Not Just Sittin’ Around, Grace.

I’m retired from teaching as most of you know if you read this blog regularly. And if you don’t, well… I’m retired, as I said. And Grace Coddington is not.

I retired three years ago after thirty years in the classroom. My career was a mix of day to day supply work to get my foot in the door, a few years teaching adults, then twenty-four years teaching teenagers at secondary schools in the Ottawa area, the last thirteen of them as department head. Teaching for me always meant being fully immersed in school life: running the school newspaper, sitting on or chairing school literacy committees or board-wide assessment and evaluation committees, organizing school professional development days, or presenting at them. Yada, yadda, yadda. I’m not trying to make myself sound self-sacrificing, here. I love to talk, I thrive on change, and I hate to be left out of anything. So being part of the committees that made the decisions which drove change was mostly a selfish move on my part.

I loved my job. But teaching is stressful, and the planning, prepping, researching, seemingly endless meetings, constant professional development, not to mention the hours and hours of marking each week, can expand to fill as many hours as you let it. And if you want to do the job right, it will. Expand to fill all your time, I mean. The idea that teachers’ work hours are the same as students’ classroom hours is a myth. Big time.

So when I was eligible to retire, I thought long and hard about what to do. I still loved my job. Still had tons of energy for the classroom. But what I was finding I did not have any energy, or enthusiasm for was the constant change. The new initiatives that successive governments mandated, throwing out the old curriculum or methods, that we had sometimes barely implemented, let alone had time to assess, and bringing in new ones that were supposed to solve all the problems in education.

I made the actual decision to retire one evening in May 2011, when I arrived home for supper at 7:00 pm, after a four hour meeting at school during which the “leadership team” discussed “new” initiatives for the following school year. Then after dinner I marked. May is a big marking month and, with two senior classes that semester, I couldn’t afford to take a night off. It was late. Hubby was in bed reading. I was sitting at my desk, with big tears rolling down my face and dripping onto some poor student’s final creative writing project, when something clicked in my brain. “I can’t do this anymore!” I yelled to Hubby. “I need to decide tonight when I will retire.”

So that night Hubby and I set aside my marking, and using the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan website, we looked at scenarios. How much pension could I expect to bring home if I retired the next year? How much if I waited for two years? And we decided that I would quit at the end of the following year. And, you know, once I knew the end was in sight, I went happily back to my marking. In the end I worked an extra semester. I resigned my headship in June 2012, and worked part time for one more semester teaching in a new program that we had been implementing. And I officially retired at the end of January 2013.

Now, I don’t want you to get the idea that Hubby and I had not planned for this day. That I just decided to retire out of the blue that May evening. Financially we’d been preparing for this for years. Even when I worked teaching adults in the early years, and made about 40% of the salary I would make in a regular high school, I started putting money into investments. Hubby was a very good influence on me in that way. He’s not just a pretty face, you know.

So…. anyhoo. As I said, I’m retired at 59, and according to fashion news sources Grace Coddington, long time Creative Director for Vogue, at 74, is not. I read in an article on the Business of Fashion website that she’s stepping down as Creative Director. She is still planning to do several fashion shoots for Vogue each year, but is freeing herself up to do other things. And as she very emphatically puts it, she is “definitely not retiring” because she doesn’t want “to sit around.” Uh. Okay.

I’m actually a big fan of Grace and her work. I’ve seen “The September Issue” twice, read her memoir, and I swear I can tell if a fashion shoot in Vogue is one she has styled. She’s one of a kind, for sure. But I had to smile ruefully at that comment she made about retirement and sitting around. Actually, my friend Elizabeth and I had a good laugh together about it one night at dinner. I said that when I was trying, through umpteen e-mails, to organize lunch with a group of retired teacher friends, I’d frequently receive a reply…”Sorry can’t make it on the 12th.That’s my week for sitting around.” Of course, I was joking. Trying to find a date to get all those ladies together is Iike herding cats… man.. they are busy people!
Sitting around is not my definition of retirement, nor is it what defines the lives of my retired friends. In fact according to a July 2015 article in the Montreal Gazette, by Donna Nebenzahl, sitting around is exactly what most retired people do NOT do. Dorothy Bye, who has a PhD in psychology and is an expert on aging says that “contemporary retirement takes all kinds of forms.” She uses terms like “hybrid,” “partial,” and “bridge retirement” to describe how retirees are fashioning all manner of combinations of work and non-work. Full-time short term work, part-time work, or even starting entirely new careers, what she calls “encore careers.” Byers says:”retirement is not resignation, it’s regeneration.”
According to Gillian Leithman, a corporate trainer who specializes in preparing workers for retirement, many people begin to define success in entirely different ways when they approach retirement. That “meaning replaces money.” And of course finding just what will provide that meaning is not necessarily easy; you don’t just walk away from work and into a meaningful and fulfilling retirement. It takes work to fashion your life after work, so to speak. And according to Byers it’s creativity, and being adaptive, that will help determine if you’ll find happiness in retirement.

After three years, I’m still finding my feet with this retirement thing. In many ways I miss the classroom. Not the marking. Not the stress of parent-teacher interviews, especially dealing with the parents of a struggling student. Nor the stress of trying to support teachers in my department who were dealing with difficult situations, inside and outside the classroom. I don’t miss the tedium of those necessary, but boring, board-wide committee meetings. I do miss the excitement of working with the teachers in my department, my peeps as I called them. Getting excited about ideas, building a program we were proud of, sharing the joys and the stresses of day to day life in the classroom. And I miss the kids. The energy of the classroom. The whole performance thing. Because in many ways teaching is performing, holding an audience, getting them on your side. Kind of like stand-up comedy, some days.

I remember a conversation Hubby and I had two or three years before I retired. We were camping, and one night around the fire, sipping wine and waiting for supper to cook, I started talking about my impending retirement. I think I was almost grieving over the fact that my career was winding down. That something which was so integral to my identity might soon be done. Who would I be when I wasn’t Ms. Burpee anymore? And I remember saying to Hubby…”I can’t believe that it’s almost the end.” And he replied, “Why not look at it as a beginning, instead of an ending?”

And just like that. My perspective changed. That doesn’t mean that all my anxiety disappeared, or that tears were not shed when I walked away from JMSS. Or that I didn’t struggle to find my path. But it does mean that I started looking ahead, and not back. I am a change junky, after all. And retirement is one change that I certainly don’t regret making. And what with skiing, and cycling, and walking, and skating, and canoeing, and travelling I haven’t been sitting around much. Well, except for when I’m reading, or drawing…. or blogging.


Many, many turns in the road on our trip to Argentina.

Now back to Grace Coddington and her throw away comment about retirement, and sitting around. If you look at what the experts say about contemporary retirement, at what hybrid, and partial, and bridge retirement looks like. Not to mention those “encore” careers. It kind of looks as if, despite her protests, that retiring is exactly what Ms. Coddington is doing. But…sshhhhh…don’t tell her I said that.

What about you, dear readers? Are you closing in on retirement? Does the prospect of life without work make you nervous? Or are you already there? Any advice or enlightenment you can share with the rest of us?


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33 thoughts on “Not Just Sittin’ Around, Grace.”

  1. I absolutely loved this post. I am almost there. After 33 years of teaching, I plan to retire at the end of this semester. It wasn't an easy decision. I waffled back and forth for many months, and I'm still not sure exactly what my life will look like after retirmentIt. It is hard to imagine not teaching. Awhile back I started a list of "after retirement" ideas. It ranges from weekly lunch with my parents to part time job ideas. Anything I don't have time for now, but might like to do makes the list. Thanks for sharing your journey! It inspires me.

    1. Thanks, RC. What a good idea your list is. Much better to focus on what you will be doing, than on what you won't have to do anymore. Although every time I meet with my younger teacher friends and hear about the latest stress they are enduring, I am thankful that I don't have to do that…whatever it is.

  2. I prefer to use the word "reinvention" rather than retirement, because that is after all, what it is. A reinvention and reimagining of a new life and purpose beyond that which was in the past.

  3. I'm in the midst of my final semester as a teacher after 36 years as a business education teacher, then teacher of gifted students, and for the past dozen years, the district instructional technology specialist. I love the people I work with and the challenge of keeping up with the new educational technologies and the problem solving. But I'm very much at peace with my decision to retire. My husband, also a former teacher, retired a few years ago and said I would know when I was "done." And he was right! I love your blog and feel a real connection with you–maybe because of the teacher thing, or because we are the same age, or that we enjoy fashion, or maybe all of the above! Thanks for all you do!

    1. Thanks, Barb. That's so nice to hear. My husband retired before me also. I guess that night in my den what I was really yelling to him was …"I'm done!" And you do just know it…don't you?

  4. As it was, I made the choice not seeing any other choice, really, if I wanted to stay healthy. I loved my work as an English prof and having gone back to school as a mature student, earning the advanced degrees to be able to teach at a university, thrilled to get a chance at an academic career after raising my kids, I had a tough time letting go. But all the pressures you cite for teaching are there at the post-secondary level as well, and I couldn't sustain the balance I knew I needed in life, and I retired earlier than I thought I would — still, at 61, it wasn't a particularly early retirement, I guess.
    I'm so far, not a year into this new state, riding some waves of grief over that letting go but also huge relief about making the decision and joy about so many activities I can now participate in fully without risking exhaustion. And I know it will only get better.
    But I'm afraid that the throwaway comments like the one that Coddington (defensively, she must as well admit) made will increasingly be compounded by ones that reflect the resentment felt by every generation junior to us Boomers. I heard so much of this resentment tossed off by my students and also by younger colleagues that my own defensiveness is around having a pension and being fortunate enough to afford retirement. . . And while the bulk of my "helping others' energy is directed toward my grandkids and their folks right now, I hope to work some kind of meaningful volunteer activity into the mix eventually because I know that as much as I worked hard to earn the retirement I've got, the kids are right. I'm damned lucky, sitting around or not, to have so much choice at this time of life. (found myself blathering on with something about an era of unions, hell, I was practically hoisting a placard here on your blog, but you'll be glad to know I stopped myself and deleted. . . 😉
    Good post. Message needs sharing . . .

    1. It's a heady mix of emotions, retiring from a job you love, isn't it? I remember the first winter feeling quite isolated with Hubby's unexpected heart problem, the stress of that and everyone staying away …I guess to give me space. Felt more like abandonment, though. Then I sucked it up and decided to start organizing dinner nights with my former colleagues. I used to do that as their head, so why not as their former head. Except I invited only those people I really enjoyed being around. What fun. And researching and writing this post has made me think I need to get going fashioning my next three years of post work life. Always love your comments, Frances. Wish I had read that placard bit, though:)

  5. Thank you for this post! I'm so glad that blog writing is one of your retirement activities! With retirement at least 10 years away for me, I love reading about your decisions and lifestyle. I love the comments, too. It is hard to find this dialog elsewhere!

  6. Your post is so timely for me! I can't go into detail, but it looks as though there may be a transition in my life sooner than later. And I welcome it…have had so many things I've wanted to learn and do, and no time. I've spoken to several people over the last few weeks who are feeling the same thing: itching to launch a new project or go back to school, or take a part-time business to full-time. It's scary, but also exhilarating.

  7. I guess if I had Grace's job I wouldn't rush to retire either , though Ms Wintour looks like a handful . I get a little weary of the famous people who talk about retirement as a living death . Most of us don't have madly exciting jobs & retirement is our opportunity for freedom . It's our chance to meet up with friends more often , travel more ( just walking the hills locally if that's all you can afford ) , enjoy sport if that's your thing , take courses ,be engrossed in a book for as long as you like , visit exhibitions – the possibilities are endless . i love it & hope it lasts for a very long time
    Wendy in York

    1. I don't know if you read the BofF article, but it sounds as if over the years, Grace has had to ask Wintour's permission to take on other roles, like her book etc. I'm surprised that this move hasn't happened years ago. Imagine having to go cap in hand like a teenager. Wish we had hills to wander. Love the landscape in Yorkshire.

  8. Here in the U.S., because of the disappearance of defined-benefit pensions in the private sector since 1980, it is becoming more and more of a privilege to be able to retire (i.e., cease the full-time work we have been doing), and none of my colleagues or friends have done it before age 65. For my husband and me, huge past health care costs and student loan debt mean that retirement probably will not be financially feasible until we are each at least 70. Fortunately, we each have more energy for our work, probably because we each have our own well-established businesses (law practices) and, therefore, a modicum of independence and flexibility. I can well understand, however, why a person might need to retire from teaching after 20 or more years. Good teachers work harder, and must be more creative, energetic and resilient, than any of the rest of us, and to me, they are truly heroes/angels. Thank you for all the years you graced that profession and for the discussion you have started here among those of us who are of retirement age. Although I'm not sure when, or even if, I will be able to retire or try to "cut back," I look forward to finding other ways to both enjoy life and contribute to others if I do.

    1. Of course, you're right, Leslie. Teachers, especially Ontario teachers, are very lucky. We have a wonderful pension fund, that thankfully was taken away from 100% gov't management (or mismanagement) in 1990, and which has since become the envy of the world. Or so I've read, anyway. And I've been reading a bit for this post, about defined benefit plans etc etc. They are not to everyone's taste, apparently, due to the fact that contributions are compulsory. Me, I think that the guys who are hired to manage our fund are much better at it than I would be. That seems like a no brainer. I'm glad that I was forced to give up 12% of my pay cheque all those years. It's allowed me the luxury of quitting teaching and charting a new course. I'm sure I could have managed to hang on until 60 or 65. But I think the students would have been the losers if I did. Thanks for your kind words. Always appreciated.

    2. The advantage of a defined-benefit pension is that its fixed benefit continues for life, an especially valuable feature when so many of us are living far longer than we expected. (Definitely a first-world problem…) I'm glad that you have such a great pension plan…you've definitely earned it! When my husband and I decided to each become self-employed, we knew that we would have to self-fund the benefits that we then received as employees, but for us it was and has been worth it. And, unfortunately, most of our contemporaries who continued to be employees have seen their employer-provided defined-benefit pension plans disappear or greatly diminish in the interim. At the same time, social security benefits have not increased enough to keep up with the costs of being elderly. These factors are posing a real problem for many if not most people in the U.S. who do not work in the public sector and who hope to retire without having to earn money to live on. It's a real shame, particularly since people who have retired from full-time employment have so much to offer the rest of us.

  9. Interesting to read how you're working through the whole post-retirement thingy, Sue! In some ways, I feel as if I've come to terms with what you're doing years ago. Not to tap words onto your typewriter or anything. But leaving work to stay home with my children–it's a long story, one born partly of life's necessities and personal choices based on the circumstances of the time–seeing them leave and then redefining my purpose, I'm left with me. What gives my life continued meaning? When those things that were so important no longer fit, when they fall away, by choice or circumstance, it takes time, and a great deal of deep reflection to fix a new course for the good years that lie ahead. Retirement from having to be connected is an opportunity that can easily slip by, filled as it might be with busy work that shadows your former working self. Nice to see you picking up a pencil to make pictures instead of words. Excercizing your creative psyche brings together the totality of a rich life's experience, synthesizing it into something truly satisfying–and revealing. We should talk!

    1. I'm wondering if you remember a few years ago when you and John were in town and we spent the day together…we talked about my impending retirement. And I said…what will I DO all day? And you said… go to the gym, read, plan a nice meal, make dinner sip wine…. etc etc. You're so smart. Now about that pencil picking up thing…. It's more an exercise in humility at the moment. But that's okay…I'm in no hurry. There's no test. I don't have to be perfect…. or even good. We should talk… We really should. Are you heading east any time soon?

  10. Totally agree with you. 45 years ago, when my grand father retired, he knew his time on earth would not be long : his body was pretty damaged by long and exhausting years of hard working, he used to live hard times during II world war, there were a lot of diseases medecine could not cure… Nowadays, we know that we have a real new life in front of us, soon as we leave the former "productive" one. Maybe Mrs Coddington is seeing herself as if she was living in her grand father's time…

    1. I agree. I thins she sees herself as either working or sitting in a rocking chair, just witing to die. Maybe she sees it as throwing in the towel. Or maybe her work satisfies all her achievement desires and all her other interests as well. And she has no unfulfilled interests. For most of us, as several people have commented, our jobs are a bit more prosaic… we retire fo get a chance to do what we've never had time to do.

  11. Sue, I find retirement to be one of the greatest explorations of self I've ever experienced. Along with an exploration of self, for me, comes an exploration of meaning and being. My inner thinker is free to think as much as she likes.

    When I read that Grace Coddington statement originally, I thought, well hell, who would WANT to retire from her job? She is prized for her unique and valuable skills, she probably rarely had to do anything she didn't want to, or be anyone she doesn't want to do:).

    1. I initially thought that as well. Then I read the BoF article which describes her having to ask Wintour's permission to do this or that….and it made me wonder why she didn't start charting her own course years ago.

  12. I've come via Materfamilias.
    With two years yet to go until I retire, and working in a field with no pension, I have had to plan and think ahead about what it will mean in regard to so many things. Mostly I look forward to the opportunity to 'replace money'. I also see a huge gift of time – to walk, to read again, to visit family, to learn something NEW.
    This is a good conversation, and I'll drop by again to see where it goes.

    1. It's that NEW thing that I find exciting.There's so many interesting things to see and learn about…and retirement gives us the time and flexibility to chart a new path. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

  13. Also here from Materfamilias, and also on the brink of very very early retirement at age 56, with a UK public sector pension. I really enjoyed your post and felt Grace was being a bit too much like our politicians who continue happily in office into their 70s in a privileged bubble and proclaim loudly about the benefits of keeping working until we drop. Just now with a few months to go I'm at the quietly ecstatic phase, and I expect to become more loudly ecstatic as the date draws near. 29 years in the one university has been long enough, in a career I fell into and never got out of. Now it's time for refocusing, reconnecting, and simply doing forgotten things like being outside during the day when it's not a lunch break or rushing between meetings. 29 years engrains so many treadmill habits that I don't quite know what I'll discover, and that uncertainty is exciting.

    1. I still love being out and about in the world in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. Makes me feel like I'm playing hookey. Congrats on your upcoming release:)

  14. Interesting post and as always you've tackled a serious topic with humour. I'm not at retirement stage yet but see it as a potentially exciting new phase. However much one enjoys one's career there should be more to life. Suspect Grace is overly invested in hers but then it's a special kind of one so perhaps understandable. Maybe she's a little institutionalised after so many years with
    Anna and Vogue. Nothing wrong with having more leisure time You certainly seem to be making the most of yours. Iris

    1. I'm trying to make the most of mine…at the same time as I try NOT to focus on whether I'm making the most out of it. Thanks as always for reading, Iris.

  15. I teach also, I have eight more years until I can retire. I am hoping I can hang on, that long.

    I guess I am luckier than most teachers in California. They are stuck in a system call Calstrs which is somewhat of a joke. Since, I work at a state school, I am a Civil Service employee and in the CALPERS retirement plan, plus I pay into the Social Security system here in the States. The basic difference is that I can walk at 55 with 70% of my salary (28 years of service)and full medical, dental and vision. Most districts and CALstrs don't offer that. At 62, I can collect partial Social Security if I want. Plus, I have a couple of other things I did on my own.

    I think I will become either a sub or a part-time paraprofessional in a district. The way I look at it, I will still be involved with people but can enjoy things and have time do to what I want.

    1. Wow… your pension sound fantastic. 28 yrs of service here would garner you 56% of your best five years salary. We pay into our own plan for dental and vision etc. Good luck with hanging in.

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