Get a Life (Before It’s Too Late)

Like many colleges and universities across the country, my institution recently launched a retirement-incentive program for our faculty members. We didn’t call it a “retirement incentive program” because no one liked the sound of “UA RIP,” and only in higher education would a program limited to people 65 and older be referred to as an “early” retirement plan. A respectable 22 percent of those eligible applied for the package, but a great many more wanted to take the deal, but couldn’t get their head around the idea of saying goodbye to the life they had known for so long. One still highly productive faculty member well north of 70 summed up the struggle well when he said, “It’s not about the money. I just don’t know what I’d do in the morning. I don’t have any hobbies and I don’t have any friends who aren’t here. This is really all I have. Does that make me pitiful?”

This fear of “social death” was noted in Kathryn Masterson’s recent Chronicle article, “Encouraging Faculty Retirement Goes Beyond the Financial, College Presidents Say.” The presidents cited in her piece provided some excellent advice about how to help faculty members transition (as did On Hiring blogger Gene Fant’s post and the subsequent comments), but the question for many of our faculty members is not how to transition to retirement, but what to do with all that new free time.

A fascination with one’s discipline makes a faculty member productive and inspiring, but an obsession with one’s scholarship can discourage the development of leisurely pursuits or the formation of friendships outside of the academy. While I’d be hard pressed to imagine that faculty members in their 40s and 50s would be willing to attend a “Get a Life (Before It’s Too Late)” seminar, I think this is a topic worth discussing.

Do you think having interests outside of work helps or harms one’s professional success? Is there any way to help highly driven faculty members achieve a little balance in their lives?

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