Retirement is one of the words that does not fit my vocabulary. But then again, it’s not a bad word at all. Retirement is a concept that people can and do interpret in many ways. It has its cultural baggage as well as its pictorial images. Sitting in a rocking chair, floating on a boat fishing, spending time just to pass the time. Of course, these are all images that are fully stereotypical. Traveling, starting a new endeavor, doing those things one has put off for some time, and taking on new challenges are images that I like to associate with retirement.
Presently, I’m in my very last semester of teaching graduate students at the university level. I first began working with university students, both undergraduate and graduate, in the Fall semester of 1989. My gosh, Miami Vice was entering it’s last year of showing. So twenty-eight years later, I’m still doing and enjoying this work. Yet the transition out of it does not shock me. The gate of time through which I’ll be walking come December is both exciting and sad. I still thoroughly enjoy working with students, which has always been the plus of the work I do. (Now faculty meetings, that’s another thing all together.) So not being around them all that much will be something I miss. Simultaneously, I’m expanding on a part-time private practice I’ve developed over the years while I have taught. I also thoroughly enjoy working with clients, which is the road on the other side of that gate I mentioned. I hold a supervisory status as a counselor, so I supervise new graduates as they pursue their full licensure in counseling. So I’ll maintain contact with people fresh out of counseling programs. Though there’s some changes coming, some things will remain somewhat the same. But there are other exciting opportunities ahead.
Travel, writing, new business endeavor with my counseling practice are images that I associate with retirement. And what about thinking? I love to sit around at times and just think. I’m weird like that. I envision January and February of 2018 as a couple of months that I’m going to take to just think. What about, you ask. I have absolutely no clue. And that’s exactly what will be fun about it. Perhaps the best answer to that question simply is – whatever.
My private practice, Contemplations, targets clients who are going through transitions. Hopefully, I will be in a good place to do more of that work with clients. But the word retirement for me does not generate the image that comes with the cultural baggage.
My dad worked hard all his life. One of the roles he took on for himself, common to many men from his era, was that of a provider. He took seriously that responsibility that whatever happened, providing for his family was a rock solid value to which he held. I never saw him back off that role. That is, until he retired. I was hoping retirement would be fine years for him. And for the most part they were. He and mom had worked hard to own their small but comfortable home on a small lake in East Texas. But I also watched him grow bored. He was a worker, a laborer, and a floor supervisor valued by the many people with whom he worked over the years. I think the idea of merely sitting around the lake house grew old to him fast. I observed that he ceased doing the things that could have made his transition stronger. He loved fishing. But he reached a point where he never went out on the lake anymore. He was a tinkerer who loved maintaining the house, working in the yard, and keeping the boathouse in good shape. Slowly but surely, these activities fell off one-by-one. I alway wondered if he believed that because he wasn’t working, he had actually lost his purpose and aim in life as a provider, and he just didn’t know what to replace the roll with. I don’t know. Health was another issue. His heart problems began to take a toll on him, and he lost that zest he had for life and didn’t like the idea of being so weak he couldn’t do things. Much of these details are nothing more than surmising on my part. The one thing that dad didn’t lose was one hell of a sense of humor. He and mom over the years had one hell of a great time doing the things they enjoyed. So the sadness I felt in watching him in his years after work simply came in understanding he couldn’t do a lot of the things he wanted. His first heart attack came not much longer than a year after he retired. He was most definitely for me a role-model. So I hope to keep that zest going as long as I can into retirement years.
My private practice feels good as a segue into my post teaching years. There are several things I’ve been writing on which I can put more focus. Goals: traveling, learning a new language, becoming more technologically savvy, and of course my standby – reading my ass off. Next year around this time, I will have returned from a trip to Scotland, which I’m much looking forward to. Presently, my health is holding up. I’m a paleo-dieter, which reduced considerably my cholesterol numbers. I do Pilates at least once a week, so I feel pretty good right now. In such transitioning, one never knows what time bomb is ticking away inside one’s body. Seize the day – carpe diem – is not a bad line.
I can’t say that I had any philosophical framework for entering the world of teaching twenty-eight years ago. My approach has developed over time, and is continuing to do so. There’s always something to learn in working with students. The primary thing I hold regarding being a prof is simply providing a pathway for students to think for themselves and come to their own conclusions about things. When I exited my doctoral program, theoretical concerns were still pretty big in the counseling world. Now I see that more in terms of providing a space where students can think about how they see this work for themselves. That doesn’t necessarily entail that they choose a theory and slide into it. It’s more about how they see themselves, their beliefs, and their values that they bring to the field. Hopefully, I’m just one marker on the road to their becoming who they are, getting at their core identity, which will be a life-long process.
I for sure didn’t have a philosophy of work when I set out on my career. I wasn’t thinking necessarily in terms of what work means, how it might add value to my life and others, or how it plays in the big scheme of things. Wish I could say I was thinking about all that stuff. More than anything, I was thinking about getting a job, paying bills, and having a savings account for once in my life. That stuff is okay too, and more valuable than we tend to think. Work for me now is valuable, not just in terms of doing something, but doing something I feel is worthwhile. I hope I’ve built relationships over the years through teaching in ways that I’ll never really know or need to know. I just hope some influence and encouragement is there. At this juncture, I do believe work is about a calling, a purpose, and finding meaning. None of that pursuit or search stops with a job. I love putting thoughts and ideas into words, so writing is something that will keep me busy. There is something fulfilling for me in looking at the consequences that ideas hold. I wrote a blog article earlier on areas I want to pursue going forward in terms of the themes mind, thinking/doing, meaning, and humility/finitude. I hope to see where working with thoughts around those themes carries me.
So yeppers, as we say in East Texas, I have some plans that do not involve merely ceasing to work. I’m sure, come December, I’ll be writing about this transition again. But for the most part, it’s simply a bend in the road. And I’m looking, God-willing, to what lies ahead. Having said that, my faith definitely informs me on these things, though I confess at this point, I’ve wandered quite a bit in terms of my beliefs. That’s another thing to settle into over the next few months and years.
There are no conclusions. JUST KIDDING. But why did these thoughts come up for me now in writing this blog article? I’m sure most of it is due to the fact that as I meet with each class this semester, I’m approaching an end to something with which I’m very familiar for nearly three decades. But that’s okay. In fact, it’s exciting. In terms of the theme, humility/finitude that I listed above, I’m fortunate to have done this work with the students with whom I’ve worked over the years. They are the best of it. I remember sitting in a history class with one hell of a professor back in the early 1970s, and in that particular class thinking, this is what I would like to do. And I’ve gotten to do it. I’m blessed now with good health still. But finitude – well that’s part of the formula. Approaching seventy-years old means the fuse is shorter. That’s the simple fact of it. But as Dylan Thomas charges, I’m not going gently into that good night.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/September 14th, 2017