Academic journal article Adult Learning

So Are You Retired or What? Notes from a Lifelong Journey in Search of Possible Selves

Academic journal article Adult Learning

So Are You Retired or What? Notes from a Lifelong Journey in Search of Possible Selves

Article excerpt

The artist is not a special kind of person, every person is a special kind of artist.

--A. Coomaraswamy

The artist quote is part of my email signature. It grounds me in recognizing that each person has gifts to share with others, as long as we are open to receiving them. This article shares a reframing of lifelong learning beyond a formal career.

Like many of my peers, after 40 years in postsecondary education, I have moved beyond my most recent full-time work teaching in an adult education graduate program to emeritus faculty status. I was invited to write this Future's column to share my experience moving into the next phase of my career and examine my own future. The traditional term for this phase is retirement. I transitioned in July 2010, so I have almost 2 years of experience in this post full-time work phase. However, I spent several years preparing for my version of the next phase of my lifework with the key question, "What do I want to do next?"

Before we get too far into this story, let me be open about my personal background. I am in the vanguard of Baby Boomers, born in 1946, and raised in a White, middle-class family from Connecticut. Indiana has been home for 42 years. My life has been privileged and influenced by the academic world. I have been accused of going away to college and liking it so much that I've spent my whole career on college campuses!

Perspectives on Aging and Retirement

There is no consensus on the question of how to define the age when one becomes an older adult. The protected status for age discrimination starts at 40 years of age. The age to start drawing Social Security benefits is 62 (earlier if disabilities are involved), but to draw full benefits, the age for Boomers is 66 years. Others say 70 is the age when people are viewed as old. There are also cultural factors and indicators related to health, vitality, family responsibilities, and continued engagement in work (whether full-time or part-time) that influence whether an individual is viewed as old.

Adults in the United States above age 65, women and men, as a proportion of the population is increasing rapidly--from 27% in 2000 and predicted to be more than 35% in 2020. In a 2011 American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Survey of Boomer Expectations, 43% of those who were still working could not wait to retire; however, 41% indicated they did not want to stop working. This survey also showed that in retirement, 71% planned to focus more on time with family, and 66% planned to spend time on hobbies and interests. Expectations of retirement as leisure (57%), personal indulgence (45%), or time for travel (48%) have fallen more than 10 points since 1998. This may be connected with the instability of the economy and traditional economic planning tools. Although a traditional definition of retirement is withdrawal or rest from work, this is not related to what I planned to pursue. Some Boomers may be reevaluating what to do in the next phase of life, yet it does not sound like as many are moving toward a purposeful new retirement focusing on helping to meet the needs of people and communities through committed engagement. With these negative stereotypes, I use the term retirement only when I have to describe an official status.

So Are You Retired or What?

Family and friends ask, "So are you retired or what?" when I mention I have a couple of conference calls to conduct or am facilitating an online class. I respond with an emphatic, "Or what!" I explain that while my status from the university is emeritus, so I am not working full-time, that does not mean I've stopped being an adult educator.

Terms like reinvention, third age, encore, renewal, evolution, and r-evolution are attempts to replace the old retirement status stereotypes. Yet, the phrase I decided to use several years ago to describe the next phase of my lifework is reframing my career. …

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