According to the U. S. Census Bureau, 3.4 million babies were born in the United States in 1946, more than ever before, an increase of nearly 20 percent increase from the previous year. I was fortunate enough to be among those born that year--and who lived to celebrate their 65th birthday in 2011. In fact, I celebrated my milestone by dancing with over 500 students, faculty-staff members and community residents to raise funds for student scholarships at North Carolina Central University, where I was serving as chancellor.
When I retired in 2012, I'd spent over four decades as a faculty member and administrator at a half-dozen colleges and universities around the country. Although I retired from full-time remunerative work and the accompanying stress, I have no plans to ever retire from my national advocacy on behalf of HBCUs and my efforts to strengthen this sector of the academy.
Over the course of the past four years, I've met an increasing number of retirees who have yet to find an enjoyable and productive use of their manifold talents and unbridled energy. Some have been so negatively impacted by retirement that they're beginning to exhibit signs of depression, and medical issues are beginning to emerge. Some retirees return to the workforce for economic reasons and others for personal reasons. According to David Nathan of AARP, in 1985 only 10.8 percent of people over the age of 65 were in the workforce. As of last year, that number had nearly doubled to 18.9 percent.
Given the plethora of needs in the communities where we live, and the talent possessed by retirees, there's no need for any of us retirees to be bored, nor for needs of the community to go unmet. Imagine for a moment the positive impact a corps of organized and trained volunteers could have on the educational achievement of kids who struggle with reading, math or achieving foreign language competence. Just imagine the impact we retirees could have if we each volunteered just one hour a week as a GED tutor or reader for the blind.
Since I knew what I wanted to do as a retiree, I didn't spend a lot of time researching opportunities in advance. However, I've recently found myself doing increasingly more research in order to make suggestions to friends and acquaintances for whom retirement has been a struggle, or not as positive an experience as anticipated. After all, one can handle only so many cruises, rounds of golf, club meetings, and other activities. Of course, it goes without saying that each retiree must choose post-retirement activities that align with their interests and skills.
In my research, I discovered several organized retirement entities that are geared to retired academics or to those retired from academia. For example, the Association for Retired Organizations in Higher Education is a member network that values and encourages retirees' continuing contributions to campus and community life. Road Scholar is a not-for-profit organization that offers a wide range of learning adventures and experiential education around the world, The Senior Corps, a program of the Corporation for National & Community Service, connects retirees with organizations that need them most. Volunteers receive guidance and training so they can make a contribution that suits their talents, interests, and availability. The Senior Corps' searchable database is an excellent tool for locating service opportunities.
Retirees from academe might consider sharing some of their time and talent in the education and nonprofit sectors, as tutors, mentors, coaches, consultants, and companions to people in need. Retirees may decide to start their own business, turning a lifelong passion into a source of income. Encore Careers is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to "tap the skills and experience of those in midlife and beyond to improve communities and the world." Encore presents a treasure trove of resources, and it created the Purpose Prize, six-figure cash prizes to people age 60 and over for significant positive social-impact work, which has been likened to a "MacArthur Genius Grant award for retirees" by The Wall Street Journal.
For those baby boomers who're considering retirement, here are a dozen tips from a retiree who enjoys sharing my time, energy and expertise with others every day, whether I'm financially compensated or not.
1. Develop a retirement plan, rather than simply retiring.
2. Establish a daily routine. Sleeping-in every day can be detrimental to your long-term well-being.
3. Engage in intellectually and culturally enriching activities. Too much television may be injurious to your well-being.
4. Remain physically active. As President Kennedy once said, "physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity."
5. Find an outlet for sharing your talent, expertise and passion. Explore an "encore career" or volunteer to help those in need.
6. Maintain contact with family, personal and professional acquaintances. Research has shown that the quality of relationships is among the most important factor in determining life satisfaction after retirement.
7. Don't feel guilty about saying no to requests. Your time, talent, and treasure are valuable resources.
8. Don't over-plan. Be flexible enough to take advantage of serendipitous opportunities.
9. Don't be constrained by your age; it's an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter!
10. Laugh often, robustly and unapologetically, even about yourself. Humor and laughter offer documented health benefits.
11. Don't worry about tomorrow, it will take care of itself. Instead, slow down to relish the present moment as the gift it is.
12. Be thankful for what you have, who you are and who you're yet capable of becoming. The true fountain of youth is an attitude of gratitude.
Well, that's enough unsolicited advice for now. I have a flight to catch!
Yours in retirement,