Am I ready to retire? Should I stay or should I go? Who will I be if I retire? Planning for retirement brings a plethora of questions to ponder. Esteemed LA Times columnist Steve Lopez shares his year-long exploration of these, and other questions, in his new book Independence Day: What I Learned About Retirement from Some Who’ve Done It and Some Who Never Will. His journey included conversations with a wide range of people with different perspectives on retirement that informed his own decision on whether to retire, keep going – or do something else. The observations and insights can help you retire smarter – in a way that’s right for you.
Steve Lopez joins us from Southern California.
Steve Lopez is a California native who has been an L.A. Times columnist since 2001. He has won more than a dozen national journalism awards for his reporting and column writing at seven newspapers and four news magazines, and is a four-time Pulitzer finalist for commentary – in 2012, for his columns on elder care; in 2016, for his columns on income inequality in California; in 2018, for his columns on housing and homelessness; and in 2020, for purposeful pieces about rising homelessness in Los Angeles, which amplified calls for government action to deal with a long-visible public crisis.
He is the author of three novels, two collections of columns and a non-fiction work called “The Soloist,” which was a Los Angeles Times and New York Times best-seller, winner of the PEN USA Literary Award for Non-Fiction, and the subject of a Dream Works movie by the same name. Lopez’s television reporting for public station KCET has won three local news Emmys, three Golden Mike awards and a share of the Columbia University DuPont Award.
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On the Transition to Retirement
“…there are a lot of things that surprised me. One thing I had not given a lot of thought to, and I was persuaded by among other people, a woman by the name of Nancy Schlossberg, who is in her nineties and lives in Sarasota, Florida. I hope her house is still there after the storm. She talked about how much thought should go into this time in your life, because this is a huge transition. And it’s not just going from work to not working. There’s a transition in every aspect of your life and your relationship, say, with your spouse, or with your colleagues who will become former colleagues – do they still have time for you? Have you developed enough friendships, hobbies or causes that when you do finally leave your job and have all of that extra time, do you know what you’re going to do with it? Do you know if it’s going to be fulfilling? Do you think that you’ll still matter in the world? And I had been thinking more about a binary you’re working or you’re not working [question] and she opened my eyes and my mind to the nuances. Things like how your relationship with your spouse does change.”
On Lessons from the Pandemic
“And in my case, because of the pandemic, our office was closed. The newsroom was shut down. We’re owned by a doctor, and he did not want people in there. He did not want the office to become the venue of a super spreader event. And so we worked from home. And in my case, I’m out on the road a lot interviewing people, but essentially my home became my office – and my wife, Alison works at home. This is her office. And we would bump into each other a lot more than we [previously] did. And I said, You know what, Alison? This is kind of a preview of my retirement. And she said, if this is a preview, I don’t want to see the movie.”
On Conversations That Made Him Think
“…one is a priest by the name of Father Gregory Boyle. And Father Greg works in Los Angeles with a group called Homeboys, and he’s trying to rescue and redirect the lives of youngsters who have been in trouble as kids in Los Angeles and give them job skills and whatever other training they might need. It’s a two-year program. And Father Greg is legendary in the Los Angeles area. He reminds me of Sister Mary Scullion in Philadelphia, who’s another hero of mine I got to write about and get to know when I was at the Philadelphia Inquirer. In fact, Sister Mary visits Father Greg when she’s in Los Angeles, and she’ll check in with me, and I’ll go over there and have lunch with her or a cup of coffee. But these are living saints, the two of them, Sister Mary and Father Greg. So I went to see Father Greg. I was actually working on a column about an award he had just won. Father Greg had briefly discussed retirement a couple years ago, and and I said, By the way, I’m really beginning to think about it now, much more seriously. How about you? And he looked at me kind of surprised, like was he really hearing me say that I might retire? And he said that he has [given] no consideration whatsoever to retiring now or ever. And I felt, I got to tell you, I felt pretty wimpy in that moment. Here I am ready to check out, and Father Greg, the same age as I am, sounded as committed and as energetic as ever. And he said, the work that he does is a passion, and it gives him a sense of relevance. And that’s what life is. Finding something that that gets you out of bed that serves others. And he just couldn’t quite understand how somebody like me, who can write stories about people like him and other people, would ever want to give that up. That’s sort of my religion – to try to find interesting people to write about and try to shine a light on people’s experiences, their struggles, their triumphs. And he just couldn’t think of what I might find in my life better than that. And I said, Really, Father Greg, never? You’re never ever going to retire? And he said, I’m a Jesuit. I’m going to retire in the graveyard. And so I felt like I think I love my work as much as Father Greg loves his, so it really stopped me. It had me wondering if I was making the right decision, if I ended up deciding to retire.”
“So I think what I discovered is that I really love what I do, and that if I do less of it or don’t do it at all, that I do have to carve out a life for myself where I can still give something. Be a better husband, be a better dad. Those are not things that I necessarily gave a lot of thought to in the last half century because I’ve just been racing, racing, racing to the next column. So, I think that I want to find a way to matter, and I don’t really know what that way is yet, but it makes a lot of sense to me. Nancy [Schlossberg’s] argument is that she finds that people who are unfulfilled and unhappy in retirement didn’t find that reinvention, they didn’t find new purpose, the relevance that Father Gregory Boyle talks about. We’re on this planet such a short time, do something with it that you could feel good about and serve others in ways that enriches their lives and yours as well.”
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Intro and Outro voiceovers by Ross Huguet.