Ever since compulsory staff retirement at 65 ended in Canada, the decision of whether to leave their profession voluntarily has become a conundrum for many people. Some continue working because they need the money, but for others it’s optional. The only people I know who retire “early” are teachers, civil servants and others who contributed to a pension plan until they reached a magic number (age plus employment) that allowed them to resign without penalty. Several such friends have left in their late 50s — which seems an absurdly young age to retire. They travel, read, golf, volunteer, though a few seem lost without colleagues and purpose. I wonder if, by exiting the workforce while still in their prime, they miss out on some interesting opportunities.
What is it about jobs with a strong creative component that keeps people intrigued with their work? Think of all the older orchestra conductors, writers, artists, academics, doctors, and, yes, editors you know. In recent years I’ve had three authors in their 80s, and one in his early 90s. It must be that by never repeating ourselves, by always tackling new challenges and fresh ideas, we are refreshed in turn and keep vigorous in mind and body.
We’re often told that creativity stops at 40 and opportunities diminish after 50, but that’s not true. You never know what lies ahead. Many of the most exhilarating, satisfying experiences of my professional life have come in the last 15 years. Before I left Ryerson University in 2007, we put all the courses in the publishing program online, making it possible for students across Canada and around the world to enroll. I accepted a position in-house at one of the large trade publishing houses and edited books that for six years in a row were shortlisted for and usually won major literary prizes. Through my partnership, I edited the reports of eight commissions of inquiry on subjects ranging from pediatric forensic pathology to declining salmon stocks to healthcare serial killers. I also began editing books for two major art museums, and that led to several projects with patrons who sponsored magnificent tomes published by three of the world’s best art-book publishers. In the midst of this activity, I was granted an honorary doctorate for my contribution to publishing in Canada. If I’d retired in my 50s, I’d have missed out on all this fun.
And so I dither over what to do next. Some of my retired friends think I’m crazy; others argue quite rightly that we oldies should vacate the field to make room for the many well-educated and enthusiastic young people who are clamouring for real jobs and opportunities. I would like less pressure, more travels with my husband and playtime with my grandsons, and the pleasure of reading books with covers on them. But I know there will be losses too: I’ll miss the stimulating people who work in publishing and the frequent festive occasions.
Maybe semi-retirement will bring the perfect balance?
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