Teaching is a noble and rewarding vocation. As my sunset career, I have accepted a faculty position at Singapore Management University, teaching data analytics and business modelling at the School of Information Systems. These topics sit well with my entrepreneurial ventures from earlier this year on data analytics and process automation, which were all a part of my coming out of retirement.
When I retired over three years ago, most of my friends congratulated me. They said they wished they had the audacity to do it. It is true, all it took was a bit of audacity and recklessness. Among the many reasons to call it a day at that point in time was my wish to spend more time with my children, not so much in an in-your-face kind of way, but as a presence in their lives. It is a bit hard to explain, but it was an attempt to validate my life, my existence. People do such validations in many different ways — making a lot of money is the most common way. Other techniques include creating an impact, through power, fame, spirituality, career, glory, innovation, knowledge etc. In my view, all these validations are aimed at one thing — to leave something behind, to be remembered. I thought I could achieve it by ensuring that I would be missed when I am gone, and the only way to do that is to be present when I am here.
If you ever tried to be present in a teenager’s life, you would know — it is a tricky proposition. Now that my kids are firmly in the teenage land, it is time to make myself less present. Besides, the effects of my presence were not, I am told, uniformly positive. For instance, my atheism may have contaminated their young minds. True, I was able to kindle some interest in math and physics, but it came with lessons on rationality, logic etc., and atheism wasn’t far behind. Certain qualities that I inculcated, knowingly or unknowingly, were double-edges swords — like a brutal honesty and a scrupulous and merciless avoidance of hypocrisy. So my presence in their lives made my children probably authentic, but arguably abrasive beings. You can now see what I meant by brutal honesty, can’t you? In any case, the need for my presence has diminished considerably over the past year or so.
Another reason for “unretiring” is a miscalculation in how much money would be needed to retire safely. The amount I thought would be adequate turned out to be a bit too optimistic. Well, to be fair, I still think it is adequate, but only just. One probably wants a bit of wiggle room. Again, a sunset career was indicated. Another strong indicator for it was the spousal disapproval of my indolence, which diluted my innate abilities, apparently. My response to such criticisms is quite unlike a normal human being. The sunset career is not an attempt to dissolve the disapproval, rather a tool to demonstrate to myself that it wasn’t inevitable; that even now, there are choices. Life has always been a series of choices and remorses.
All throughout my adult life, I have chosen and switched careers as casually as one would change a t-shirt. Looking back at it now, I am a bit surprised that I have had a modicum of success in all these careers. After getting trained as an engineer in one of the hardest universities to get into, I decided I liked physics better. I remember one of my fellow physicists at Cornell asking me why I wanted to give up the money and comfort of an engineer’s career. It was a long time ago, when an engineer’s career was still something people looked up to. After about ten years in physics, which took me all the way to CERN, I switched to applied research on brain signals and such, and published a few well-respected papers.
In fact, I did more than that. I put together all that I had learned and known till then in what I think of as my legacy – The Unreal Universe. Honestly, if anybody at all remembers me a hundred years from now, it will be because of what I wrote in that book, and published in a couple of journals during that phase in my life. All the other roles I played and continue to play – father, husband, friend, lover, son, brother etc. – were merely incidental sideshows. Although this confession probably diminishes my worth as a human being, I think I did a pretty decent job in most of those roles as well. In order to write the book, I had to play the role of a writer, which saw me develop a successful mini-career as a columnist and a commissioned author.
Having done that bit of work, (or having accomplished what I came down here to do, as I would put it in my delusions of grandeur), I decided to try quantitative finance, which prompted a trader friend to ask me later, “Why, you wanted money so badly?” I guess I did. May be I just wanted to know that I could, if I wanted to. The culmination of that career path was probably my second book.
With all that behind me now, I am looking forward to this brand new sunset career of mine. Let’s see how well I can do it. Let’s see if I can convince a few more young souls to miss me when I am gone. Besides, isn’t kind of cool to have the Prof title tagged to your name?