Why I Decided to Unretire

By Marvin Druger     Email: mdruger@syr.edu

Most people look toward retirement as a desirable time. People save money and assets with the intent of eventually retiring and leading a life of luxury.

The retiree has lots of leisure time, can sleep late every morning and doesn’t have the stresses or obligations of the workplace.

Retirees can travel to all the exciting places that they could only dream about when working. Retirees can pursue hobbies with enthusiasm and have the time to pursue new hobbies.

Except for spouses, retirees have no boss to cater to. Retirees can do whatever they want whenever they want to.

But retirement has one major drawback that retirees cannot escape, namely, aging.

Usually, retirement occurs as people reach the pinnacle of their lives. No matter what we do, the body ages, and retirees are bound to get something they don’t want.

Oftentimes, when retirees go to a doctor for a check-up, they find out that they have some ailment that they didn’t even know they had. Regular exercise becomes an obsession, but the body doesn’t work as well as it did in earlier life. The days of running a marathon are gone forever.

After a lifetime of activity, I retired in 2009. They told me that, if I waited until later to draw upon Social Security, I would get more money. My response was, “This is later,” and I started getting Social Security as soon as I could.

I had a fantastic set of activities and involvements as my life unfolded. I never thought much about what I was doing. I just did it and life just happened. My dear, deceased wife, Pat, worked with me and guided me through life. I was never very good at mechanical things or technology. I always told Pat, “I’m paid to think!”

I had innovative ideas, but Pat did the work, and I got the credit. My career as a faculty member at Syracuse University was wonderful. Being a professor is hard work, despite what some people think. You are on the job day and night seven days a week, carrying out some academic or other responsibility. However, being a professor has its virtues, Basically, you can do whatever you want to do and they pay you. You interact with young people, do research and teaching, and nobody tells you what research to do. Travel is also a great benefit and there are also good retirement benefits.

Most new faculty members are concerned about getting tenure and promotion. I never worried about this. I simply did my “thing” and it happened. I always told students to plan their life, but I never did.

Through grants and fellowships, I was able to travel to many parts of the world. Among my many travels, I visited Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, Tahiti, Hawaii, the Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos Islands, Bali, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Bermuda, Mexico, Canada, Israel, Egypt, Great Britain, Japan, China, India, South Africa, Morocco, many European countries, such as Switzerland, Poland, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, etc., and places all over the U.S. In fact, there are few places I would want to visit where I haven’t already been. These visits were topped off by two Viking River Cruises in Europe.

Each travel site offered some special experiences that helped shape my life.

I also had the privilege of serving as president of three international science education organizations, i.e., the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE) and twice president of the Society for College Science Teachers (SCST). I was also chairman and secretary of the Education Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). NSTA is the largest science teacher organization in the world and AAAS is the largest multidisciplinary scientific society in the world.

Two of my most important accomplishments in life were to have taught science to an estimated 50,000 students and to have had a wonderful wife, three children and seven grandchildren. When I boasted to a friend that I had taught 50,000 students in my teaching career, he commented, “Yes. You have influenced and offended many people.”

I had already done so much before retirement that I wondered if there was anything exciting or worthwhile left to do?

Retirement is a good time to reflect on the past and the future. My suggestion is to identify those activities that you really enjoyed before retirement and to set a pathway for new activities. I believe the worst thing you can do in retirement is to say, “I worked hard all my life, and now it’s time to sit around, rest and do nothing.”

Regular exercise (health permitting) is a compulsory activity in retirement. No matter what you do, physical and physiological functions decline with age, but, as a physiologist told me, these decline more slowly if you exercise regularly. No matter what, your body eventually slows down and you can’t do what you did when you were 20 years old. Also, health issues inevitably arise and we have to make adjustments accordingly. We all have to be realistic about retirement, although this may be difficult.

I decided to unretire and adjust my activities to fit reality. In my unretirement, I continue to offer a radio program on WAER-FM 88.3 (i.e., Science on the Radio).; I resumed organizing a Saturday enrichment program for talented high school students in the Syracuse are (i.e. Frontiers of Science); I continue to be a columnist for 55-Plus magazine and contribute six articles a year; I continue to conduct historical SU campus tours for SU staff, faculty and students; I published a book of poems for children and adults (“Strange Creatures and Other Poems About Life”); I intend to resume doing poetry readings at elementary schools in the Syracuse area; I avidly read non-fiction books and I am writing a sequel to my published book “The Misadventures of Marvin” (Syracuse University Press); (the new book will be “More Misadventures of Marvin”); as sports enthusiast, I continue to follow the play of my favorite teams on TV; I even have developed a long-term relationship with an attractive woman (Victoria) that soothes the loss of my wife in 2014.

As an unretiree I intend to pay more attention to my family. I have a brother, a sister, a daughter, two sons, seven grandchildren and in-laws. All of them have been incredibly attentive to me and their love and passion are supporting pillars for my unretirement.

So, my advice to retirees is to ponder your past and plan realistically for your future. My guiding theme is to try to DO MORE before you HAVE to do less.

I wrote this article just before going to bed at night and I had an unusual dream.

Usually, we do not remember the details of dreams, but this one seemed real and bizarre. I dreamt that I was jogging in Colorado with a friend who I traveled with for the Project Advance program at Syracuse University. This program offers first-year college courses to high school students for college credit. I was chatting while jogging (which was not unusual) when my friend whose wife had recently died stopped jogging and asked me, “Do you mind if I jog with my wife instead of with you?” “Of course not,” I said, and I continued jogging without him. The blue sky and scenery were strikingly beautiful. In my sleep, I actually believed that I was jogging smoothly and effortlessly, as I experienced the beauty of my surroundings. Then I awoke. I realized that age had caught up to me and jogging smoothly and effortlessly was no longer a reality. I stayed in bed awhile and thought, “Maybe there is a heaven for unretirees after all?”