at the 55th Biennial Eastern Division Conference April 5-8, 2017 (I believe I am presenting on Thursday.) Join us, retirees! It will be FUN!

PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

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