Often, you come across retired scholars still working and on demand long years after retirement. They are called on to advise, lecture, write, edit, or to participate in forums until well into their eighties. They are still in demand in the cultural market. It happens to the people who were usually the best in their field. So one way of preparing for a happy retirement would be to be the best in your field, and that requires a lot of preparation even from the very beginning of your career.
But expertise in a specialized field does not seem to be a necessary condition for extending one’s professional life into one’s eighties. One of the happiest retired scholar-politician seems to me to be professor Kim Dong-kil in his mid-eighties, the brother of the former President of Ewha, Dr. Kim Og-kil. He claims to be a life-time educator. He is a very popular lecturer who is on demand for lectures more than 200 times a year and a TV talk show program guest. Mostly he shares the wisdom and commonsensical morality he has accumulated in the course of his eventful life. I admit that he has a special talent for oratory and persuasion, which he doctors with timely quotation from English poems perfectly right for each occasion. I am persuaded by his example to believe that teaching wisdom can be a lifetime occupation. So accumulate enough wisdom to become an educator to be still in demand twenty years after retirement.
However, becoming the best in one’s field or becoming a life long teacher is not an achievement that everybody can dream of. But retirement can still be a meaningful time if you start preparing for it early. I have an aunt who, in my opinion, is an excellent artist. However, she mostly painted at home while raising her children and giving art lessons to earn money. Naturally, she became famous. I think she could paint full time only after her children were grown up and she was relieved of all her household duties. She is still painting and is planning an exhibition at the age of 83. So depending on how you see it, retirement can be a time when you can really go for the dream of realizing oneself.
My mother, who used to be an English professor, wrote two biographies or family histories after her retirement, and is working on her autobiography now. Both of her books were published in Japan and had good reviews. She says that her historical research for the book writing was much more interesting and satisfactory than any research she had done for English literature. Retirement is a time when you can truly devote yourself for the work you have been dreaming to do throughout your life. It is a time when you can be relieved from the obligation to become part of the production system of society.
Think about what you truly want to do with your life from now on. If you don’t achieve it before your retirement because of demanding circumstances in professional or family life, don’t forget that you have a second chance at it during your retirement. Who knows time allotted for your second chance may be longer than that for your first chance given the growing life expectancy. So, dreaming up your goal for life is the preparation you need to make for your happy retirement, which may come as early as in your fifties.
*Professor Chon Soo-young received her Ph.D degree from University of Chicago and is now teaching English Language and Literature at Ewha.