何毓琦的个人博客分享 http://blog.sciencenet.cn/u/何毓琦 哈佛(1961-2001) 清华(2001-date)


Reflections on an Active Retirement 精选

已有 8655 次阅读 2007-6-19 23:31 |个人分类:生活点滴|系统分类:海外观察

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Six years ago, I officially "retired" from my lifetime job. At the time I wrote a short

article more or less to record my own feelings. The article was also written from the

viewpoint of an American commenting on an American life. The article received a lot of

good comments from my friends and from its publication in some Chinese American

newsletters. Re-reading it six years later, I find almost everything I said still true or have

proven to be true. Thus, I am reproducing it below for the Science Net readers of my

blog. While some of the sentences in the article may not resonate with Chinese readers or

young readers not concerned with growing old, I hope this blog will nevertheless still

have some universal appeal to everyone who are anticipating this great "passage" in life.


On Retirement

Yu-Chi  Ho (written July 2001)

Four years ago, much to the surprise of my dean, I told him that I planned to retire in

2001 after 40 years on the faculty of Harvard University  (Note added 2007. Currently in

the US there is no mandatory retirement age for university professor. This has in fact

becoming somewhat of a problem since many tenured faculty chooses to stay on rather

than retire. Thus, they block openings and advancement for younger faculties). Since then

I have prepared my self for this transition, reflected on my life, and finally gone through

the experience. Collected below are some insights that I learned from others, discovered

for myself, and emotions that I experienced before, during, and after the transition. They

are offered as amusement, free advice (probably worth the same), and my own catharsis.

oIf "Location, location, location" is the mentra for real estate investment, then

"Preparation, preparation, preparation" should be the same for one of Life's great

transitions. By this slogan I mean financial preparation, emotional preparation, and

leisure time preparation.

oOn financial preparation there is no lack of resources, advises, and people who are

willing to offer help in return for your money. No need for me to dwell on it. Having

weathered two boom-bust-boom-bust cycles in the past forty years,  "Save, Buy,

Diversify, and Hold" is the single best advice I have had. Anyone can start from zero

net worth to become financially independent and the "millionaire next door" without

the benefit of inheritance, lottery winnings, and stock options.  This is not an

American Dream but an American Reality.

oThe matter of emotional preparation is much harder. Many high level executives go

into depression when they retire. The sudden transition from position of immense

power to an average Joe whom his successor does not want looking over his shoulder

can be traumatic. One macho friend told me that he actually cried all the way from his

office to the parking lot on his last day. But on the positive side retirement is an

opportunity to decide what you really enjoy doing.  First of all, it is really amazing

how many "life-or-death" work issues no longer matter once you have decided to

retire. Here is a chance to be yourself and do what you damn well please. . If you are

really happy being a couch potato all day then by all means do that. But don't just sit

there and feel sorry for yourself. Again, there are a plethora of books and PBS

programs to help you wade through the myriad opportunities available. The important

thing is to know thyself first, then opportunities will present themselves. You will

find more things to do than you have time for.

oIn my own case, here is what I did. Emotionally, I found that mentoring young

students and seeing them flower gave me enormous satisfaction. Although I will not

have new students at Harvard now that I am retired, a chance meeting with the Dean

at Tsinghua University in Beijing produced a scheme where I will start supervising

students and working with young faculty members of Tsinghua long distance. I only

have to make short visit to China once or twice a year. Having such partners will also

allow we to continue my life long love for research. Thus I'll continue as Research

Professors at Harvard for another five years being paid part time from research grants.

Life will go on as before but at a more flexible and relaxed schedule.

oMy involvement and interest with Asian American public affairs in the past got me

into the 80-20 movement at the beginning in late 1998. Here again I took advantage

of the opportunity once I decided that "working for the community" is something I

enjoy doing in my retirement.

oAnother adjustment for men, the problem of role reversal with your spouse also need

to be mastered. This is part of the larger psychological transition from authoritative to

supportive role.

oThe third preparation, leisure time pursuits, is related to the second. We all talk about

travel. But in a larger sense, travel is simply one example of experience-based

enjoyment. In retirement years your habits and environment have stabilized.

Acquiring more assets, financial or physical, often results in more work and hassle

than they are worth. But new experience, once you decided what really makes you

happy, can never be too much. Thus, by all means search for experience-based leisure

time pursuits whether it is travel, golf, watch TV, whatever.

oI recommend a book given to me by my son entitled "101 Secrets for a Great

Retirement" by Mary Ellen and Shuford Smith. It is full of interesting and inspiring

suggestions for almost every conceivable situation. For me, leisure time is the easiest

one of the three part preparation. There is not enough time for all the things I wanted

to do except to savor every experience and have a good time with one's friends.

oDuring this past summer I actually had four retirement parties. One given by the

University which was totally expected. One organized and given by my 50 former

Ph.D students from all over the world. They organized a day-long symposium and an

evening banquet, invited my colleagues from all major Continents, published a

special book in my honor, and paid homage and showered me with gifts. That was

unexpected, touched me deeply, and an emotional high for my professional career. A

third retirement dinner was intimate dinner given by a small group of friends. The last

one was a total surprised party organized and given by Chinese-American friends in

the Lexington and Greater Boston area. They presented me with a beautiful 360o

panoramic view photo of the Harvard Yard. As Victor Hugo said in Les Miserables -

Life's greatest happiness is to be convinced that you are loved. The late Atomic

scientist, Robert Oppenheimer, also said that a person's networth is the sum total of

respect with which he is held by his peers. I feel very happy, grateful, and rich


oOn reflection, I'll echo The sentiment of Jimmy Stewart in that well known Christmas

movie classic – "It is a wonderful life" to which I like to add "America is a wonderful

country". I have been blessed with a wonderful family and friends and had a

wonderful ride in life. It is time to give something back to my community, my

adopted country, and my mother land for all the privileges and opportunities I have



Since 2001, I have started my second career as a part time professor at the Automation

Department of Tsinghua University with four other Chinese-American professors.

(CFINS: The Center for Intelligent and Networked Systems). 90% of my work is unpaid

volunteer contribution. This gives me lot of freedom and zero guilt conscience (注:

丘成桐教授 and others have exposed the practice of receiving a full year salary based on

a couple of months' work in China by some foreign professors. Our team in Tsinghua do

not follow such practices.) My first Tsinghua PhD student graduated in 2006. And there

are two more in the pipeline. We hope by 2010 when Tsinghua celebrate her 100

birthday, our center will be "on the map".

On the invitation of Editor-in-Chief, Zhao Yan, I have started blogging on ScienceNet

beginning 4/25/07. This platform let me reach and help more young scholars interested in

research and graduate study in China. The experience has been most gratifying.

Potentially it can become my third career after retirement. I am enjoying fully my

"golden years" of an engaged and active "retirement".


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