Should I retire? And if and when I do what will I do next?
I can’t help but consider these questions because everyone around me already is. I went to a Princeton Class of 1969 dinner the other week and a good deal of the talk centered on trips abroad, cross country hiking, rowing, and all sorts of other endeavors having nothing to do with work, the great source of conversation for all these many post-graduate years up until now.
Scanning the papers I see that Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman (at age 61!) has announced that he will retire from Princeton University at the end of the 2014-’15 academic year; Robert Annis (64!) is retiring as dean of Westminster Choir College; Phil Kirschner (who looks no older than me in his photographs!) is stepping down as president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association; and, of course, Derek Jeter (not yet 40!), hanging up his spikes at the end of the upcoming baseball season.
As Krugman explained in a post to his New York Times blog, “my move reflects some hard thinking about how I can best make use of my time. . . I’m now 61, and I realized that it’s time to take a hard look at where I really want to be at this point.”
Reading between the lines, it appears that Krugman might be tired of the demands of teaching undergraduates. Post Princeton, Krugman will join the faculty of the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, as a professor in the Ph.D. program in economics — emphasize “graduate” and “Ph.D.” He will also participate in the Graduate Center’s Luxembourg Income Study Center, reflecting his growing interest in “issues of income inequality.” As he wrote in his blog post, “nobody does more important work producing the hard data on which all of this work relies” than the Luxembourg Center.
Krugman also might be eager for a change in the lifestyle he has enjoyed in Princeton these past 14 years. “I suppose there’s also a bit of coming home here,” Krugman wrote. “I grew up in the New York suburbs, and always imagined that ‘the city’ was where intellectuals went to live once they, as my grandmother used to say, reached ‘mature adultery.’ At any rate, I truly do love New York, so that there will be a lifestyle gain to complement the professional advantages.” In the text downloaded by my browser the phrase “a lot more good restaurants” was visible, but crossed out by the more neutral “lifestyle gain.”
Jeter, the youngest of the “retirees” on my radar, could have had the easiest explanation: the body was just too old to keep competing at the major league level. He alluded to that fact in a lengthy post on his Facebook page: “Last year was a tough one for me. As I suffered through a bunch of injuries, I realized that some of the things that always came easily to me and were always fun had started to become a struggle. The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would be time to move forward.”
But he also had a more thoughtful explanation: “Now it’s time for the next chapter. I have new dreams and aspirations, and I want new challenges. There are many things I want to do in business and philanthropic work, in addition to focusing more on my personal life and starting a family of my own. And I want the ability to move at my own pace, see the world, and finally have a summer vacation.”
Who wouldn’t want that? And who would pass up the opportunity to emulate — for once in your life — the action of a major league sports figure?
I can see myself now: Sitting at a cafe on a Greek island, wearing sun glasses, and ready to tell anyone who asks what I am up to now: “Nothing. I’m retired, moving at my own pace, seeing the world. Just like Derek Jeter.”
Maybe. Or maybe not. I have had a few tough years myself, some injuries, and not 20 years in the league but 30. But for me it still seems more like a game than a job.
I have a few visions of retirements I wouldn’t mind emulating. In the early days of U.S. 1, we got printed at the Bridgeton Evening News in south Jersey. In those days we had to drive the camera ready “boards” down to the printer and stand by while it was being produced. I would hang out in the newsroom as the evening paper was prepared for its press run.
As the first proofs came in a distinguished gentlemen well into his retirement years would pull up in a Mercedes roadster, enter the newsroom, and proof read the front page of the paper. He would make a few notations on the proof, hand it over to an editor, and then get back in the Mercedes and motor off. I assumed he was the owner. To a 30-something such as myself that seemed like the perfect retirement.
Then there was my father, who took early retirement at age 55 after 30 years’ service at IBM and then lived another 37 years on the company pension and medical plan.
In what must have been as close to the “golden years” as you can get, my father threw himself into pottery, a hobby that brought him into contact with a big circle of people in Mesa, Arizona. Just as the case had been during his work days, retirement afforded my father a chance to collect some choice war stories.
My favorite was his meeting with the retired couple across the street in their age-restricted community. The couple’s dog had just died and they hoped my father could create an urn for the pet’s ashes. My father was happy to do that. As they discussed the details, the husband, who was failing in health, began to doze off a little. The wife looked over at him, then back to my father. Would it be possible to make two such urns, she asked quietly. Yes, my father replied, and he would make the second one bigger than the first.
I don’t know if or when I’ll retire. But if the day comes, I hope only that I will find something to do that will provide a few good war stories.