19th October 2021

Featured Review

Retirement Experiences of Psychologists

Reviewed by Dorothy W. Cantor

When the Reviews Editor at Cambridge Scholars Publishing asked if I would be willing to review this book, I didn’t hesitate for a minute. Retirement has long been an interest of mine. I published a trade book about it 20 years ago. I am a retired psychologist, for 2 years now, myself. And, full disclosure, I know the editors, Rodney R. Baker and Patrick H. DeLeon, and most of the contributors to the book. I was very interested in their stories of retirement, to compare them both to my recommendations two decades ago and to my own recent experiences. The book arrived yesterday, and I started reading the slim volume last night and only put it down when I realized it was after midnight. It kept me fully engaged and wanting more. I finished the last two stories this morning and set right down to put my thoughts about the book on paper.

Obviously, this is a very readable and interesting volume. The editors directed the contributors to write their chapters in story format and the contributors not only complied, but were extremely open and willing to self-disclose. That’s part of what makes it so readable. The interesting part is how many variations there are on what retirement means to people. I have said that we have taught people how to how to exercise and eat right to live long lives and to manage their finances in preparation for retirement, but not how to plan for a meaningful post-work life. The result of this oversight would be a large cadre of people who were healthy, wealthy and bored! Fortunately, none of the 14 story tellers fits that model of having nothing to do in retirement. They have all maintained purpose in their lives, and all serve as wonderful role models for other psychologists anticipating the time when they will leave work behind them. This is especially true for women approaching retirement because there were so few women in the profession before them. From that perspective, I would have liked to see contributions from more women. Only 5 of the 14 writers are female.

One theme that runs through many of the stories is the hesitancy to fully retire. People were concerned about the loss of identity, giving up something they loved doing, and the prospect of feeling useless. One pointed to the fear of the loss of the structure that work provided. Their solutions varied. Several retired and then unretired. Others cut back on what they were doing professionally but didn’t give up working altogether. One contributor noted that she was doing all the things she had done before, but now wasn’t getting paid.

I was struck by the question, “Am I a different person in retirement?” The answer is that you aren’t. You’re the same person but doing different things that give your life purpose and meaning. You use your skills in different ways and your personality doesn’t change. Collectively, the authors did not have specific retirement plans and let things develop and evolve. That is a very important point because adults are often fearful of trial and error or failing. Retirement is a time to try new things but recognize if they aren’t bringing the satisfaction you expected and go on to something else. As one author said, it means being “open to things as yet undiscovered.” Another described it as “improvising while planning ahead.” Take advantage of opportunities that come your way. As one writer put it, there is always “something around the corner.”

I would have liked to see more about what retired psychologists are doing to add fun to their lives. They seem, as a group, to need to be busy in order to continue to feel useful. They do not want to rest on their laurels. But these are very accomplished people who have earned the time to include more fun in their lives. They certainly don’t have to build their resumes anymore. Some do acknowledge enjoying the freedom to spend more time with family or to pursue fun activities from sailing to book clubs. It is clearly hard to let go in retirement. In addition, there is no one formula for retirement. All the authors, and all of those who read about them, have already or will develop their own paths.

The contributors recognize the losses of aging and having to adjust to them. I am reminded of the saying, “Man plans. God laughs.” Sometimes the loss is personal, as in the case of one writer who lost most of her eyesight. Other times, the loss is in a partner, as experienced by one writer whose husband suffers from Parkinson’s and requires considerable caregiving. Health is obviously an unpredictable variable that the contributors recognize. But they also recognize that it comes with the privilege of having lived a long life.

These stories were written in 2019, before the COVID pandemic. I find myself wanting to hear about how the authors fared in their retirement during these difficult times. The pandemic is another curveball we’ve been thrown. My assumption is that they adjusted. Perhaps the editors will offer a sequel. But in the meantime, this is a valuable book for psychologists in every work environment who wonder when and how to retire successfully.

Dorothy W. Cantor served as the 105th president of the American Psychological Association in 1996-97. She is currently a board member of the American Psychological Foundation and recently completed a term on the Board of Governors of Rutgers University.

Retirement Experiences of Psychologists is available now in Hardback at a 25% discount. Enter the code PROMO25 at checkout to redeem.

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