Failing at Retirement – Parts One and Two

June 30, 2022

I have loved not working.

Transitioning from a 60 to 80-hour work week to a 0-hour work week was easier than I ever imagined. I have rested, lost weight and become healthier overall, organized my life, increased my time spent on hobbies I love, and avoided being such a pain that my wife wanted me to return to work. I did not miss work at all.

But I still said yes when a former superintendent colleague asked if I could come support her district for a two-month stint running Human Resources and COVID compliance. My financial advisor has been saying that it wouldn’t hurt me to work every once in a while. While she does not call me lazy, she does point out that I’m still in my earning years, and that every bit helps. Fine, Sonya. I’ll do some short-term stints.

So, I took an 8-week job working for this new district, and  . . . I loved it!

I enjoyed meeting new people and becoming better acquainted with colleagues with whom I had only worked from afar. It is a smaller district, and smaller districts are places where there are fewer leaders, and those leaders have to wear a lot of hats. Effectively, all of the leaders have to specialize in, well, everything. And one of the things that I did not know I was missing was the socialization that jobs naturally create. I loved saying good morning to the good-natured and hard-working people in the office, having occasional side conversations, and walking onto a campus just to feel the energy it emanates. Great schools produce spectacular vibes. I think most of us can feel it (or feel its absence) when we walk around a site.

So actually, maybe I miss work a little bit.

My thanks to the outstanding leaders of El Segundo Unified; I am grateful to the teachers, the classified staff, and the administrators for welcoming me and once again proving to me that our nation’s schools do so much good with so few resources.  But I did drive more. I played less golf. I worked out a little less. Thus ended Failing Retirement – Part One.

What to do when you enjoy so much about retirement, and yet you still get energized from meaningful work in a profession you love?

When you fail once, I see no other choice but to fail again.

Some of my former teachers, were they to read this, would nod their heads and say, “Same old Matthews.”

But in Failing Retirement – Part Two, I am not taking an eight-week job assignment. This time, I have signed on for one full year, serving as the Superintendent of Schools in the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District. One year is still short-term, right?!? Everyone is clear that I’m there for twelve months, and then I am out after they hire a long-term superintendent for their community. I look forward to a whole series of new challenges, while getting to know and serve the employees and community members who are working together to serve the 24,000 students in this new district.

The past year has been fantastic. I’ve learned that my wife is not totally horrified by the idea of having me around the house almost all of the time. Total win! I’ve learned that I don’t hate not working, and in fact, my life is pretty darn interesting without it. Another win!  I’ve learned to be much healthier, and I am way better off for it. I have also enjoyed developing my love of writing, sharing stories, and reflecting on them on my blog site. And our first year of empty nesting has been (don’t tell Ryan and Dawson) nothing short of awesome.  Win – win- win!

The number one question for me, beginning on Tuesday, is how do I stay healthier, stay in touch with my hobbies, and keep writing, all while totally immersing myself in a new and fascinating job that will take as much time as I can give it?

I know that, just as many people were intrigued when the wise old owl was asked how many licks in a Tootsie Pop, the suspense is killing most of you. I’ll keep you posted.

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  1. Bill Sampson says:

    I guess I misunderestimated you Mike

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Perfectly stated, and very funny. Thanks, Bill.

  2. Dan Stepenosky says:

    Welcome back! We’re starting a Mike bingo game. You are the best and they are lucky to have you.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Ha! Get your cards out! Things are moving fast, so do your best to keep up!

  3. Billy Richards says:

    Heck Mike if you’re that bored you should take a job closer to home like a security guard at the Malibu schools that the city is proposing. I can be your Barney Fife.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Ha! We could start that way, then we could switch roles.

  4. How many licks in a tootsie pop was a Great hook point. Love it and Congratulations. Love you. Tracee

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      One of my favorite commercials of all time. Thanks, TM!

  5. Jayne Horowitz says:


    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Jayne!

  6. Wayne Reel says:

    Welcome back, Mike! And be careful. I retired early so I could travel. I was retired for 10 weeks.
    I stepped back in to help a colleague who was having surgery. 14 years later, I’m planning to retire again in June 2023. One more year.
    The idea of balance is interesting. In 2017, I decided to work only 2 days per week in a special program. I have a maximum of 8 kids, grades 6 through 10.
    I still love connecting kids to curriculum and to each other. And I love connecting kids and teacher. This arrangement has giving me purpose and I think that working with staff and students has kept my thinking and my body younger than had I been totally retired.
    I’m having some success blocking out time each day for exercise, writing/reading, family/friends and projects. I keep track on a calendar.
    And, I am grateful for you as a colleague and as a friend. You are a master teacher.
    We can replace positions, there are certain folks who cannot be replaced. You are one of them.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      I don’t think that will be my situation, Wayne, but I appreciate the caution. It’s hard to achieve the balance you advocate in education. I don’t know any great educators, you included, who find it easy to limit their workload. Maybe you are finding a method that we all can learn from. I’m grateful that we are still connected after all these years. Thanks for your kind words.

  7. Ida says:

    Congratulations! A long commute! Yorba Linda is a winner hiring you.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thank you, Ida. I was just following your advice that you’ve been giving me for years. I’ll keep you posted.

  8. Ellen says:

    They are fortunate to have you! Enjoy the year.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thank you, and I will keep you posted!

  9. Kevin J McCarthy says:

    This is what I found.
    Yorba Linda, known as the “Land of Gracious Living” is a city with a strong sense of community and small-town character.
    I think that all sounds like alot like Mike Matthews.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      That’s very nice, Kevin. Thank you.

  10. Pam Brady says:

    They are lucky to have you with your expertise, dedication and enthusiasm for public education!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thank you, Pam!

  11. Seth Finn says:

    I think Yorba Linda is Richard Nixon country, Mike, I have the utmost confidence in you to end your visit better than Nixon finished up his presidency! All joking aside, everyone who knows you knows how incredibly fortunate they are to have you for a year. Balance won’t be easy, but you’ve taught us (or at least me), a lot in the last year, and my bet is you’ve learned a lot, and will surprise yourself with how different this next year is versus your last year in Manhattan Beach. I’m not talking about results, or what your new community sees, I’m talking about your sense of your own progress. Wishing you the best Mike, I know it’s going to be a great experience!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Seth. I love the learning process, and this will definitely be a learning tool year! Thanks for your good wishes.

  12. Patrick Miller says:

    They are so lucky to have you! No doubt you will do great work in your “one year” there.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Ye of little faith. Thanks so much, Patrick. I look forward to the year.

  13. Jen Cochran says:

    And you thought Manhattan Beach was a commute. Glad someone was able to coax you back. Congrats!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      You predicted this would happen. Thanks for your encouragement!

  14. Rick Bagley says:

    Congratulations Mike and welcome to the O.C.! PYLUSD is a terrific District! Small world … your predecessor (Jim E) was my successor in Anaheim City and your CBO (a great guy) is a former ACSD colleague. Speaking of Anaheim, you’ll have close access to Disneyland and I imagine that’s a plus for Jill! 🙂

    Enjoy the year. You are definitely not going to be bored.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Rick. As you and I have often said, the longer you’re in our business, the smaller this world gets. I’ll keep you posted!

  15. Ali Rabiei says:

    Thank you, Mike, for helping us out in El Segundo. In the short time you were in our district, I definitely learned examples of quality leadership from you. In a couple instances where you provided me guidance on personnel matters, you clearly demonstrated the human touch in human resources. Thank you!

    Placentia-Yorba Linda is so incredibly lucky to have you at the helm this coming school year.


    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Nice to hear from you, Ali, and thanks for reading. Thanks for your kind comments. You are part of a special team in ESUSD, and I enjoyed working with all of you. Let’s have a great school year!

  16. Jim Scully says:

    If you can do the work
    and you like the work
    and they want you to work
    Why not work?

    It’s your decision
    and you have every right to decide it
    Base your decision on your self
    On your skills
    your desires
    your personality
    your energy
    not on some unwritten law
    not on what others think or say
    Look into yourself
    and then decide

  17. Kevin Skelly says:

    The world is unfolding exactly as it should*


    Mike, you will do amazing things with this next opportunity.

  18. Susan LIberati says:

    Congrats Mike and Bravo PYLUSD! Thank you for sharing your journey! I have really enjoyed reading your blog. Have a great last year… maybe?! 😀

Comments are closed.