A Thanksgiving for retirement
Among those activities I now enjoy is counseling older dudes who are gazing longingly toward retirement. Like most counseling, one should listen. And listen some more. But with the arrival of my first Social Security payment, it seems timely to write as well as listen.
On September 1, I began my third year of retirement from Meridian Community College. On October 5, I awakened to my 66th year and began my Social Security draw. It is said "time flies." And so it has. One of my questions for students entering college was "what purpose will you give to this time?" One of those easy questions with no clear answers.
It has been my turn to field that question in the context of "retirement." I can't count the number of times I've been asked. "What are you doing now that you've retired?"
I've not found an answer that satisfies both the questioner and the respondent.
Sometimes I'll say something like, "I'm not doing, I'm becoming." That line is a certified conversation cork. Most of the time I simply hand out my Meridian Star business card. That too is a conversational closer.
If I want to watch the questioner's eyes glaze over, I try to explain how the Mississippi State Public Employees Retirement System banishes me to other states to do a bit of work related to my craft.
I've concluded that the question is simply one of those polite conventions not requiring a response. One simply nods and says, "Oh, I stay busy, how are you doing?"
The correct answer is. "I'm enjoying trying to learn."
And what am I learning? Best response, "I've learned that I'm a very slow learner.' This continuing struggle to learn to write is a good example.
All that stuff I was taught in journalism, English, political science, sociology, economics and education about organization of content and clear purpose does not work for me. I can not abide outlines, thesis statements, goals and objectives. I can not, as Steven Covey instructs, "begin with an end in mind."
No, I simply begin to write, rewrite, delete, add and eventually find myself writing into a corner or reaching a conclusion. I usually reach more questions than conclusions. And I frequently confuse myself as much as I confuse either of my readers.
Among those things I've learned is that we need to restructure or rethink our ideas about "work" and about "retirement." For example, consider our concept of "career ladders." The idea one progresses through a series of work assignments which are progressively responsible and, hence, more economically valuable is called a career ladder.
In fact, the economic value of particular jobs is not a function of organizational placement. Nor is responsibility a laddered characteristic. This concept of career is an industrial age creation. Real straight line thinking. Good old production line model.
Haven't I read somewhere that this is the "post-industrial age?" As for me, I tend to go with the late Harry Chapin: "All my life's a circle" and certainly not a ladder.
So as Thanksgiving approaches I'm especially thankful for the blessing of being able to do a bit of work at my own pace. Most of the stuff I do is narrow in focus and has very limited responsibility. That's wonderful.
At the same time, The Meridian Star offers me active engagement in our hometown as well as the community that is our newsroom. I get to stand apart from as well as be a part of the daily press of producing newspapers. Great energy and challenge.
The small bit of community college work I do beyond our state helps keep me in touch with friends and colleagues across our country. Some of us are missionary about the American invention we call community colleges. So in a very modest way I get to share in passing along that vision.
So as we cut the turkey tomorrow, I'll celebrate the circle of life that allows me this season of leisurely, meaningful work. I'm profoundly thankful that this work encourages me to continue a life of active inquiry and reflection.
Most of all I'm thankful this retirement loop on life's spiral allows me family time. My best friend and I get to spend more time with our children, grandchildren and extended family. Retirement is truly a blessing worthy of thanksgiving.
Bill Scaggs is president emeritus at Meridian Community College and a senior consulting editor for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.