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Preparing for Life After Teaching

Trey Reely | August September 2023

Life of Reely

It is hard to believe that I retired from band directing four years ago. Retirement has been as good as I heard it was going to be, but there have been some challenges to navigate. If you are starting to think about retirement, maybe some of my musings and advice will be helpful.

My first problem upon retirement (which I have not solved yet) is the discomfort with the word retirement itself. Every time I use it, I feel conflicted because it sounds like I am not doing anything. While there is nothing wrong with that, I suppose, I feel like a jar of mayonnaise left out on the counter to spoil when I say it. Every time I tell someone I have retired, I feel like I have to qualify it with all of my current activities. Part of this may be from the fear of being asked to do things because in others’ minds I have so much time on my hands. My dad told me years ago that you stay busy during retirement but don’t get paid for any of it.

The timing of my retirement, the summer of 2019, could not have been better. My health was great. (I had a principal pass away within three months of retirement just a few years before so that was a sober reminder that sooner than later might be the way to go.) I was not burned out, still loved kids, and would miss much of my daily routine. However, it definitely was the right time to let certain things go: weekends away from home, 60-hour school in-service sessions in the summer, fundraisers, worries about school schedule changes, student retention, paperwork, morning duty, and adjusting to new administrators and their latest educational programs and jargon.

Best of all, I was going out on top with our band program. We had a highly successful last year together with a super group of seniors leading the way. Little did I know that my decision to retire that spring was even better than I thought with school closings in March 2020. There is no way I would have gone out on top in 2020. I was teaching private lessons in two local schools and witnessed the havoc firsthand. All goodbyes were said haphazardly in March with no final concerts, banquets, or any sense of closure.

Financially, I was in pretty good shape. I wasn’t rich but I was not going to be on the Forbes list of richest people in the world anytime soon anyway. Arkansas has a good retirement system, and I was a part of that for 34 years. I was not one to watch the stock market, so I just let them invest the money. I would read a newsletter each month, so I wasn’t completely in the dark about potential legislative changes and such.

As I approached retirement, my primary concern was doing meaningful things. I had plenty I wanted to do, but which were of real value to my life on a daily basis? As is my habit, I did some research. Surprisingly, there was little written on this aspect of retirement that I could find. After Google searches and visits to the library, most of the sources I found were concerned with the financial end of things. I wanted to know how I could handle retirement emotionally and mentally.

Fortunately, I found a great book titled Don’t Retire, Rewire by Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners. The authors identify 85 drivers, or motivators, that keep you going in life and make you tick. The authors suggest looking at these drivers and selecting those that are a part of your current job that you will no longer have once you retire. Once those are selected, they recommend finding post-retirement activities that fulfill those same needs. Some retirees are lost and unfulfilled after retirement without anything to replace the drivers they lost when they stopped working.

After reading the book, I did a little self-analysis. I began by listing everything things I wanted to do after retiring: increase service at church, spend more time with family, travel, improve on guitar, practice euphonium, compose, play in a community band, coach soccer, write and publish books in several genres, improve technology skills, become a chess master, write poetry, teach private lessons, improve improvisation skills, join a civic club, start a community band, join the Association of Concert Bands, do adjunct work at a university, serve as the executive secretary of the Arkansas Small Band Association, consult with area bands, join ITEA, and attend conventions. With my list prepared, I began matching up activities with my list of drivers. (You can see a sample of drivers I adapted from the Rewire, Don’t Retire in the sidebar at the bottom.)

Of course, drivers will vary from person to person. If you answer yes to a question, then it’s one of your drivers. I discovered that I had many drivers, but for my purposes here, I will only discuss five of them.

As I matched the things I wanted to do with the list of drivers, I also had to set priorities because there was no way to do everything at once. In fact, I have reached the point that for everything I add, I deduct something else.

For fulfillment, I selected things that I could work toward and complete – music articles and books. For goals, I learned how to use iMovie and make YouTube videos. In terms of leadership, I increased my role at church, co-founded a community band, and continued my work with the Arkansas Small Band Association.

Lifelong learning experienced the most cuts because I have many interests. I will not be a chess master unless I live to be 110, don’t look for me on the cover of Rolling Stone with a guitar anytime soon, and a term as Arkansas poet laureate is definitely out. As for mentoring, I decided to teach private lessons and work with young band directors as needed.

The pandemic derailed some items initially selected from my list, but the unwanted free time allowed me to reevaluate my priorities. I enjoyed coaching soccer but found I was not passionate about it since my grandkids were not old enough to play. After COVID canceled the spring season, I decided not to resume coaching until my grandkids were older. The most unexpected thing I did was not even on my list – drive a school bus for school activities. I found that I enjoyed staying connected to the school in a way beyond just private lessons. Schools need bus drivers badly, so if you ever feel undervalued, drive a bus and that will change.

No matter what you call retirement, whether it’s rewiring, throwing in the towel, standing aside, hanging up your hat, calling it quits, calling it a day, or going out to pasture, it’s a wonderful time because of the choices that you have. If you are retiring anytime soon, start evaluating your choices well in advance so the transition is as smooth and fulfilling as possible. And for one final idea – have a cozy, memory-filled quilt made out of your old band shirts. I snuggle under mine each day for my daily nap while you’re at work.

Assessing Your Drivers

Adapted from Don’t Retire, Rewire By Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners

Determine what your current drivers are and consider what post-retirement options will fulfill the same needs.

Do you look for a sense of completion or satisfaction from what you do?
Do you need a reason to jump out of bed every morning?

Do you manage time with a to-do list with defined objectives that you complete?
Is your life discombobulated without goals to shoot for?

Do you like being the boss or in charge?
Do like motivating people to follow you?
Does it irritate you when things are not done correctly?

Lifelong Learning
Do you have interests that you enjoy for the sake of knowledge?
Do you have many interests outside your job requirements?
Are you curious?

Do you like to take people under your wing?
Do you like to see people grow?
Do you like helping others hone their skills?