This is writer/historian Barbara Fertig’s response to our March Challenge, in which we urge our readers to bring some change—however minimal—into their lives.


“Worst of all, I imagined that if I retired I would never find the time, or the energy, to create anew a comparable life of intellectual and social pleasures.”


14671948366_600c397e87_zLast month I decided to retire from teaching. I’m well past retirement age, but thought I would just let my time run out on its own, because I love what I do. [For the past 25 years, Fertig has been Professor of History at Armstrong State University in Savannah, Georgia.] I’ve changed my mind not because I’ve begun to love my work less, but because I love it so much.

I didn’t worry that much about becoming enfeebled or confused, although I’m sure my department head may have, but I did fear leaving behind the rich social and intellectual life that students and colleagues provided. Worst of all, I imagined that I would never find the time, or the energy, to create anew a comparable life of intellectual and social pleasures. Retirement seemed to be akin to driving off a cliff.

My decision was preceded by an attempt to clear my desk of pending tasks. I was preparing my portfolio for a review that occurs every five years. Passing this review would guarantee additional years in which to postpone my retirement until I could bring myself to think about it. Or just postpone it, period.

My desk was covered with binders, organizers, and documents. As I was assembling elements of the portfolio, I saw beneath them the syllabus for a class that met the next day. The sight reminded me that I owed each of these students an individual assignment, a task that I had yet to do. The portfolio was also due the next morning. Clearly, I did not have time to do both or, at the very least, to attend to each with appropriate care.

So, I wondered, should the portfolio buy me more years at the expense of the students now in my charge? If I love teaching, will I invest this day in the future that I want for myself, or in their futures, which really is the point of loving to teach?

It wasn’t really a decision, just a moment of clarity. I put aside the portfolio, walked down to the head office and declared my intent to retire. I spent the rest of the day finding some really great assignments for my class.

Upon reflection, I find the world full of possibilities. I have no idea what choices I may make. I only know that I have freed myself from clinging to what is.

Image by Todd Petrie via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

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  • Sue Ann Robinson May 25, 2015 at 10:20 am

    Barb, this is so well written and inspiring. Thank you for sharing. I too love the focus on the singular moment. I’ve learned two things in relating to my mother who is 99 now: patience and the rewards of living in the present moment. I’m still betwixt and between retiring or staying at work. But rather than let go, I’ve added on! I’m teaching happily at CSULB: Book ARts and Papermaking which I love and working at the LBMA which I love and I have two book art commissions. So life is full. Retiring isn’t in the cards for a visual artist, I hope. I’m so glad that writing is looking like a way into your gratifying retirement! You are such a great writer and always have been.

  • Susan B. Johnson March 20, 2015 at 10:30 am

    Way to go, Barbara Fertig! I did the same thing at the same university. Life’s too short not to invest in one’s self.

  • Toni Myers March 19, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    I also reveled in your moment of clarity. Good to remember in one’s own life. Thanks

  • susan lieberman March 18, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    I didn’t plan to retire…I thought I was having a six months or year pause…and then, to my astonishment, I found I liked the pause and what it brought more than going back to 50 hour work weeks. Sometimes it feels easier to have a defined structure, but this has been great for me and I hope it will be great for you…if a bit sad for your students.

  • Roz Warren March 17, 2015 at 9:10 am

    “It wasn’t a decision, just a moment of clarity.” Nice!