Friday, November 16, 2012

The Nature of Retirement

Today will be my last at the University of Missouri and the last of my thirty-six year career as a private or employed physician.  Though I plan to participate in volunteer medical services, I will now devote most of my life to family, friends and other personal interests.

The news of one's retirement is generally greeted with a mix of reactions.  Most extend their congratulations and best wishes while some wonder aloud how the retiree can give up his or her life's work and a few hint that the decision amounts to a selfish neglect of social responsibility.  The latter reaction is more likely to be encountered by professionals than by others in society and includes the implication that special knowledge and abilities, partly achieved through government support, should not be denied to those who depend on such care.  On the other hand, many of us know physicians who attempted to extend their careers past their point of tolerance and effectiveness, endangering their own health and that of their patients.

In the end, the decision to retire is highly personal and generally unfolds over a number of years.  Those who have few interests outside their field of work are more reticent to move on while others sense the chance to contribute to society in different ways.  Some are happy to work until the day they die while most relish the prospect of freedom from the daily demands of their career.  Unlike the traditional image of retirement, filled with days on the golf course or fishing boat, modern retirement usually involves a transition to other commitments: creative, entrepreneurial or altruistic.  For many, including myself, the belief that we have but one life to live (and that the concept of an afterlife is a human delusion) makes the adventure of retirement even more appealing.