Surviving and Reveling in Retirement

Surviving and Reveling in Retirement

By NAfME member Paul K. Fox , Retired Music Teacher and Performing Arts Curriculum Leader

Originally published October 1, 2016 ©; George Lucas Educational Foundation.


(Part II of the Edutopia community discussion blog “Advice from Music Teacher Retirees to Soon-To-Be Retirees” offers additional research, reflections, and hints to promote a happy, wholesome, and purposeful retirement from education.)

In which “stage of retirement” do you find yourself? Are you:

  • Resting and taking an extended vacation,
  • Currently mapping out your post-employment “plans,”
  • Diving into your “golden years” with a full schedule of activities,
  • Seeking new goals and your “life’s purpose,” or
  • Retreating from everything just to “get your head together?”

On the web, coming to a consensus on an accepted definition of “retirement” may be a challenge:

  • Webster and other online dictionaries (archaic): “seclusion from the world, privacy, withdrawal, the act of going away, retreating, or disappearing.”
  • Ernie J. Zelinski, author of How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free, Visions International, 2016: “…the last opportunity for individuals to reinvent themselves, let go of the past, and find peace and happiness within.”
  • Ken Dychtwald, CEO of Age Wave, a research think-tank on aging issues: “Staying engaged…” and “Perhaps it’s time to retire retirement.”
  • Steven D. Price, author of How to Survive Retirement (Skyhorse Publishing, 2015) “Reinventing yourself for the life you’ve always wanted.”
  • Huffington Post “It’s Time to Retire Our Definition of Retirement”: “Retirement now is mostly about change. And it may not look all that different from what immediately precedes it.”
  • CBS MoneyWatch “How Do You Define Retirement?
    “…renewment, aspirement, financial independence, rewirement, rest-of-life, second beginnings, financial freedom, and new chapter.”
  • Richard P. Johnson, PhD, The New Retirement: Discovering Your Dream: “The ‘new retirement’ is not an ending, it’s a new beginning, the start of a new life journey of vastly expanded proportion.”


retirement designer491


In October 2014, USA TODAY released the article “How to Reinvent Yourself in Retirement” by Nanci Hellmich with more detailed descriptions from retirement guru Ken Dychtwald and advice on dealing with his “five stages of retirement.”

  1. Imagination
  2. Anticipation
  3. Liberation
  4. Re-engagement
  5. Reconciliation

My own associations with coworkers and colleagues who have left full-time teaching is that they usually fall into one of three categories:

  • “People who do not see themselves as retired…”
  • “People who know they are retired… filling bucket lists, spending more time with family, friends, hobbies, travel, etc., and seeking new pursuits in music/education…”
  • “People who know they are retired… want nothing to do with their former profession.”

As great as retirement is for many people, Dr. Robert P. Delamontagne wrote in his book Retiring Mind (Fairview Imprints, 2010), “50% of retirees will suffer some form of acute emotional distress. This is potentially a very large problem given the fact that 10,000 people are becoming eligible for Social Security every day for the next 20 years in the US alone.”

In the event your job was cut or downsized, or you were forced into “early retirement,” you may even be in the grips of post-traumatic stress disorder, or experiencing some of the stages of grief and loss:

  • Denial
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Acceptance

At the very least, the transition to full retirement boils down to coping with a few of these very common emotional “bumps” along the way:

  • Loss of professional identity
  • Loss of goals, daily routine, and purposeful activity
  • Loss of social network and interaction with co-workers

“Type-A” personalities and “peak performers” must learn to make a concerted effort to limit linking their self-worth and identity to their employment! Echoed by author Sydney Lagier in “Seven Secrets to a Happy Retirement” at US News and World Report, we should not be addicted to achievement. “The more you are defined by your job, the harder it will be to adjust to life without.”

The good news? Yes, you can survive “Crossing the Rubicon” into retirement… and flourish while “living the dream.”

Dr. Amit Sood, author of The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living (Da Capo Press, 2013) recommends these strategies for retirement:

  • Because your brain’s reward center likes variety, give yourself an assortment of new or unique experiences.
  • Treat your first year in retirement as if you are “interning” to give yourself time to readjust and set new expectations.
  • Find meaning in new passions, including possibly using your employment skills in a new job or volunteer work.
  • “Let your best friends not be the TV, refrigerator or couch. Let your best friends be real people, books, and sports shoes.”


retirement EpicStockMedia


The most important part of retirement planning is not financial. According to Ernie Zelinski, the “three basic needs that work fulfills and which are important in retirement” are “finding purpose, community, and structure.” He defines purpose in retirement:

  • To make a difference in people’s lives
  • To make a contribution
  • To find creative expression
  • To take part in discovery and challenge
  • To help preserve the environment
  • To accomplish or achieve a challenging task
  • To improve health and well-being

So, what do you really want to be when you grow up? The sky is the limit. Redefine yourself, and as authors Ken Blanchard and Morton Shaevitz said, “Refire! Don’t Retire” in their book by the same name (Berrett-Koehler Publishing, 2015), and “Make the rest of your life the best of your life!”

Some thoughts for things-to-do or considerations to add to your personal bucket lists:

  • Volunteering (Mary Baird Carlsen – Meaning-Making: Therapeutic Processes in Adult Development, 1988 and Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP – Disrupt Aging, 2016)
  • Exercise
  • Babysitting
  • Pets
  • Travel
  • Sharing of musical and organizational skills
  • Service to professional organizations like NAfME/State MEA
  • Revisiting your own creative roots (make your own music)

As we learned in curriculum writing, the “essential question” for a happy and meaningful retirement may have a lot to do with your ability to rekindle your personal expressiveness. Why did you go into music and education in the first place? What have you always wanted to play… sing… compose… conduct… design? When are you going to join a community band, orchestra, chorus or theater group?

A community of writers have shared their successes and challenges for their own emotional passage to retirement. Their websites should be perused:

Also endorsed, the National Association for Music Education (NAfME, formerly Music Educators National Conference) published an excellent booklet compiled by A. Verne Wilson, Past National Chairman, MENC Committee for Retired Music Educators: TIPS Retirement for Music Educators,1989.

NAfME and state MEA members can use their ID # and order this directly from Rowman & Littlefield at a 25% discount.

In addition, you are invited to read and comment on my past blog-posts about retirement.


happy retirement AlexeyGorka


Finally, in his comprehensive and inspirational guide, Happy Retirement: The Psychology of Reinvention (DK Penguin Random House, 2015), author Professor Kenneth S. Shultz sums it up best. “Retirement has become a very individualized and personal journey for those making the transition from a career to that next phase of life…  Retirement is one of life’s great milestones, a time of adjustment filled with fresh choices and new starts…”

In other words, “Happy trails, retirees!”

Did you know NAfME has a special rate for retired members? Learn more. Share your insight and join the conversation today in the Retired Member community on Amplify.

About the author:

NAfME member Paul K. Fox is currently the State Retired Members’ Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA), Founding Director of the South Hills Junior Orchestra, Steering Committee/School District Representative of the UPPER ST. CLAIR TODAY magazine, staff announcer for “The Pride of Upper St. Clair” USCHS Marching Band, Trustee for the Community Foundation of Upper St. Clair, and volunteer escort for the St. Clair Memorial Hospital.

Retired June 2013 from 33 years at the Upper St. Clair School District and 2 years at the Edgewood School District (now Woodland Hills School District), Paul K. Fox primarily taught Orchestra/Strings (Grades 5-12) at Boyce Middle School, Fort Couch Middle School and the Upper St. Clair High School (USCHS), along with positions in EL/MS/HS choral and general music, elementary band, and HS music theory. He also served as Upper St. Clair School District Performing Arts Curriculum Leader (7 years), Executive Producer of USCHS Fall Plays (29 productions) and Spring Musicals (30 shows), and Assistant Sponsor/Business Manager of the USCHS St. Clairion Yearbook (4 years).

Since retirement, Paul also enjoys walking his two dogs, reading, serving as workshop presenter for PCMEA/collegiate and PMEA retired members, and writing blogs about music education and professionalism at

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Brendan McAloon, Marketing and Events Coordinator, December 7, 2016. © National Association for Music Education (