On May 21st University of Virginia conferred degrees.  Traditionally called “commencement,” the ceremony marks the beginning of a new chapter in the student’s life.  This commencement also marks a new chapter in mine: I am retiring from the faculty.  The past 41 years at UVA have been a thrilling privilege to teach great students, write to a global audience, lend leadership at the Darden School and the University, and serve the business profession and various communities.  I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve here.

As you age, the illness of friends and death of loved ones reminds you that life is short.  How best to use the time one has?   When you take stock of priorities and add up all the things you would like to do retirement can make sense.  A few ideas guided my decision.

  • Concentrate on what matters. Focus on quality, not quantity. Less is more.[a] Mae West said that too much of a good thing is terrific, but ignored the fact that you can’t have it all.
  • Foster good relationships. Nate Bachman (Darden MBA 1961), sent me a wonderful book, The Good Life, which presents results of the multi-decade Harvard Study of Adult Development—the authors conclude, “it is the quality of your relationships that matters.  Simply put, living in the midst of warm relationships is protective of both mind and body.”[b] My friend and former colleague, Saul Levmore, (in his book with Martha Nussbaum) has argued that good relationships are based not merely on being nice (goodwill) but on deep caring (good faith).[c]   So, find those you care about and then care for them.  Serve them better.  Caring well for others seems to take more time than it used to.
  • Respect your energy level. I love teaching.  My classroom style is “all in”: high energy, totally focused, and deeply invested in students and the total classroom experience.  But increasing age can limit that style.  While one can’t perfectly time one’s exit from the stage, I wanted to leave the classroom near the top of my game.
  • Health and fitness. Aging well depends on intentional personal maintenance: eating and drinking sensibly, getting good exercise often, sleeping well, and a lifestyle that strengthens life.  Some years ago, my friend, John Macfarlane (Darden MBA 1979), gave me the very helpful Younger Next Year, by Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge.  The authors distinguish between one’s chronological age (how many years you have been alive) and one’s biological age (one’s mental and physical fitness).  The book offers a program to build strength, health, and mental acuity.  A key message is the need to be intentional about health and fitness.  Personal maintenance demands commitment and time.
  • Keep learning. I’m curious about a lot of things and want to find the time to slake that curiosity. No surprise there: I’m an academician.  What to others would seem to be isolated work feels to me like entry into an amazing world.  But discovery isn’t just about study, reading, and writing.  It extends to travel, pursuit of a few hobbies, meeting new people, and exploring current events.  Richard Feynman, the physicist and Nobel Laureate, said there is pleasure in finding things out.  That has been my experience too.  I want more time to find things out.
  • Standing still is not an option. The thought of retirement energized me and reminded me of the readiness I felt years ago to start a career, marry, have kids, write books, and lead.  I wanted to get on with the next chapter; I felt a desire to go to  something.  Occasionally I’ve met people who regretfully or angrily described their decision to retire as a desire to escape from something such as grading or endless faculty meetings.  Are you “going to” or “running from” as you consider retirement?  Good mental health is based on a sense of anticipation, of things to live for.
  • The time seems right. I have reached some personal milestones recently: books and articles, launched new courses and projects, and helped some people and organizations. Darden is healthy and in the good hands of a rising generation of leaders.  The psychotherapist, Erik Erikson, said that the key challenge in old age is to arrive at a sense of fulfillment—or at least, acceptance—about one’s life.[d]  One grasps that while not every struggle may have brought success, somehow, the struggles collectively made sense. I believe the work I did has made a difference to others. I did what I could in the time that I had, and I like what I did.  Serving as Dean was especially fulfilling because I saw the entire Darden community rally and overcome a serious challenge.  The spirit of unity was simply inspiring.

So, what’s next?  Relationships, discovery, and giving back.  My wife and I have been blessed with grandchildren who are toddlers and want to see more of us.  Also, some neglected hobbies and travel interests are calling. I look forward to continuing service on a couple of not-for-profit boards.  I aim to continue to write and blog about topics that draw my interest: financial crises, democracy, capitalism, and leadership.

Fulfilling one’s purpose is an ongoing project, no matter where you are in life.  Some people find deep purpose in religious faith, others in a secular cause.  “There is only one solution if old age is not to be an absurd parody of our former life,” wrote Simone de Beauvoir, “and that is to go on pursuing ends that give our existence a meaning—devotion to individuals, to groups, or to causes—social, political, intellectual, or creative work.”[e]  Paul Volcker, the iconic former Chairman of the Fed, published his final book at the age of 91 titled, Keeping At It.  Henry Kissinger, who turns 100 this month, published books last year and the year before, and envisions writing two more: one on artificial intelligence and a second one on alliances.[f]  Another exemplar of sustained purpose was Bill Russell, who died in August 2022.  He was the pillar of the Boston Celtics during their extraordinary run of eleven NBA championships.  Russell said, “The most important measure of how good a game I’d played, was how much better I’d made my teammates play.”[g]   I’ll look for opportunities to help those around me play better.

I don’t have a bucket list of things to do or places to see.  The idea seems more about checking boxes than finding any meaning in those boxes.  Indeed, a bucket list looks like a race against the Grim Reaper, a frantic effort to Have it All before you die (see my earlier advice against running from something).  Retirement should be about more than consumption.

To be clear, travel is valuable.  It literally widens your horizons and gets you out of the echo chambers created by social media or your narrow circle of friends.  My vision for travel is ‘T’-shaped: to know a little about a lot of places, and a lot about a few places–to go broad and go deep.  After a lifetime of mostly going broad, my interests these days are more about going deep.  I would like to learn a lot about the language, culture, history, economics, and politics of a few places—and most importantly, to build relationships with people in those places.

Equally important is living more thoughtfully where you are.  Henry David Thoreau, one of the great essayists in American literature, lived in a small cabin on the edge of Walden Pond, Massachusetts, and declared that he had traveled extensively in Concord[h], the town nearby—implicitly, he criticized rite of passage of wealthy young Americans in the 19th century who took a Grand Tour of Europe or other regions.  He argued that the important work of self-discovery and soul-strengthening requires an inward, rather than outward, voyage.  You could, for instance, stop and think, read some good books, befriend your neighbors, or work in the community.  Thoreau urges us to slow down, simplify, and reflect.

In conclusion, this next chapter of my life might better be called redirection rather than retirement.  Much of my outlook is summarized in the saying[i] that the three essentials of happiness are something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for. I am redirecting my life around such essentials. Friends and colleagues express some sadness that I’m moving on.  But retirement, done well, should not be an occasion for regret.  Anyway, retirement is all around us.  Tom Brady, Serena Williams, Bruce Willis, Sandra Bullock, and Cameron Diaz all stepped out of their professions recently…and the world continues to turn.  Life goes on.


p.s.: My wife and I will maintain our roots in Charlottesville, while giving increased time to family on the West Coast.  My blog and other social media will stay active.  And I remain reachable via my UVA email address, brunerr@virginia.edu.


End Notes

[a] Often attributed to Mies van der Rohe, the earliest expression of this aphorism was by Robert Browning, “Andrea del Sarto” (1855).

[b] Waldinger and Schulz p.23.

[c]Nussbaum, Martha C.; Levmore, Saul. Aging Thoughtfully (p. 87). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

[d] Erik Erikson’s Childhood and Society (Norton, 1993).  See his Chapter 7, “The Eight Ages of Man,” describes the challenge in the final stage of life as a contest between integrity and despair.  “Integrity” in his usage is characterized by acceptance and fulfillment.

[e] Quotation from Simone de Beauvoir’s The Coming of Age, as quoted in Arthur Krystal, “Old News,” The New Yorker, November 4, 2019, page 75.

[f] “How to prevent a third world war,” The Economist, May 20, 2023, page 16.

[g] Quoted in Ben Cohen, “Centerpiece of Celtics Dynasty, 11-Time NBA Champ Dies at 88,” The Wall Street Journal, August 1, 2022.

[h] Thoreau’s exact comment was “I have traveled a good deal in Concord; and everywhere, in shops, and offices, and fields, the inhabitants have appeared to me to be doing penance in a thousand remarkable ways.”  See Walden,

[i] This has been attributed to the English essayist, Joseph Addison and the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant.