Ever since word got out that I’ll be retiring from teaching at the end of this semester, people have been asking me what I’ll be doing next?
I try to respond politely, but the question annoys the hell out of me.
I’m reminded of singer-songwriter Willie Nelson’s response to a fan who asked him when he’ll be retiring: “Retiring from what?”
Most people who “retire” usually stop what they call “working” and begin what they call “playing.”
But what if your work is also your play? What if it’s your calling? What if it’s deeply meaningful to you? What if you don’t want to do less of it?
I’m one of the lucky ones. Most Americans don’t especially enjoy what they do on the job. My father spent most of his working life anxious about earning enough for his family to live on. The moment he turned 65 he stopped working and began collecting Social Security, and he spent the next 31 years playing golf.
The original meaning of the word “retire” was to find a secluded or private place. Judges still order juries to “retire” to consider a verdict.
This doesn’t describe what I’m doing, either. The last thing I’m looking for is seclusion.
So why am I retiring from teaching?
I love teaching. I’ve been at it for 42 years. But it seemed better to quit when I’m still able to give students what they deserve. I owe it to them to do it well.
[A few of my graduate student teaching assistants]
Yet I’ll miss it. Teaching is the most generative thing I’ve done in my life, apart from being a father.
I had my yearly doctor’s appointment yesterday. My doctor is a young woman, not much older than many of my graduate students. Everything checked out fine. When she asked me what was new in my life, I told her I was about to retire from teaching. She congratulated me. I burst into tears.
I’d been hiding from myself just how much I’ll miss it.
Retirement is often confused with aging, but I think the relationship is the reverse. Meaningful work — work that’s more play than work — can lead to a longer life. As Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. — poet, writer, educator, and physician — once said, people “do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.”
I won’t any longer be teaching entire courses, but I won’t quit playing.
By the way, please join me tomorrow (Friday) for the third class in my Wealth and Poverty course, right here on this page. We’ll be taking a deep dive into the jobs of today and the likely jobs of the future. If you missed the first two classes, no problem. You can pick up with the third, or retrieve class one here, and class two here.