Retirement Career Counseling
by Dan Lukiv
(An excerpt from A Career Counseling Symposium. First Edition, 2002, ETONSA, Johannesburg, South Africa; Second Edition, 2002, BCTF Lesson Aids, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)
"[A Career Counseling Symposium:] Excellent.As always, Dan is challenging and thoughtful":
Dorian Love, Etonsa (South Africa)
Dr. Hanson (MD), in his best-seller The Joy of Stress, says "the
sudden silence gained by retiring from a demanding job into a life of idleness
usually causes death or senility within two years, unless new stresses and
interests can be found" (Hanson, 1986, p. xix). That says "boredom
kills." Visit an old age home; see what too many years of dullness, lack of
stimulation, lack of stress, to use Hanson's language, has done to many
people. Consider this poem:
AT THE HOME [Lukiv, 2000]
A fork scratches a plate--
In a moldy
A scolding eye;
A mouthful of
Some of the corn
"Do you want any salt?"
A fork scratches a plate--
A needle grating
A record on a
The old woman eats
With her mouth open,
While her daughter
Looks at her watch
Sad. Perhaps this old lady's plight could have been this old lady's adventure, given liberal doses of stimulation. Perhaps a retirement counselor could have given her direction that, followed, would have put a twinkle in her eye. "Boredom kills," or maims. Csikszentmihalyi's flow channel tells us, "Enjoyment appears to be at the boundary between boredom and [too much] anxiety" (M. Csikszentmihalyi as quoted in Steyn, 1998). His message reads the same as Hanson's--stress, anxiety, can promote enjoyment, or happiness. Call it the power band of my five-speed Neon. Twirling in that band its 2000cc motor sings like an Indy buzz-bomb.
I'm not saying too much stress can't become a negative force....With an additional worry of an assassination attempt, the Olympic high jumper might not even get off the ground. After a traumatic breakup with his girlfriend, the outstanding student could very well fail his exam due to inability to concentrate. After three weeks of being nit-picked, humiliated, and shrieked at by a lunatic director, even the best actor might have trouble avoiding a substandard performance. (Hanson, 1986, p. xix)
Rather, I'm agreeing with Hanson's thesis: "The [unhealthy] view is that the only way to succeed against stress and to achieve longevity is to live a monastic life of dullness [lying around endlessly in lawn chairs?], self-denial, and rigid discipline....This view [is destructive]" (Hanson, 1986, p. xxii).
Hanson's warning seems clear. Retired people need challenges. Roadburg, a researcher who specializes in the sociology of work and leisure and in social gerontology, agrees. He says, "one dictionary...defines retirement[ ] as 'giving up one's work, business, career, etc'" (2000, p. 1). My dictionary uses the word "withdraw" four times in its definition of "retire" (Retire, 1992, p. 826). I grew bored as I read it. It "implies...retreat or going to sleep" (Roadburg, 2000, p. 3). Roadburg prefers the term "re-tire." It "suggests getting new tires or a 'new set of wheels' for a car. Now, recall how you feel when you get a new set of wheels. You feel great, you can go anywhere...feeling confident that the journey will be safe and comfortable" (p. 3). Re-tirement "implies preparation for a journey, movement, action, rejuvenation, freedom, and a fresh new start....To retire suggests an ending; to re-tire implies a new beginning" (p. 3).
Roadburg "conducted a major research project among 352 re-tirees" (2000, p. 9) who ranged from 52 to 86 years old. What was the main reason people were dissatisfied with retirement? Boredom. What did they miss most about work? "A routine or something to do, and social contact" (p. 10). Stimulation. As he says, "time and time again, I come across people who became disenchanted with re-tirement after the initial 'honeymoon' phase ended. They[ ] got the 'travel bug' out of their system, or they found that playing golf everyday was not as much fun as they thought it would be" (p. 10).
Therefore, retired clients should not be subjected to suggestions that [they] do volunteer work, join a senior's group, or go back to school. There is nothing wrong with these activities, except that they do not appeal to everyone and they present a limited view of what [retirement can be]. (Roadburg, 2000, p. 6)
Really, retirement can, simply put, be a launching pad for a new career. Winston Churchill "did not even start his career as prime minister of England until age sixty-six, and was reelected at age seventy-seven" (Hanson, 1986, p. 11).
In the spirit of that last sentence, think of professions, or careers, that don't end. Think of composers. Artists. Writers. Statesmen/women. Gymnasts. Kidding. Denton Cooley, the famous, elderly heart surgeon, hasn't retired. Did Shakespeare retire? Louis Armstrong? Picasso? Beethoven? Dickens? Moses? Moses remained active, stimulated, until his heart's last thump. Is that so bad? Egerton Ryerson "retired from the chief superintendency [in Upper Canada] in 1876" (Prentice, 1977, p. 21) but he continued to write. Along with several histories and an autobiography based on journals kept from his youth, he produced between 1871 and his death in 1882 three small but revealing textbooks, outlining for school children and their families what he thought they ought to believe about man and his obligations in society, and about education. (p. 21)
Should he have put up his feet and let the world look after itself instead?
Alexander Shaw would have said, "No!" "Only deafness at age seventy-five finally forced [this schoolteacher]...out of the classroom" (Barman, 1995, p. 198).
If, unlike Alexander Shaw, people must retire at 60 or 65 from their profession or career, because of union or otherwise reasons, then why can't those people pursue other equally stimulating interests as did, apparently, Ryerson?
Most people think of re-tirement as an event, the day after the last day of work, or as a life stage. The problem with viewing re-tirement in the context of an event or life stage is [each is] too restrictive. A life event or stage does not reflect the dynamic nature of re-tirement [possibilities] today. It is more appropriate to view re-tirement as a career. (Roadburg, 2000, p. 13)
And, "a career change [such as retirement] does not necessarily mean planning for another job or starting a business. Playing golf, tending your garden, doing volunteer work, can [italics added] be re-tirement careers; it's all in the way you approach them" (p. 15).
In terms of the goals of retirement,
The avid golfer's ultimate objective is enjoyment, and golf is the means through which he or she finds enjoyment. The same applies to the person who wants to start a business, or travel, or spend more time with the grandchildren. Their ultimate objective is enjoyment. Business, travel, spending time with the grandchildren, are vehicles for achieving this objective. Although different people use different activities or vehicles to reach their re-tirement destination, the ultimate destination--enjoyment--remains the same. (Roadburg, 2000, p. 18)
The retired person, to get the most out of his succeeding years, needs to address who he is and what his needs are. This harsh statement by John of Salisbury in 1159, "Who is more contemptible than he who scorns knowledge of himself?" (as quoted in Saul, 1995, p. 1) could for the career counselor of retired people be, "Who is more [sad] than he who [ignores] knowledge of [what makes him happy]?" That question begs a look at who the client is. For example, is he feeling locked in...because [he] lack[s] challenging goals, [does he] feel guilty because [he is] failing to live up to [his] own values and ideals, [does he] want to do something [in particular] with [his] li[fe], [is he] disappointed with [his] uneventful interpersonal li[fe?]...Such [retired] clients come to helpers [career counselors]...to [learn to] live more fully. (Egan, 1998, p. 6)
Learning to live more fully might mean dealing with past value-generating experiences. "'The past is never dead,' William Faulkner has a character say in Requiem for a Nun. 'It's not even past'" (W. Faulkner as quoted in Willinsky, 1998, p. 249). The past can affect us in other ways: "Kerian Egan [a professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada] was born in Tipperary, Ireland, in 1942. During his school career he excelled at long jump, triple jump, hurdles, soccer, gymnastics and cricket. He now has metal screws in his knees" (Egan [bio], 1990, back cover). Just as the biology of our past can affect our physiology today, the psychology and sociology of our past certainly can affect our thinking, our feelings, our value system today.
A history of poverty, as one example, can affect our thinking and feeling: Individuals who are poor...are confronted with an unremitting succession of negative life events (eviction, physical illness, criminal assault) in the context of chronically stressful, ongoing life conditions such as inadequate housing and dangerous neighborhoods which, together, markedly increase the [troubles] of day-to-day existence. (V. McLoyd & L. Wilson as quoted in Levin, 1995, p. 212)
Coral Hull, the Australian poet who endured poverty in her childhood, says in her collection Point-Blank-Poor, "Don't know how much longer I can last. / Also, I'm frightened of lasting too much longer" (Hull, 2001, p. 7). In a 1999 interview, she said, "When you are a child from a poor background you get used to the word 'no' and quickly realize that you cannot have what other kids can" (Slade, 1999).
Her comments might explain why my Ukrainian-born grandfather chose the career path he did in his retirement years; he came to Canada in the early 1900s from a country of starving people. He worked as a foreman, often away from home, for decades for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), but in his thirty retirement years he cooked, baked, canned, made wine, and grew vegetables. He gave his wares away to his children, grandchildren, neighbors, and cheerfully served a glass of wine or plate of food to any postman/woman, delivery person, or salesman/woman who came to his door. His childhood lacked sufficient nourishment, but in his retirement career he cheerfully surrounded himself with food and chomping, slurping people.
I loved my grandfather, and so did everyone else who came to his home. He had a fine career after the CPR (there's a pun there).
He found that career himself. Others need some help. Principles of career counseling, as I've addressed in "Humanistic Career Counseling" (Lukiv, 2002) should help retired people and their retirement career counselors. The (retired) client needs to consider what makes him happy, what he still wants out of life, how possible the fulfillment of those wants is, what his family circumstances are, what his support systems are, what his health is, what his financial needs and circumstances are. What are his spiritual needs?
The career counselor needs to remember that sometimes even a so-called "holistic approach" can "overlook[ ] the spirituality of humanness" (Calliou, 1995, p. 70). There are other things the counselor could overlook. For example, time.
For many retired people, "the primary obligation...to the corporation" (Saul, 1995, p. 95) has ended, and a new sense of time, as opposed to time structures in a corporate timetable, could emerge. Wildfred Pelletier says, One of the difficult things I had to cope with at school was something called "time". The teacher would talk about wasting "time". I didn't know what that meant, I didn't know how you could waste "time". And then she would say you could make it up, you could make up "time". She'd read us a story in school and then she'd say we've lost all that "time", so now we have to hurry and make it up. I couldn't figure out what that meant, either. There were all kinds of things about time that really bewildered me. I did not understand what all this clock watching was about, because in our [Native] community we ate when we were hungry and slept when we felt tired. We did not do things on any kind of schedule, yet that never presented a problem. The things that were necessary always got done. (Pelletier, 1982, p. 160)
That quote should show us that retirement can, for some, allow for a new or more "normal" sense of time. The quote also introduces the cultural background as a variable that undoubtedly will affect what sort of activities a retired person will want to engage in, and what values he will esteem.
The career counselor might not be aware of culturally-induced values that will affect a client's retirement choices. Calliou is "a member of the Michel Band (Alberta)...[which was] once deemed extinct by the Canadian federal government" (Calliou, 1995, p. 48). The irony of that statement tells a career counselor to beware of his own biases and assumptions, something I speak about in "Humanistic Career Counseling." The client may have values that the counselor has no understanding of. He might find himself better informed by a field trip to the client's home, or family gathering, to learn about those values.
The retired person might value his individuality, and would like to beat his drum to a new, more personal rhythm. The old rhythm could have risen from circumstances, like those of Ruth Benedict...[who] became involved in [Franz] Boas's anti-racism [work] because of her high personal regard for him. She greatly admired and respected her influential mentor, friend, and colleague. Becoming involved in his race relations [work] was an expression of loyalty to Boas, which he appreciated and expected from his former students. (Banks, 1998, p. 12)
The career counselor helps the client face his own values, just as he helps him recognize his needs. In a holistic sense, we have many needs worth noting. Glasser mentions "the need to belong, the need for power, the need for freedom, and the need for fun" (Glasser, 1997, p. 599). The career counselor helps the client gain a better knowledge of who he is and what will make him happy. He looks at himself in terms of "the total person" (Zunker, 1998, p. 91). The counseling is a learning process. In the "words" of Carl Glickman, "learning [for clients through retirement career counseling sessions] is the result of actively putting ideas and knowledge [about themselves] to work in the real world [of retirement]" (Glickman, 1981, p. 62).
Banks, J. A. (1998). The lives and values of researchers: Implications for educating citizens in a multicultural society. Educational Researcher, 27(7), 4-17.
Barman, J. (1995). British Columbia's pioneer teachers. In J. Barman, N. Sutherland and J. D. Wilson (Eds.), Children, teachers & schools: In the history of British Columbia (pp. 189-208). Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Detselig Enterprises.
Calliou, S. (1995). Peacekeeping actions at home: A medicine wheel model for a peacekeeping pedagogy. In J. Barman & M. Battiste (Eds.), First Nations education in Canada: The circle unfolds (pp. 47-72). Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: UBC Press.
Egan, K. (1990). Teaching as story telling: An alternative approach to teaching and curriculum in the elementary school (3rd ed.). London, Ontario, Canada: The Althouse Press.
Glasser, W. (1997, April). A new look at school failure and school success. Phi Delta Kappan, 597-602.
Glickman, C. (1981). Developmental supervision: Alternative practices for helping teachers improve instruction. Alexandria, Virginia, USA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Hanson, P. G. (1986). The joy of stress. Islington, Ontario, Canada: Hanson Stress Management Organization. Hull, C. (2001). Point-blank-poor. Quesnel, British Columbia, Canada: Island Scholastic Press.
Levin, B. (1995). Educational responses to poverty. Canadian Journal of Education, 20(2), 211-224.
Lukiv, D. (2000, January). At the home, a collection. Poetry Magazine. Available from the Poetry Magazine Web site: http://www.poetrymagazine.com/
Lukiv, D. (2002, Spring). Humanistic Career Counseling. The Journal of Secondary Alternate Education, 1(3), 15-19.
Pelletier, W. (1982). For every North American Indian who begins to disappear, I also begin to disappear. In E. R. Procunier et al. (different articles edited by different Eds.), Searchlights: Selected essays (pp. 158-165). Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Irwin.
Prentice, A. (1977). The school promoters. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: McClelland & Stewart.
Retire. (1992). New illustrated Webster's dictionary. New York, New York, USA: Pamco.
Roadburg, A. (2000). Re-tirement career workshop. Second Career Program. Retrieved April 14, 2001: http://www.secondcareer.com/cpt1.pdf
Saul, J. R. (1995). The unconscious civilization. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: House of Anansi Press.
Slade, T. (1999). The Poetry Kit. Retrieved April 14, 2001 from The Poetry Kit Web site: http://www.poetrykit.org/iv/hull.htm
Steyn, D. (1998, September 11). Institutional development: Document. Technikon Witwatersrand, South Africa. Retrieved April 14, 2001: http://itech1.coe.uga.edu/
Willinsky, J. (1998). Out of the past. Learning to divide the world: Education at empire's end (pp. 243-265). Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA: University of Minnesota Press.
Zunker, V. G. (1998). Career counseling: Applied concepts of life planning (5th ed.). Pacific Grove, California, USA: Brooks/Cole.
Copyright © 2002 by Dan Lukiv. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted in any form or through any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without written consent from the author.
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