Retirement: Have It Your Way

by Carol Engler

After 30 years in the Akron, Ohio, Public Schools, I retired at age 50 with a great buyout offer. I was among the first of the 76 million Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964 to take this great leap.

I had no roadmap at the time to tell me how to handle this important life transition. My primary role models, my parents, had taken a lock-step retirement at the age of 65. I knew I wanted to follow a different path.

Retirement jump-started me onto a journey of perseverance and faith, paved with a little luck.

Rest for Racehorses

I learned a few lessons along the way when I found myself with the unfamiliar issue of time on my hands. I had planned on taking a year to transition to the second half of my life. It wound up taking five years of exploration as I moved from public school administrator to a tenure-track assistant professorship.

  • Quiet the Type A within.
    For the first time in my life, I had an unfamiliar surplus of time once I retired. My initial
    reaction was to jump right back into activity, any activity. Soon I realized this method would just lead to a continuation of my too-busy first career in school administration. By slowing myself down and keeping a journal (on the computer, of course, to save time), I learned to actually reflect on the transition, get my feelings on paper and start to pick and choose how I wanted to spend my time.

  • Go to the bookstore … all of it.
    My favorite areas of local bookstores were ones that I usually made a beeline to as a busy educator. However, when I retired, I decided to expand my horizons and browse through books in all areas. This helped me in two ways. First, I was able to find topics that had interested me over the years that I had dismissed because I was too busy to explore further. Second, a whole new world of possibilities opened to me, including consulting and university teaching that eventually launched my second career.

  • Recognize the skull chatter within.
    As an educator, my life had been filled with “shoulds,” “oughts” and “musts.” Like most, I felt the daily obligations and feelings of responsibility and loyalty to a school system were paramount. I soon realized my new loyalty was to myself and how to best live my life on my terms. This newfound freedom of choice took a long time to evolve and is still evolving five years
    after retiring as a public school administrator.

  • Make the Internet your friend.
    Most of us use the Internet in our professional work. However, as a new retiree, I found I got in the habit of surfing the Web as a way to fill time because all of my friends were still employed. What began as browsing soon turned into a great untapped resource for finding areas that interested me. It was like visiting the bookstore without having to drive there in the car.

    The vast resources of the Internet gave me avenues of interest to explore that my parents would never have known about when they were ready to retire. I found the most helpful information at the American Association of Retired Persons website ( and at, a great site for exploring new career possibilities.

  • Walk a new path literally.
    I continued my daily walks that had become a staple during my first career. However, I took a new path every so often in the weeks and months after retirement. By changing my scenery, I was able to spend my walking time exploring new sights and sounds. This may sound like an oversimplification, but I began to see that by switching my routine literally, I was able to think about modifying my perception of myself as an educator to a person exploring new territory career-wise.


  • Inner Needs

    • Make sure there is gas in the tank.
      You can’t run a car without fuel. And as a new retiree, there may be time when doing little is the best way to fill up. This can be the most difficult challenge of all, but it’s well worth the effort to slow down and take stock.

      Participate in activities that help recharge your life. That might mean going on a vacation, getting some elective surgery done that you have been putting off or even something as simple as having a leisurely breakfast while reading the newspaper. Whatever your method of refueling the car, keep in mind that to be of service to anyone else, we must first take care of the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of ourselves.

      Of course, as educators we are accustomed to putting the needs of others first. It is an idea that I need to remind myself of constantly and even have a Post-it note stuck on my computer that reads: “What have I done to take care of myself TODAY?”

    • • Find a pioneer and make and make him or her your friend.
      I needed to find a role model who had not made the transition along the lines of “my parents’ Oldsmobile.” By focusing on someone who had been a pioneer, I was able to gain valuable information and an instant cheerleader who encouraged me to take the risks necessary to change my life.

      I found a university professor, Sherry Lahr, who had been a superintendent. She helped me work through all the issues of this major life change. I eventually wound up on the tenure track of a university, and I owe much to Sherry’s wise, witty and realistic advice.

      In addition, I did not broadcast to the entire world my intentions to move to a second career. I kept my own counsel and did not share a lot of information with individuals who were planning a highly traditional form of retirement. I found at the time of transition I needed to be around those who were risk takers, not stay-at-home types.


    Carol Engler, who was an assistant high school principal for 12 years, is an assistant professor of educational administration at Ashland University, Columbus Center, 1900 E. Dublin-Granville Road, Columbus, OH 43229. E-mail: Her book, The ISLLC Standards in Action: A Principal’s Handbook, will be released in May (Eye on Education).