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A Californian’s ‘Retirement’ is Part-Time

Rob Peters

Rob Peters during a trip East last summer.

Rob Peters’ approach to retiring wasn’t much different from hitting the road in 1975 to help drive a college friend from New York to California. He didn’t really know where he was going.

When he first laid eyes on California, he was captivated by its beauty, as well as the left-leaning politics absent in the conservative Long Island community he grew up in. But Peters, equipped only with an English degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo, bounced around for years among the various part-time and full-time counseling jobs available to him in his new paradise.

Not until age 38, after earning a master’s degree in counseling and 13 job interviews, did he land his dream job at Diablo Valley College, a community college serving mostly low-income and minority students. He stayed more than 26 years, as a student adviser, program facilitator, and instructor.

He took a blind leap into retirement, too. Again, finding his place was a process. Within four months of retiring, at the end of 2014, he contacted Diablo Valley College.  Yes, they would welcome him back as a counselor for four hours in the morning, two days per week in the spring and three days in the fall.

He returned in June 2015 and again enjoys “the acknowledgment that your work is valuable,” said Peters, 65, who lives with his wife, Suzanne James-Peters, in their home in Benicia with a view of the Carquinez Strait that lies east of San Francisco.

A new body of research indicates that continuing to work but gearing down to a lower-intensity job is often good for older Americans, because it reduces their stress, increases their job satisfaction, and is an encouragement to continue working and preparing financially for retirement.

It’s not all that surprising that Peters “un-retired,” considering how much and how long (10 years) he’d wrestled with the retirement decision.

Yes, the technological demands of working full time became harder to keep up with, the demands of being an older parent with teenage twins (a girl and a boy) consumed him, and coworkers his age were peeling off.  However, he was constantly torn about letting go of a job just when he felt that, as an older counselor, he had even more to give students. As a decision loomed, he attended yet another retirement seminar.  “I began to anticipate that leaving [academia] would take some adjustment.”

He retired reluctantly and weeded out his file cabinet full of work materials even more reluctantly.

While some people embrace retirement and fill their days with activities, retirement involved too much idleness for Peters.  He slept more, which was good for his health, and toyed with learning to write jazz lyrics. But his mind was “getting a little fudgy,” and he didn’t get why his retired friends enjoyed hanging out together at the coffee house. With his 20-year-old twins still in college, and his wife, who is 10 years younger, still teaching elementary school, the nest felt emptier during the day.

“I was talking with a friend and said, ‘I don’t know how to do retirement.’ There are all these social images of the man and his wife – he has all his hair and is looking tan and tawny and having a wonderful time playing bocce ball or exploring the Inca’s lost empire,” Peters said.  “I was in this twilight zone.”

In contrast to this ambivalence, Peters can list the things he likes about part-time employment. His life has structure, fewer meetings, less stress, and extra-long weekends – he and his son recently traveled to Houston to visit Peters’ brother.  The paycheck from Diablo Valley – on top of his state pension, a small Social Security benefit, and savings – is also nice, because the twins are constantly in need of money for college.

The most rewarding part of working part-time is that he returned to the aspect of his job he most enjoys, which is interacting with students and making a difference – something he’s craved since starting a Wednesday night coffee house and speaker series in college that was very popular among like-minded progressive souls.

As an older, wiser counselor at Diablo Valley, he feels comfortable prodding or challenging students to define and achieve their goals. Sometimes, it strikes him that he is also a good role model for the students of what old age should look like.

“I’m fairly fit and keeping up,” Peters said.  “I have to think they see an older guy doing very well, and that’s a further part of a legacy that I feel good about sharing.”

When is he planning to retire for good? Maybe in a year or three.  Maybe not.

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2 Responses to A Californian’s ‘Retirement’ is Part-Time

  1. Larry Littlefield says:

    Again, if you are working, you are not retired.

    Another word needs to be found for those who have moved to a different job of career with less strain, perhaps fewer hours, and less in pay and benefits.

    The very discussion of “working in retirement” is an indication that older generations don’t understand the future they have created for younger generations to gain more benefits for themselves.

    It is based on the idea of a “real” job or career that includes long term employment followed by a retirement with extensive retirement benefits. Something that one could “retire” from, but then perhaps do a little side-work for low pay.

    Informal work for low pay with no retirement benefits and no long term is the permanent reality for most of those who entered the labor force in the 1980s, and the terms have become increasingly worse for each generation since.

    Younger generations know they will be paying of the deal the boomers got, but won’t get it themselves. They believe they will have to work until they drop, but since they haven’t felt the aches and pains and flagging energy of aging, they don’t understand that they will eventually have to do less work and be paid less. That should be explained.

  2. Denise H says:

    Social Security is a “pay it forward” scheme. We, the baby boomers, really did not get any deal. Rates and income limits were increased massively in the 80’s by Reagan. Most high-income earners will receive less than they contributed. Low-income earners will receive more. Our parents were the ones who truly benefited. They have recouped many times their contribution. Without Social Security, we all would be living in our children’s basements. That may be the case when aging baby boomers run out of money, but may bring stability to unstable family finances.