For more than four decades, David Ekerdt studied aging and retirement. So you'd think that when Ekerdt retired himself from his post as a professor at the University of Kansas—as he did 18 months ago—he would be well prepared for the life change. But in an essay at the Wall Street Journal, Ekerdt writes even he's still figuring things out. For example, he's been surprised to learn that he can't quite shake the regimen of the workday. "It comforts me to be early to bed and early to rise, even though there are no cows to milk or shop to open," he writes. "I stream my share of television, but never allow myself to watch during the day, only evenings." That wait forces a question of "whether my time has been well used or wasted."
Ekerdt recalls that his research team once interviewed a 74-year-old man who stopped going to an exercise class even though he enjoyed it. Attending had become a "routine" and a "chore," the man explained, and Ekerdt thought it was odd at the time. Now he gets it. Ekerdt loves botanical gardens and visits often, but he rejected the idea of volunteering. That would require "a standing commitment," and "after years of claims on my time—from work, from family—I now see clearly why retirees are reluctant to obligate themselves." Some retirees think they will fully reinvent themselves, but Ekerdt knew that would not be his path. Still, "I have arrived at a place that is further than I had imagined from the worker that I was, from the setting where I worked, and from the younger man that I had been." Read the full essay. (Read more retirement stories.)