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Rosemary Shipton

To Retire — or Not?

Retirement Opportunities
Retirement Opportunities
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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?


Previous post from Rosemary Shipton: Mentors

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9 Comments on “To Retire — or Not?”

  • Anita Jenkins


    It’s different for everyone, much like other life paths. I thought I would be like you, Rosemary, working into my 80s. I enjoyed my work and the interactions with the many people that freelance work allowed me to have. Then one day I changed.

    The main factor as I remember it was a feeling of impatience with the clients, which I had never had before. But there were probably a number of reasons for my decision.

    I basically quit editing and writing for pay at age 64 and have been having a great time “kicking back.”

  • A few years ago I attended a retirement seminar given by a financial planner whose book I had edited years ago. I discovered that, by his definition at least, I had been retired for the past 30 years. Retirement, he said, is when you get up on a Monday morning and discover you’re in charge of deciding what to do next. Some of us spend a lifetime in this mode, choosing what to do with our time rather than having someone else dictate how our days will unfold.

    Having said that, my choices are changing. I’m less interested in editing—and keenly aware there are mid-career editors who are much better suited to many editing tasks. I am no longer interested in keeping up with technology or developing fresh approaches or taking on big projects. I’m less interested in fixing other people’s writing—and more interested in hiring an editor for my own writing.

    Perhaps the way out is similar to the way in to this profession. Many of us begin as accidental editors. I think I might be accidentally retiring.

    Here’s to finding perfect balance, Rosemary.

    • Rosemary Shipton


      Yes, as you’ve both said, we do change over time – and one of the best things about editing and writing careers is their flexibility, not only in how we work but also in the variety of projects on which we work.

  • Frances Peck


    There are two reasons I’m delighted to see this post.

    One, I’m hosting a senior editors’ roundtable on “The Aging Editor” at the 2020 Editors Canada conference, and this post primes the pump nicely. Rosemary, your views, and those of the commenters, combine with Brendan O’Brien’s August 2019 post in underscoring that there’s a desire out there to talk about what editors do as we get older.

    Two, I am one of those early-retirement folks. I turn 55 next week. On July 1 I’m retiring (with a few exceptions) from most of my contract editing, writing and teaching.

    My personal definition of retirement is a bit like that of Virginia’s financial planner, with one key difference. As a self-employed person, I’m used to waking up on Monday mornings and choosing what to do. Now I want to choose pursuits that are not tied to a paycheque. What that means, likely, is more creative writing and more volunteering. And, I hope, a whole raft of unforeseeable experiences that I’ll be open to once I no longer have to bill a certain number of hours a week.

    I’m well aware of how privileged, and possibly self-indulgent, it is to declare that you’re retiring in your 50s. I got my first job at age 12 and am supremely lucky that my health, stamina and circumstances have allowed me to work and save steadily ever since. I have loved my three decades as a language consultant and business owner (to borrow some of the substitutes for “freelancer” that Tracey Anderson proposed in her excellent November post). Now I’m ready for something new.

    • Rosemary Shipton


      Your roundtable at the conference should be most interesting, Frances – and, if you choose to report on your post-retirement activities, I for one will be following them closely. I think we’re both advocating the same end, but by different means. I’m saying that you can achieve tremendous variety and find new challenges in your professional life by remaining in the paid workforce, and you’re looking to achieve your freedom by retiring from it. Those of us who have this choice are fortunate, though much will also depend on other factors and obligations beyond our own desires. I hope in the years ahead you find great satisfaction and happiness in what you decide to do.

  • Anne Brennan


    I like your comment about “accidentally retiring,” Virginia. I’m in the same boat. I finally closed my business bank account and my GST/HST account last week, but I have a hard time using the word “retired.” I just want to play the clarinet and sax more and quilt more than I want to work these days.

    It’s funny, because just a few years ago I thought I’d never want to retire. Now I want to concentrate more on things that I used to keep in the background. It’s just now occurring to me that the change may have begun when I lost my mother. Life comes in stages. There don’t have to be hard-and-fast boundaries between them.

    Of course, it would have been a wee bit smarter to wait until I qualified for some kind of pension!

    • Timing has lots to do with this, as you have observed, Anne. This past year, the most interesting thing about retirement has been figuring out the best way to describe what I’m doing. I’m not semi-retired, which sounds too much like half dead or mostly absent from something.

      I read recently that we should focus on health span rather than life span. If I play on that wordplay, I would say that I’m changing my work span. I’m still working, but not always with a focus on making money and certainly not spending the kind of hours I used to dedicate to paid and unpaid work.

      Once again, the boundaries are blurred.

      • Rosemary Shipton


        I like that phrase “work span.” Really, it’s all a matter of how we choose to spend our time.

      • Anne Brennan


        I agree that “semi-retired” doesn’t sound quite right. And “health span” is perfect!

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