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Kevin Stoltz Jan 20, 2010

Career Themes in Retirement: Do They Matter?

This blog will have a more personal tone than some of my earlier ones. I believe it is typical of counselors to process our experiences in several of our life roles, and I will process my recent experience in my life role as a son and counselor. Over the holidays, like many people, I planned and executed a visit to my family. I have lived away from my home city for several years and so this visit is more a responsibility that a desire. However, I fulfilled my responsibility and had an unexpected experience too!

My father, who is 85 years old, can no longer see well due to macular degeneration. Actually, he is now legally blind. His hearing has also faded over the years. As a veteran of WWII he believes that his hearing loss is due to the ships guns. He is only now beginning to tell these stories of his war experiences. I often wonder why he held back these many years. But, I digress.

My father was an auto parts and hardware traveling sales representative. He traveled a large region in the mid-west. One of his ways of relating to new people is to ask about their home town and he can often recite restaurants and businesses that he traded with in some very obscure areas. My father, according to Holland (1992), has many elements of the Enterprising personality. In addition, he was a motion picture operator and electrician in the navy during WWII. He held on to these Realistic interests and he would tell you that is why he chose to sell auto parts and hardware. These items matched his personality of working with things.

When my father retired 20 years ago he talked about playing golf everyday and living a life of leisure. That lasted a few years but gave way to boredom. He began to busy himself with those realistic and enterprising activities again. At 72 years, he was known in the neighborhood as Mr. Fix It. My father’s neighbors’ knew me from my annual visits and would always comment how helpful he was and how he could fix anything at their house. He is very engaging with people and everyone in the neighborhood knows him. That enterprising part of him is very pronounced. So for very many years he was the person in his neighborhood that people could call when they needed work done on the car or house. These were great activities that engaged his “work” personality and helped him to feel useful and involved.

As his eyes began to dim and it became harder for him to hear he began to do less. He knew he could not do the small jobs well if he could not see. Additionally, as his hearing got worse he found it harder to relate to people. However, he scaled back and tried to adjust. Over my last few visits he has become more disabled due to vision loss. He can no longer work on projects. It is hard to see this important part of his personality become less engaged. He often just sits now, when this was never his way before.

Although he has slowed down on the projects, he continues to be engaging and tries to talk to everyone. He still has that Enterprising drive to meet new people and try to pull others into a conversation.

Interestingly, I have found that I am beginning to consult with him more on my own Realistic projects. This is a way for us to talk a common language. I spent several years in the construction industry and we can speak a common language at times. I was recently building a garage for a friend and had to assemble the garage door. My father talked with me about the project and called me both before and after the completion. During my recent visit we talked about how I assembled it and he related a story of watching a crew replace his garage door. He was able to talk about very critical and minute details. His memory was strong and he knew the process and details from simple observation through his blurry eyes.

It was this experience of seeing his personality so clearly that helped me to come to know my father more. The Holland codes were alive and well in viewing him in his retirement. I have thought a lot about gerontological counseling since the visit with him. I am very ignorant to the subject, but wondered if knowledge of the Holland codes would be of use to counselors working with retirees. I always understood the use of Holland’s system in looking forward at a career. I seem to have had a new experience by using them in looking back over my father’s life. I have come to understand a great deal about him via Holland’s ideas.

I guess I never really thought about a career typology following one into retirement, how about you?

Kevin Stoltz is counselor and an assistant professor at The University of Mississippi. He specializes in career counseling and Adlerian Psychology and has a strong interest (no pun intended) in early recollections related to work life.

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