Thoughts on Retirement

Having reached the age of retirement, I've been thinking about it a lot.

Actually, I retired at age 46 when I closed the business (DKTS) I'd started over twenty years earlier. I'd been working hard, burning out, and when I got my house paid off (cost of living suddenly low) I said, now's the time. Indeed, I thought I was behind schedule; it had always been my intention to retire young. Then I could travel and do all the projects I'd had in mind and had to relegate to the back burner. But there were surprises awaiting.

The surprise? Retirement is not effortless and not always comfortable. Here are some revelations that surprised me. First, much of one's identity, place in the world, prestige and identity comes from one's work. (Here's an excellent article from the July 2019 Atlantic, Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think.)

Second, I discovered to my display that in fact all those deferred projects were on the back burner for a reason. Once I finally had the time to throw myself into them, my feeling was, "Meh."

Third, the travel opportunities of retirement lost their gleam. I'd traveled a lot for work and learned that the most comfortable bed in the world is my own. Travel had become an unglamorous grind... airport security, incessant problem-solving, cranky service-people, etc. Stay home and you needn't deal with any of that.

Having departed the world of work, I lounged around for a couple of years, played music, caught up on my photo albums, and (finally!) paid lots of attention to my kids. But soon I longed to return to work. It gives life purpose. And having more money is nice, too. But the question was, what work?

I read several of those self-help books about job-hunting. Perhaps the most popular is What Color is Your Parachute?. It propounds a variety of introspective processes to reveal your aptitudes and desires and thus deduce a career direction. More useful -- much more useful -- was another book whose name, alas, I have forgotten, that proposed and entirely different and more effective discovery process. It recommended executing a series of experiments: actually try different things and see what works best. These experiments are not small; they take substantial commitment, e.g. doing some job for a while on a part-time basis, or volunteering. Often, they involve a substantial qualification and application process and perhaps even training. This is all to the good; it gives a sense of what's really demanded and roots you in reality. It's a much more effective method tan Parachute's personality and aptitude tests.

The experiment that rang my bell was volunteering in some emergency rooms. The requirements were stiff: training, uniforms, immunizations, and more; a lengthy process before you even got to set foot in the place. But I persevered and did it at several hospitals and loved it. Working with patients is unlike any other work I'd done, a powerful experience.

So I decided to be a nurse. I'd need a degree (BSN) and a license (RN). Before I could apply, there were some prerequisites (chemistry, nutrition, psych, and more) and it took me a couple of years to get these, attending classes in various community colleges around the Bay Area. When the teacher was good (often they weren't) it was fun going back to school as an adult. Finally, I was ready to apply. I nearly got into UCSF (where I'd gotten my MS decades earlier) and my application was strong but my essay sucked (I wish I had it to do over!) so they rejected med. Instead, I went to USF, to a nursing program called Master's Entry Option (MEO) that awarded a master's in nursing (MSN) after two years. It was grueling but I mostly enjoyed it, especially the clinicals. The problem was that several of my professors were really bad. As an adult (most were younger than me) I saw them as peers and they hated that. It proved the adage, "Those who can't, teach." If they had been good at nursing, they would have been nursing and earning double the money. One even vindictively falsified my test scores (I was pretty much a straight-A student) because I called her on her shit (she was ill-prepared for her lectures, didn't follow the syllabus, and didn't know what was in the textbook). After a few more experiences like that, I dropped out. For being a fancy, expensive private school, USF was surprisingly mediocre.

I switched to a one-year BSN program at Samuel Merritt where, too, some of the profs were sad sacks, but this was less surprising as Samuel Merritt doesn't boast USF's prestige. It was another grueling year but I got through it and graduated cum laude.

What next? Go to work, of course. But another surprise was in store. Though nurses are in high demand, it's hard to get a job. The demand is for seasoned nurses. Hospitals only reluctantly hire new grads. We come out of nursing school near useless in live settings. Hospitals must make big investments in us. It takes months before we're up to speed. And once we're trained, likely as not we'll change hospitals to one we like better. So these positions are scarce.

I applied for a few, got one interview (they didn't call back), and gave up. Back to retirement. Mostly. I've done a few little jobs here and there, subbing for just a shift or two, and quite a bit of volunteer nursing with Project Homeless Connect and a whole month during the Covid-19 pandemic at Hayward's Windsor Post-Acute Care Center (a SNF) which I enjoyed and am considering employment there (they asked if I wanted a job... I said maybe).

But mostly, I haven't worked as a professional nurse. Instead, I've returned to my first love, medical informatics, and am focusing on building my company, Nurse Tech Inc., and its products (apps for nurses). It's a lot of work though not full-time. So you could call it semi-retirement... quite ideal. So it going to work out well from here on?

Here are the minimum requirements for a good retirement:

  • Health
  • Money
  • Friends/family/love

I've got them all. Life is sweet.

-- the highly-opinionated Dan Keller, 2020