By teaching our students to think, care, and act, we empower them to build a peaceful future.

Welcome to Think, Care, Act, where teachers and students can find rationales and resources to infuse required curricula with peace, character, global, and multicultural concepts throughout the year.

To act in a world whose problems seem overwhelming requires being able to use the powers of critical and creative thinking and compassionate and inclusive care. Employing these tools, adults and youth alike can work effectively and conscientiously to solve problems big and small, global and local.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Trouble with Retirement: Five Things That Will Surprise You

Surprise #1: You will retire.
I’ve known people who retired to travel, rehab houses, write books, consult, take courses, paint, or start theatre companies. I’ve known retirees who got bored or broke in the first year and went back to work in the second.  I’ve known retirees who died within two months out of the job.

I’ve also known people who didn’t retire, who kept working through caregiving, deaths in the family, and births of grandchildren, only to die in the saddle, as it were, during summer vacation.  My own parents worked well into their eighties. 

I was among the many teachers in my building who assured each other we’d work until we were eighty. For one, we loved teaching, whatever the age group.  We loved the kids and the colleagues; we loved the purpose and the passion for academic and social-justice pursuits. We hated the bullshit, but we needed the money and were convinced we had to keep working.  Then we entered our mid-sixties. Some of us had already care-given our way through two-to-four-or-more parents’ passings, and now we had spouses who needed care. There’s the rub.

Surprise #2: You may already have done the fun stuff.
I used every summer of my teaching career as a mini-sabbatical. Every snow day was a mini-retirement. By the time I retired, I’d already written my book, taught in China, mentored teachers, had terrific travel adventures, and developed the passion for peace education I’d infused into my curriculum throughout each school year.

My husband and I had already had decades of great times, from a puppetry career, living in a mud hut in the hills of Kentucky, and studying Sufism in Sri Lanka in the 1970s, to raising two beautiful sons, to camping and kayaking in the Adirondacks, to enjoying three (and then four) grandkids.  

We shared a love of God, family, friends, nature, peace activism, and being creative. However, the past few years had been difficult.  I felt healthy, active, and ready for new adventures, but my husband wasn’t. And, as soon as I made my decision, my husband’s health took a nosedive.

Surprise #3: Plan ahead, psychologically and financially, in that order.
Oops. I blew that. While I was focused on making sure we had enough money to retire, I did not focus on planning what to do when I retired. That’s the order that financial guru, Jane Bryant Quinn, articulates as crucial! (Take 26 minutes to watch her video interview on planning for retirement.  Then buy her book and study it.)

I did know that family was a priority.  To be near one of our sons and his family we scouted a town to which we’d eventually retire, near his city, in a beautiful part of the country we’ve always found interesting. My other son lives overseas, and we’d have to travel far to see his family.  

Using the financial resources listed below, I started to calculate our budget much more carefully than ever before.  How much REALLY did we need to live on?  How much were our savings going to earn once I stopped earning?  Should I take Social Security sooner or later? Working until I was eligible for Medicare was a no-brainer, so I did that, but I researched the pros and cons of Medigap versus Medicare Advantage plans (coming down quickly on the side of Medigap). Do we buy dental insurance or take our chances? How do I transition from being a saver to being a spender? How do I go from being an earner to a “burner?”

Why not keep teaching?  After all, I had long vacations as a teacher. Even so, family emergencies don’t just happen during spring break.  My husband wasn’t well, and my family was spread across the country and world.  I was frustrated that with every new family event, I couldn’t get there to be helpful without taking time off from teaching.  That was difficult, even with the generous support of my teaching team and supervisors. 

It also became clear that I had to retire in order to set up for the next phase of my life.  My father died at 91, and my mother on her 99th birthday.  If genetics had anything to do with it, my life could go on for quite a while.  I had to become a financial whiz to make our savings last, and if we were going to relocate, we had better get started.

Surprise #4: Being with your spouse may be hard.
All this took a while.  The uncertainty is difficult.  Coming directly from the June of retirement into the September of my first school year of retirement, summer just felt really, really long.  Being in a new place, I had to learn about health care providers and new traffic patterns.  Where were my old friends?  Being home all day with a less healthy spouse gave me less time to ignore problems and more time to have to face issues head-on.  Even with a healthy spouse, retirement can be challenging.  As a recently retired acquaintance joked, “I said I was in it for better or for worse, but not for lunch.”

Some couples find retirement glorious.  One day, I met a group of former teachers, members of one family headed to a family reunion.  They were fresh off a two-week trip to Alaska, and after the reunion the two couples were going to travel overseas.  Having retired early, in their fifties, they were each healthy.  “Isn’t retirement great?” one gushed. 

“So far, it sucks,” I replied.

Surprise #5: I lied. I don’t know what it is yet. That’s why it’s a surprise.

I didn’t want to return to the classroom, but I did miss the fun of being around kids and colleagues who ate candy before eight A.M., who wore wacky costumes for random occasions, and who taught like it mattered.  (It did.  It does.) 

I wanted to get to know my grandkids and spend time with my family, and that has been great. But I want more. I want to learn new things and attempt new initiatives without getting frantic.  I want to become active in my community in the way that only retirees can.

One financial advisor who spoke to a teacher gathering, told us retirement comes in three phases: “Go-go, slow-go, and no-go.” I have friends who’ve had to retire from retirement.  I know others who gave themselves a year to explore their options before taking on new jobs, new volunteering, and new family obligations.  I know friends who were overcome with feelings they weren’t prepared for and who needed to read articles about grieving career transitions.  I’m kind of a mixed bag of all of it. 

And let’s not forget mortality. I admit to being attached to being involved and productive and continuing to work to make the world a better place before I die. A friend agreed, writing:

“I have more time, and more time to think, and more time to be aware of this new stage of living, I’m more aware of my mortality. This was not part of my thinking since I was so stimulated and productive and working and often feeling younger and more invincible! Also, it has made me realize: ‘Do-it now-before-it-is-too-late!’  ‘Be healthy’ (It’s a moral commitment to yourself, your spouse, your family.)  ‘Move it or lose it.’ My new and in my face mantras now.”

To these mantras I would add Sylvia Boorstein’s paraphrase of a Buddhist prayer upon awakening: “Today might be the day I die. Realizing that that might be so, what can I do this day to make a difference in the world for the good?” And Bawa Muhaiyaddeen’s encouragement to dispel outer attachments and develop inner wisdom, “Using this wisdom, we churn deeper and deeper, increasing our understanding…. Then the point of God will grow.”

I feel lucky that we are retiring to a town I call a “witness protection program for retired people.”  So many people are from somewhere else, and folks are eager to make “fast friends.” There’s an active senior center, neighbors who feel like family, a hiking group that encourages me to push myself (literally) to new heights, and a Quaker meeting that inspires me to teach, learn, and grow spiritually and politically. Regular women’s pot lucks have led to life-affirming conversations.  I’ve joined a choir.  I’m learning about volunteer opportunities.  Many days, life is good.

So that’s where I’ve been.  I’m hoping to be back to blogging more regularly, providing teachers with resources to teach peace within the contexts of their existing curricula.  I’ll do the research most teachers don’t have time to do.  And I’ll do that in between caregiving, grand-babysitting, hiking, singing in a choir, doing tai chi, learning the ecology of the Blue Ridge Mountains, gardening, volunteering, coaxing my husband out for a walk, and managing the house and finances, among other retirement tasks.  Meanwhile, the resources below may be helpful to you as you navigate this surprising thing called retirement with grace and purpose. 

Bon voyage!
Susan Gelber Cannon, July 2019

Good article: "Why you should take time to mourn during career transitions"

Books: Read Jane Bryant Quinn’s: How to Make your Money Last: The Indispensable Retirement Guide

Meanwhile, watch her 2016 VIDEO interview:
"Personal finance guru Jane Bryant Quinn discusses the topic of her new book, How to Make Your Money Last: The Indispensable Retirement Guide, with a particular emphasis on helping women, who live longer with less financial security than men. WEALTHTRACK #1302 broadcast on July 01, 2016."

Check out Vanguard’s retirement planning guide. I like their down-to-earth approach:

Whether you are married or single, find helpful tidbits in each of these articles:
Blog about couples retiring:

Finally, make your decision and move ahead. Adjust as needed.  I had to laugh while reading this article. It had already taken me months to finish this retirement blog, and the fact that neither the blog nor retirement were going to be perfect was somewhat reassuring.
“It’s never going to be perfect so just get it done”

Spiritual nurture comes from many sources. Here are two of mine:
Sylvia Boorstein, down-to-earth Jewish-Buddhist wisdom:

And another, Sufi sage Bawa Muhaiyaddeen’s words of wisdom and inner searching:

A friend shared this Atlantic article after reading my post.  Themes of stage-of-career-and-life relevance and irrelevance resonated with me.  I found the references to Hindu stages of life post-career and family helpful as I try to create a new post-career life of "spirituality, service, and wisdom."  "Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think"