Sabbatical, retirement or do we need another word?

When we moved to Boston a year ago I had no intention of retiring. I thought I would cobble together some work and do some writing. To an extent I’ve done that, but it’s way less work and way less writing than I imagined. And, if you look at the amount of money I’ve earned, you’d be tempted to say I’ve retired.

I have also given myself lots of free time. I’ve enjoyed reading more books, exploring a new city, making new friends, becoming a part of a community, traveling extensively and having time to attend to the neglected parts of my life like exercise. So, it’s tempting to call it a sabbatical. But can it be a sabbatical if I don’t have a job to go back to?

I meet more and more people in my age range who aren’t sure what words to use about themselves now. Maybe they are officially retired from whatever nine-to-five job they had or they’re thinking about it. The decision to “retire” is often motivated by a sense of having outgrown what they were doing, not that they are tired of it or not up to it. They, we, aren’t so much throwing in the towel as looking for what’s next – what we’re going to be when we grow up this time. In a post last month, Bill described our time at BHFH as “a gap year for geezers.”

The words I hear from those of us in this transition go something like this:

  • “I have a lot of life left in me – I think I still have something to contribute”
  • “I’m much more interested in being of service than in achieving at this point”
  • “My energy is a little more limited so I want to spend it on things that matter”
  • “I don’t know who I will be in this next phase of my life, but I’m eager to find out”

We have a sense of the incredible privilege of being at this age and, rather than preparing to die, being called to something more – whatever that is.

A few years ago I attended a class taught by writer Diarmuid O’Murchu that really grabbed my attention. He said that those of us who came of age in the 1960s got caught up in our careers and having families and that much of the social activism we engaged in seemed, on the surface, to have been forgotten. He went on to say that he didn’t believe it was forgotten or gone. He predicted that as we retire our energy will return more fully to the social issues we care most about and that energy will have an effect. The difference is that we will approach these issues with maturity and resources we didn’t have back then.

In the 1960s I was passionate about the Civil Rights movement and about nonviolence. Now those concerns have expanded and focused in on the plight of prisoners,  the homeless and all those who have been abandoned as our few social safety nets vanish. Already some opportunities to be of service in these areas are cropping up. I have no idea if or how they will develop, but I am eager to find out.

Am I retired? Not yet! Am I on sabbatical? Maybe. Do I still have something to contribute? You betcha!

What word or phrase would you use to describe the state I’m in? What do you want to be when you grow up?

3 thoughts on “Sabbatical, retirement or do we need another word?

  1. I am intending to embrace the wisdom of Jonathan Swift and “truly live” all the remaining days of my life.

  2. A lovely reflection, Carol. With respect to finding a better word for all this, perhaps we should take a clue from Spanish, in which “to retire” is “jubilar” – as in jubilee and jubilation. The post-employment years can be a time to celebrate the blessings of life and hopefully put our resources at the service of the less fortunate. How about “jubileement”? 🙂

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