"Life After Work" by Walter vom Saal and Arthur Dauria


“…we need to start using different ways to talk about retirement that do not carry negative images of only termination and loss. Unfortunately the word “retirement” in our culture does carry with it the image of stopping everything productive and doing nothing meaningful with one’s life.”
–from “Life After Work”

“To retire” has many meanings, including the nightly descent into darkness and unconsciousness. But even a good night’s sleep carries with it the promise of awakening to a bright new day. To retire from work portends a time of termination, during which one’s career skills – often honed over many years – are suddenly disregarded as formerly fulfilling times are replaced by boredom. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and a new book looks at retirement as a transition to a new time of life by examining the experiences of six people, and with useful cautionary tales and suggestions.

“Life After Work: Six retirement stories that can change your life” was written by two professors who realized that there are many books on financial planning but few that address the human issues surrounding retirement. Arthur F. Dauria is Professor and Chair of the Communications Arts Department at the State University of New York College at Oneonta (SUCO), and Walter vom Saal is a Professor of Psychology (retired) at SUCO. Dr. Dauria’s academic interests encompass interpersonal communication and conflict management. Dr. vom Saal’s work includes the study of adulthood and aging and positive psychology.

Dauria and vom Saal have collaborated for several years on addressing issues of aging and retirement and wrote “Life After Work” to share the retirement experiences, good and bad, of several notable individuals. The book profiles:

  • Sadie and Bessie Delany, sisters whose accomplishments were extraordinary at the time for two African-American women, but who may best be known for the books they wrote and wisdom they shared after reaching the age of 100 (Bessie lived to be 104, Sadie 109). Their “retirement” years were long and productive.
  • Lee Iacocca was one of the world’s top auto executives – he headed both Ford and Chrysler – when he was forced out of his job and went through a period when he found retirement more stressful than work had ever been.
  • Katherine Hepburn was a great actress. Her work with co-star Spencer Tracy is among the finest in film. But she and Tracy were also close personally, and when his health began to deteriorate Kate temporarily gave up her own career to care for him. They were a non-traditional couple, but they reflect a pattern typical of male-female relationships.
  • Jimmy Carter was turned out of office in 1980 and went through painful soul-searching until he found new purpose and became “a bright shining example of actualized potential.” Freed from his earlier political constraints, President Carter was able to pursue projects that were personally important to him and along the way to provide a good example even for those stepping down from less lofty positions.
  • Arthur Ashe was one of the world’s great tennis players when a heart condition brought his competitive days to an end. Then he contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion. His “retirement” experience is sad and tragic, but it also shows how the loss of economic function can turn someone’s attention to cherished relationships – till his final days Ashe was writing notes to his young daughter – and “to sweep away the clutter in order to act on what really mattered.”

Dauria and vom Saal say that a good retirement will consist of “3 R’s”: relationships, responsibilities and recreation. It should be seen in terms of opportunity and personal growth (a planned retirement is infinitely easier to deal with than one which is forced), but there is also the advisory that “everyone profiled in this book had to actively re-invent their retirement as they moved through it. In fact, most of their retirements were driven by external forces.”

Walter vom Saal and Arthur Dauria join Bill Jaker on OFF THE PAGE to respond to listeners’ questions about planning and living in retirement.

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