When I get older, losing my hair
Many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a valentine,
birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?
– John Lennon / Paul McCartney, songwriters
When I’m Sixty-Four lyrics © 1967 Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Mattering vs. Marginality
Perspectives for Those Leaving the Profession
Adaptations of the article in PMEA News (Fall 2019) and the blog “Retiree Concepts.”
Do you feel “needed” and “making a difference” to others? This is an essential part of what author Ernie Zelinski of the best-seller book How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free emphasizes: “finding purpose, structure, and community” – goals for which your job and career usually provide – but are equally essential in retirement.
“Work structures us and gives us routine in our lives,” says psychologist Louis Primavera of Touro College in New York City, who co-wrote the 2012 book The Retirement Maze: What You Should Know Before and After You Retire. “We plan around work. It is part of our identity. We go to a social gathering and people say, ‘What do you do?’ Clearly, what happens is people say, ‘What am I going to do? What am I going to be?’ The loss of identity is a major fear.”
Retiring is “a series of transitions,” says Nancy Schlossberg, a professor emerita of counseling psychology at the University of Maryland, and now of Sarasota, Fla., where she is a consultant and public speaker on life transitions. “Change is very unsettling. There are people afraid because they can’t forecast the future,” she says, and because they worry “they no longer will have a purpose.”
In her 2009 book Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose, Schlossberg talks about “mattering,” which she describes as “the degree to which you feel you’re appreciated, you’re noticed, you’re depended upon.”
Citing the research of Morris Rosenberg and B. Claire McCullough (adolescent studies) at https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1983-07744-001, Schlossberg further defines it as “a universal, lifelong issue that connects us all.” Her “four dimensions of mattering” are:
- Attention – the feeling that a person has the interest of another;
- Importance – the feeling that others care about what you want, think, and do;
- Ego-Extension – the feeling that others will be proud of your successes and/or saddened by your failures;
- Dependence – the feeling that a person can depend on someone else.
Schlossberg also describes the opposing term “marginality” as “a sense of not fitting in,” which can lead to “self-consciousness, irritability, and depression. For some, these feelings can be permanent conditions.” Furthermore, “feelings of marginality often occur when individuals take on new roles, especially when they are uncertain about what these entail.”
Sound familiar? This might resemble that sometimes-tumultuous passage to and emotional ups-and-downs during the initial stages of “life after the work!”
Retirees, do you wake up in the morning feeling like you have an important part to play in the grand scheme of things? According to blogger Carol Larson and life coach Mary Helen Conroy, “During those early months of retirement, folks often try to figure out what their purpose is now that they’re not working. They wonder if they matter.” They view this concept through the lens of popular culture and the literature of transitions. You are invited to try their shared “recipe for mattering” in the Retiree Rebel free-podcast posted at http://www.retireerebels.com/mattering-matter-retirement-mhc-214/.
Dr. Amit Sood, author of the Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living, recommends to “treat the first year in retirement as if you are ‘interning’ to give yourself time to readjust and set new expectations.” So, seemingly taking his advice, plan a “break” from everything, take extended trips, tours, or cruises, and enjoy some unscheduled time… to literally “go with the flow.”
Susan Woodward, now 75 and living in Tucson, spent four years of her retirement traveling the country in her RV. She visited national parks and the maritime provinces in Canada, and even spent of that time volunteering. What she remembers most is her first trip, when she headed to Deming, N.M. from Raleigh, N.C. “I had such a sense of freedom, empowerment, expansion. I can’t even explain it,” she said. “It was like the whole world opened up.”
— Alessandra Malito
But, a “traditional retirement” may not be for everyone. As Alessandra Malito writes in MarketWatch https://www.marketwatch.com/story/afraid-of-being-bored-in-retirement-consider-these-options-2017-10-10, “Some can’t wait to put in their papers, while others dread the day they give up work for fear of having nothing to do, and no meaning to their name.”
It’s true that retirement can be a dangerous time for some. Without a sense of purpose, the risk of depression increases, and what should be a relaxing time becomes an anxious one. Studies show that without anything meaningful to do, and “mental exercises” throughout the day, cognitive abilities diminish in early retirees. They should also engage in social activities and find a leisurely activity they can enjoy if they aren’t trying to spend their retirement years still working.
— Alessandra Malito
The good news? You have friends in high places… NAfME and your state’s federated music education association (MEA) colleagues who have successfully “Crossed the Rubicon” into an active, meaningful, healthy, and happy retirement.
Anyone contemplating retiring over the next three years should visit their state’s retired member section and Retired Member focus area on the PMEA website: https://www.pmea.net/retired-members/. Take a look at past issues of the PMEA Retired Member Network eNEWS, read the Ultimate Retiree Resource Guide/Bibliography (also posted here), and view the video How-to-Retire.
Finding purpose and “mattering” during your post-full-time employment years will be easier if you continue your own pursuits in music artistry and creative self-expression, as well as your support of music education – be as active as you want – but consider the value of a few of these Goals/Benefits of NAfME/State MEA Retired Membership:
What music teacher retirees need from their professional associations…
- Recognition and archival of past and current professional accomplishments, assignments, interests, skills, and talents.
- Sessions geared for retired members, such as nurturing expressiveness and participation in amateur/community ensembles, retirement planning, etc.
- New “brain-engaging” outlets for learning, leadership, advocacy, “encore career” development, and service.
- Discounts for membership and attending festivals, workshops, and conferences.
What NAfME and state MEAs’ need from its retirees…
- Mentoring of new/less experienced teachers
- Advising “best practices” in curriculum, instruction, assessment, and literature
- Serving as leaders or consultants on local or state councils/boards
- Volunteering at local workshops and state conferences
- Advocating music education to the legislature and general public
- Presenting sessions at workshops or conferences
- Conducting, coaching, or accompanying students at festivals
- Assisting in technology, teacher training, recruitment, auditions, etc.
Yes, you do matter, and you have a lot to offer benefiting the profession to which you have devoted your life! Happy trails to all retiring and retired members!
Jayson, Sharon. (2017). Are You Afraid to Retire? AARP: https://www.aarp.org/retirement/planning-for-retirement/info-2017/retirement-fear-fd.html
Larson, Carol & Conroy, Mary Helen. (2017). Mattering: Do I Matter After Retirement? Retiree Rebels: http://www.retireerebels.com/mattering-matter-retirement-mhc-214/
Malito, Alessandra. (2017). Afraid of Being Bored in Retirement? Consider These Options. MarketWatch: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/afraid-of-being-bored-in-retirement-consider-these-options-2017-10-10
Malito, Alessandra. (2017). This is What Older People Do When They’re Not Quite Ready to Retire. MarketWatch: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/this-is-what-older-people-do-when-theyre-not-quite-ready-to-retire-2017-07-07
Malito, Alessandra. (2017). Why Retirement Can Be a Dangerous Time. MarketWatch: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-retirement-can-be-a-dangerous-time-2017-09-18
Primavera, Louis, Pascale, Rob & Roach, Rip. The Retirement Maze: What You Should Know Before and After You Retire. Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 2012.
Rohwedder, Susann & Willis, Robert J. (2010) Mental Retirement. National Center for Biotechnology Information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2958696/
Rosenberg, M., & McCullough, B. C. (1981). Mattering: Inferred significance and mental health among adolescents. Research in Community & Mental Health, 2, 163-182
Schlossberg, Nancy K. Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose. American Psychological Association, 2009
Sood, Amit. The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living. Da Capo Press, 2013
Zelinski, Ernie J. How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free. Ten Speed Press, 2009
© 2020 Paul K. Fox