I’ve been preparing for retirement for some time, and I’m now days from leaving the position I’ve held for 30 years and the profession in which I’ve worked for 40 years. I’ve read many books about this “encore” period of one’s life as well as what this new life stage means and might be.
This past week a friend sent me a link to an essay in The Atlantic called “Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think – Here’s how to make the most of it” by Arthur C. Brooks (July, 2019).
Brooks describes life’s trajectory from one’s 30s to 80s, when we peak intellectually and professionally, and when the capacities upon which we depend for work success begin to decline. He describes as well the nature of success at different ages, and what brings us the greatest happiness in each life stage.
For years I’ve felt empowered, relevant and useful in my work as a congregational rabbi, Jewish, and progressive Zionist leader. I’m never bored because people fascinate me, the infinite variety of their stories moves me, ideas and notions stimulate me, community and service to others enrich me, Jewish peoplehood and the State of Israel ground me, and working closely with talented people inspires me. As a manager of creative, competent and menschy colleagues and as a participant in sacred-partner relationships with bright and committed lay leaders, I’m fortunate to feel deep satisfaction in our collective accomplishments as we’ve grown our synagogue community as a Jewish home away from home for thousands of people over the years.
I anticipated leaving my position as senior rabbi when I thought I reached the peak of my intellectual and professional capacities and before my strengths began to wane as I aged (I turn 70 later this year).
Like many people my age, certain abilities diminish that used to be a given in my life. For example, I often can’t recall people’s names or the titles of books and movies I’ve seen and read, even recently, and I’m not as quick a thinker as I once was. I have also become much less interested in the sport of intellectual sparring unless the discussion engages the heart and soul. I want only to do that which enhances my life and brings me meaning, joy and ease.
Though I anticipate my retirement with excitement and relief, I worry still about how I will remain relevant after leaving my professional position.
Arthur Brooks quotes Alex Dias Ribeiro, a former Formula 1 race-car driver, who said, “Unhappy is he who depends on success to be happy. For such a person, the end of a successful career is the end of the line. His destiny is to die of bitterness or to search for more success in other careers and to go on living from success to success until he falls dead. In this case, there will not be life after success.”
Brooks offered an important insight: “No matter what mix of intelligence your field requires, you can always endeavor to weight your career away from innovation and toward the strengths that persist, or even increase, later in life.” Those strengths involve the spiritual and metaphysical, the capacity to be of service to others and the greater wisdom that comes out of life experience.
These abilities have been at the core of my professional life for decades, and so my challenges are somewhat different than they may be for others. For me, I hope to enjoy more fully being in the moment, to turn from the rigors of the rabbinate to the refreshment of my soul that comes with living at a slower pace, to enrich my relationships with the family I love and the friendships I cherish, and to develop new skills, new interests, and new creative abilities.
I’m hopeful that my retirement will be a new beginning, a re-fire-ment in my life. I’ll keep you posted.
Rabbi John L. Rosove has been senior rabbi of Temple Israel in Hollywood, Calif., since 1988. Beginning this month he will be rabbi emeritus. The immediate past national chair of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, he is the author of “Why Judaism Matters — Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation” (Nashville: Jewish Lights, 2017). This essay first appeared last month in The Times of Israel.