Did you choose retirement? Or was it chosen for you? If you chose it, how did you know the time was right?
Yes and no. I had not considered retiring but unexpectedly, I was offered a very generous package with a short decision timeline. But for that, I would probably have died at my desk at age 85. I decided the package was as good as it was going to get financially, and I thought it would give me time to create a new career.
How did your identity change when you left your formal career?
That was a problem. The “create a new career” idea wasn’t bad, but I didn’t execute well because deep down I was in denial that it was truly happening. What I did in my work life was my life, and I didn’t understand the retirement transition consequences of having those two things so tightly bound.
I left my formal career and ended my time as ACS Board Chair about the same time and in that transition I lost my personal context. When people asked me to tell them a little about myself, I started with “I used to be….” While most people—me included--treat retirement as a financial decision, psychological and personal readiness can be just as important. I was financially ready but not personally ready, and it took a long time for me to make up the personal deficit.
Eventually, while still motivated by achievement, I found a new identity as a career consultant for ACS, and with the grad students in the Indiana University Chem Department and in my popular music history research. It is gratifying to help someone get a start in their career; I’m proud of the chart analytics books and articles I’ve published.
Do you still stay connected to the chemistry enterprise? If so, how?
A bit. I still read and have a couple of consulting contracts. My involvement is more in environmental policy these days.
Did you move when you retired? How did you make that decision?
No. And don’t forget—this is a two-body problem. The questions were: where would we move, and why? I’ve never been on board for chasing the children—and they’re kind of all over the place. We saw no point in starting over personally with a new house in a new place needing to find a new set of friends, and our house in Dallas is well-suited to geezers. So we’re going to stay here. Until our beloved children have us institutionalized.
What do you wish you knew about retirement before you retired?
First, the profound changes that can occur to your identity. Second, the change in status you have with work-based friends. In industry, when you leave, your friends still love you, but you’re not part of the team anymore. You lose track of the day-to-day plot line of the company and the industry. Third, the overall loss of connectedness to a million different information feeds and conversations.
It might have been easier for me if I had educated myself about what’s on the other side, but you still have to work to make your new life. I now cherish the freedom I have to choose what I want to do, while still being active and productive. I almost can’t imagine how I held an everyday job.
What’s your best piece of advice for people thinking about retirement?
As Timmy Martin said: “Lassie! Get help!” There are some great books that explore this territory like Robin Ryan’s Retirement Reinvention or Ida Abbott’s Retirement By Design. Also, ACS has a workshop in the Career Pathways series on preparing for retirement. And everybody’s different. For me it was particularly hard. It isn’t that hard for everyone. But being prepared never hurts.
Bill Carroll retired from Occidental Chemical Corporation in 2015 after 37 years in the chloralkali and vinyl industries and now heads his own company, Carroll Applied Science, LLC. He is also Adjunct Professor of Chemistry at Indiana.
Bill has served as President as well as Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Chemical Society, and is an ACS Career Counselor.
Copyright 2021 American Chemical Society (All Rights Reserved)
This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.