Skip to main content
retirement and rrsps

Woman carrying briefcase thinkstockJupiterimages

In our Living in Retirement blog, a recent retiree chronicles the ups and downs of her real-life retirement journey.

Now that I'm semi-retired, I've come to realize that work is good for me.

Although I set out to officially retire several years ago, I'm back to teaching four days a week at the college where I worked full time for 25 years.

What I'm after is finding the right balance between work and leisure time. But letting go of my attachment to the workplace - and the pay cheque - is more difficult that I could have imagined.

For one thing, I'm a better employee than I was when I was younger. Twenty-five years ago, I often rushed into class under-prepared, notes flying from my briefcase, a lesson plan barely mapped out. Today, experience has taught me to over-prepare for each lecture. Meticulous planning is what students who are paying up to $10,000 a year in tuition deserve.

In addition, I'm savouring the hours spent with young people more than ever. This generation of students is earnest and focused. They are aware of how difficult it will be for them to do things their parents took for granted, like find a decent job and buy a home.

When I look back, I must admit that for my generation, which came of age during the sixties, work was a four-letter word. Back then no one I knew wished to chuck their long, straggly locks and faded blue jeans for coiffed hair and a business suit. When we struck out for the work world, we did it reluctantly.

Now that boomers are facing endless days of leisure, some are finding that life without meaningful work is not nearly as attractive as they once believed. The most satisfied people I know are the ones who work well into their seventies, either by re-inventing themselves in second or third occupations or continuing with rewarding careers, perhaps on a part-time basis.

Often, employers don't want their 60-plus workers to leave. In my case, I suspect I'm a better employee now than I was 30 years ago and for these reasons.

1. Experience. After teaching for a quarter century, I've been there and done that. Calm, cool rationale on-the-spot problem solving is what every classroom and every organization craves.

2. Patience. Knowing that my co-workers and management will eventually arrive at an agreement no matter how far apart they start from each other is invaluable knowledge. The more people in the room who acknowledge this, the friendlier and more productive the work environment will be.

3. No kids. My life at home without a child is less stressful than it was when my daughter was younger. No one wakes me up in the middle of the night with a tummy ache. No one borrows my car into the wee hours of the morning. I sleep soundly and worry less, which makes it easier to perform well at work.

4. Solid relationship. I'm finally settled into a long-term partnership where we both have the inclination to iron out our disagreements before they become too serious. It might sound dull, but unexpected romantic upheavals did not leave me much time for concentrating on much else, including work.

5. Enthusiasm. My work has become much more fun than ever. Now that I'm not trying to make a good impression or aiming for some loftier position, I find myself enjoying the classroom for the magical place it can be.

6. Delight in the challenge. Gardening would not a life make for me, nor travel, nor playing bridge, nor spending every minute of every day with the same person. My friends who have tried it are often tickled pink to return to the new challenges of work situations.

Continuing to work into what has traditionally been seen as retirement age certainly provides aging Canadians with a sense of purpose, according to one geriatric specialist. Dr. Lesley Weisenfeld, deputy psychiatrist-in-chief at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital, said in a recent television appearance that keeping busy is important for retirees - and not just with meaningless activity.

Their need to be engaged wasn't based on financial concerns, but on social and emotional ones. "Too much self-reflection is not necessarily good for you," Dr. Weisenfeld said.

If semi-retirees like me try harder than ever, they bring both enthusiasm and hard-won experience to the table. It makes sense that everyone will benefit.

At the same time, I find my younger colleagues qualified, engaged and eager to do the heavy lifting. The boomers are the entitled generation; we took full time employment for granted. Many of us believed we were entitled to a job for life, to rebel against authority, and sometimes to goof off at work. Even when the system was working in our favour, we never grew to trust it.

It's only now that we are realizing how exceptionally lucky we were.

Follow Joyce Wayne on Twitter: @JoyceWayne1951

Interact with The Globe