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Reflections On My Retirement: Year Two

By Jerry Ziskind

Although I have been retired from teaching almost two years I still structure my life on the school calendar. I retired in June 1999, and now, May 2001, am nearing the end of my second year of retirement. Without looking at what I wrote last year I will write my current thinking about retirement. I plan on doing this annually, as a way of personally documenting my experience. Hopefully by sharing my developing attitudes towards retirement it will shed some useful light for others contemplating retirement or interested in my experience.

At the end of my first year of retirement I decided I needed to expand the social action aspect of my life. I have been fortunate to be able to retire so young (I am now 58); I felt I needed to give to others. In addition I am not ready to spend the majority of my time indulging myself in play activities. So in addition to the time I continued to invest in my religious affiliation, the Northern Virginia Ethical Society, where I serve as chair of the Long Range Planning Committee, I looked for ways of serving my greater community.

A friend told me about a vacancy on a local commission so I applied and now serve as the Falls Church City, Virginia representative to the Fairfax Area Commission on Aging. I attend one monthly meeting of 3 hours and an average of one or two additional meetings or activities a month. Serving on the Commission involves meeting new people and becoming knowledgeable about an area new to me. In addition I volunteered to tutor two first graders at my former school, which I do once or twice weekly for about 4 hours a week.

This year I have made an effort to try new things. I realized that in my last years before retirement I had no energy for anything new. It took all I had to just accomplish what I had to do. I decided that it is essential for me to do new things in order to feel alive and grow.

The first major new experience for me was to attend a week of "Summer School" in the hills of North Carolina. This leadership workshop was run by the American Ethical Union, the national organization for Ethical Societies. It was a wonderful personal and growth experience, and helped me focus on my need to increase my efforts in social action. In addition, for the first time I participated in a platform service at our Ethical Society, sharing my experiences at Summer Scholl.

For personal growth my wife and I signed up for Tai Chi classes that meet an hour twice a week. Tai Chi is a real stretch, literally and figuratively, as we learn to think about our bodies in new ways. The Tai Chi classes are held in the morning and cut into my writing time on Tuesdays and Thursdays but I continued to write, about three or four mornings a week and Rosemary and I continued our weekly outings, usually on Wednesdays.

I spent a lot of time and psychic energy on my parents needs, especially my father's deteriorating health. I visited them at least once a week, sometime twice. In some ways my father's deteriorating health and declining quality of life encouraged me to be less structured and more willing to goof off. I have started to enjoy some computer games, especially FreeCell, a form of solitaire.

My writing has had three main focuses. I continue, and am nearly finished with, the biography of my father. Unfortunately my father died in mid January. The time spent with him during his final illness and helping my mother deal with his estate inevitably decreased the time I spent writing. Emotionally I also felt less like writing. I intermittently began to interview my mother and write her story. In addition I found I was writing a number of articles for our Ethical Society Newsletter as well as writing for the Long Range Planning Committee I chair. So while the quantity of my personal writing has decreased I continue to be pleased with my progress in developing my writing skills.

All this makes it sound that I am highly productive and busy. While I have been busy this year I finally am learning that most of the deadlines in my life are self-imposed. As a teacher and employee I learned, as good workers do, to complete my tasks on time. I got used to being goal oriented, always having a list of what needed to be done. After retiring I continued to keep a "to do" list as a useful reminder as I get more forgetful, but I also maintained that internalized feeling of needing to get things done. A few months ago I realized that I was no longer feeling as much of that internal pressure. After a year and a half of retirement I finally was beginning to live a life style that was compatible with what I had already intellectually understood, but previously was unable to do. That is, what I did or didn't do was my choice. Of course I still am asked by others to do various things, but ultimately it is my choice. I cannot be told to do them. This is, for me, a new way of living - and I like it.

So ironically there is less pressure to accomplish in my life, but by my own choice I am busier than ever. I get less writing done, but it bothers me less, because I feel I am doing other things worth doing. I still am driven by the need to be fruitful and productive, hence my increased load of volunteering. Rosemary and I have gotten away for a couple of weekend trips, I work in my yard and garden more, and I still do needlepoint, but not as frequently. We finally had our Yard Sale. The house feels less crowded, especially the basement and some closets. This has inspired me to want to get rid of even more stuff. This was one of my early retirement goals and it is encouraging to finally make some progress in this area.

I now find myself being able to goof off without worrying so much about getting things done, although I still have a long way to go in this area. Our culture glorifies work. The news features stories of elderly people working productively. That is fine for those who want to, but working can be easier than retiring for those of us whose work defines who we are. Retiring from full time work forces you to figure out what else is meaningful to do with one's life. After two years or retirement I can see that life is open to many possibilities and I expect the specifics of what I do will change year to year. Being retired seems more natural, more comfortable. I can't imagine working full time. When I called to make an appointment with my former principal to discuss tutoring I recoiled at the idea of a 9:00AM appointment. I made it at 11:00. After all, I am retired.

Next: Reflections On My Retirement - Year Three | Index