Headmaster’s Thoughts – October 2016

It is an interesting fact that I never feel as good on a Saturday morning as I do on a weekday morning.  I get up at my usual time in order to walk the dog in the park, but then, once I return home, I invariably feel sluggish and look at the bed as a place where I might just relax a bit.  And, of course, fall asleep.

So I assume my energy during the weekdays is caused by the rush of adrenaline I get from my work.  I mean it would not make sense for me to have some internal clock that rotates weekly to give me a physical sense of lethargy only on weekends.  Thus I conclude that if I did not do this job, or indeed any job, I would linger in a semi-focused state, sleepwalking my way through day after day.  In other words, I need to work.

In this, I suspect I am not alone.  I have a number of friends who have retired. The syndrome is identical in each case.  The first year they enthuse about their freedom, their games of golf (a sport in which I have absolutely no interest whatsoever), or their travels.  And then, sometime during the second year, they admit the obvious: they are bored.  If they are young enough (and I have had friends who “retired” in their fifties), they get back into another job of some kind that requires them to get up on time and maintain the sort of structured existence that most of us working stiffs have. Then, for the first year, they extoll how they have “found themselves” in their new job.  That eventually stops when they accept that they have exchanged one job which had its ups and downs for another which has a similar subset of ups and downs.  We are creatures that need structure in our lives, no matter how unstructured these lives appear.  Even in careers that seem as unstructured as writing, I find this to be so.  I have known writers – I am thinking of one blockbuster writer in particular – who write every day of the week from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and then take off the weekends.  It is a job like any other.  If you want to find an anxious man or woman, look for an actor out of work.  They cannot wait to get back into the structure of a “gig”.

The more difficult situation is for my older friends who cannot find work after they retire.  Lacking in structure, they allow things like trips to the supermarket to take on significance far beyond the routine tasks that they are. They dress for the visit, they prepare to go out, they look forward to the experience, and off they go to the single major activity of their day.  Sometimes they call themselves consultants, but are often vague as to who they consult for. Their appeals to have dinner together are just that – appeals.  They need to reconnect with the normalcy of structure that most of us, we “working stiffs,” have.

I once found myself on the Board of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, and though they were a group of lovely people, they were made up of wealthy folks who had the primary job of acquiring inherited wealth.  (I must admit, I wish I had this job.)  One of the pleasures of being on the Board was that once a year we all fox-hunted together around the country.  The best hunt of those years was one in Reno, Nevada.  It was on a Saturday, and Jayme and I had arrived on the Friday night to take part. The Hunt took over 5 hours, and we chased, but did not catch, 9 coyotes.  We did not catch them for the simple reason that the foxhounds were not as fast as the coyotes, their technical prey.  We galloped up and down dunes on Bureau of Land Management land, which owned the hundreds of thousands of acres we were on.  It was glorious – so good that everyone agreed they had to do it again on Monday.  Jayme and I demurred.  We had to be back at work, at York Prep.  And one of my fellow directors, in the nicest possible way, expressed surprise… “Why, are you in trade?”

The answer was, of course, “Yes!”

I want to add a side note here:  I hope my barber, doctor, dentist, lawyer, accountant, and all the good people that I have relied on all my life have the same view I have.  What a pain it would be to switch them now.  Stay kicking, my professionals; do not even think about retiring!

So let me conclude by saying what a pleasure it is to be gainfully employed.  I may be wrong, but I just do not understand the appeal of retirement.  Most of my friends think that I have each summer off, and yet I came to work this summer, as all others, virtually every day except for two weeks when we took a trip.  The entire administrative team, as well as our dedicated support staff and the maintenance group, did the same.  Some days there was little to do, but the structure was in place and we were there.  Maybe the truth is that you have to be a braver person than I to take more time off.  It goes back to the Saturday thing.  I am writing on a Saturday, and my bed is inviting me to relax a bit.  I have done very little.  And I feel bad about it.

Ronald P. Stewart


York Prep School