Dear Family and Friends:
I had an interesting conversation last week with a camp director colleague of mine. We'd worked together for more than 30 years, but haven't talked since I retired almost 10 years ago. It was absolutely great to hear from him. After many minutes of wonderful small talk, we got down to the reason for the call. He told me that he was about to retire and wanted to know, "What's the downside of retirement?" I guess we all think we know what the "Upside" of retirement will be. It's the do-the-things-I've-always-wanted-to-do-but-haven't-had-the-time, and the spend-time-with-family, and travel-the-world expectations. All those thoughts and others are good and may be true (but, man plans and Covid 19 laughs). But what about the pitfalls.
Because I walked through the gates of Union Camp in 1958 and walked out in 2011, and because I know what it was like to be a camp director for almost 40 years, I was able to respond with some specific thoughts. I'd say that when those rusty camp gates roll closed behind you for the last time the initial theme of life becomes one of adjustment. To understand what NOT being a camp director is like, one has to understand what a lifetime in camp is like.
A camp director stands smack dab in the middle of a dynamic, ever growing, creative, Jewish, exciting, challenging institution. The director is responsible for articulating the vision of this micro-community, and putting all the balls in motion to make it all happen. creates the program, hires the staff to implement it, builds the facility, oversees its maintenance, teaches counselors to be counselors, unit heads to be unit heads, program directors to be...well you catch my drift. It all emanates from the camp director outward. In addition to all of the above, health and cleanliness, risk management, even homesickness fall under the camp director's watch.
The period of adjustment I spoke of, during the first years of retirement, has, I believe, some major elements (and I realize that ego plays a big role in this). First comes the realization of the outward/inward vectors of activity, involvement, and responsibility. While on the job the vector is almost always outward. Camp Directors help, influence, teach, even discipline our staff, campers, and our constituent communities. We create programs for the camp family. We design promotional materials. We travel to spread the word of the benefits of a camp experience. We even raise money to improve the camp facility, etc. All of this activity is directed outward toward the institution we are trying to build.
Now comes retirement and it's all about what am I going to do, where am I going to go, how am I going to remain relevant in this Jewish world. One almost feels guilty suddenly turning all of that attention on oneself. At best it is strange and makes for quite an adjustment. Having an organization that one builds and rebuilds every year allows one to focus the spotlight on it, rather on oneself.
But that leads me to adjustment number two. This may sound like a contradiction but seriously stepping out of the spotlight (or at least suddenly not being central to all that camp entails) is no easy task to get used to. I think of it this way, after being at the center of all the action for 30 or 40 years, and then suddenly being out of that action isn't easy. Both the job and the absence of the job are almost overwhelming. During the summer months, while camp is in session, the director is making decisions, directing communications, creating, teaching, and well "directing" from morning to night seven days a week, for ten or more weeks. Like the Village Pantry down the block, "We never close." On day one of retirement, the pressure's off, everything s l o w s d o w n, one can nap whenever one wants. There is a great sense of relief and, at the same time, a period of mourning for that action. This may be the hardest adjustment of all.
One last thing (I'm sure there are many more). Camp is the glue that holds together many relationships. We've all heard our campers say, "I've made the best friends for life at camp." Camp directors have acquaintances, friendships, and colleagues; relationships that center around camp. Remove that center, eliminate the glue and many of those relationships diminish. fade away. Relationships based on the past become nostalgia. Nostalgia is nice, but not very relative to the here and now. So, that's another loss brought on by retirement, another adjustment.
Now if, by what you've read here you think that I am miserable in my retirement, you are absolutely wrong. All of the adjustments I mention are difficult at first, but fade quickly into one's new life. I've been most lucky to have been able to keep my hand in the Jewish education field, take advantage of living in a college town with great music, athletics, etc. And before this Covid thing hit, my wife and I were able to travel; two trips to Israel and Europe, Brazil, cruise the Caribbean, visit the Dominican Republic, take many trips to Ft. Meyers Beach, Virginia Beach, Chicago, Cincinnati, etc. We have volunteered at our synagogue and a local homeless shelter. There have been many experiences we never had during our working years. And my best friends are, and remain those I made at camp, and those friendships are stronger than ever. I'm lucky...and I'm happy.
But my old colleague wanted to hear about the downside of retirement. I laid it on him.