Retirement means writing poetry and filmmaking for this former oil industry exec

Ross Belot, who retired early in 2014 from his job with a Canadian oil company, with his notebook that is filled with writing scraps and thoughts, on May 2.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Ross Belot, 63, of Hamilton

I retired in early 2014, at age 55, after working for more than three decades in the oil industry. My last role was as a senior manager focused on finding ways the industry could maximize its value. I was making the most money I’ve ever made and I was good at my work, but I had a choice to move to Calgary or retire. A friend said to me: ‘What do you do? you want to do?’ After decades of raising a family and working, I realized that asking myself what I wanted was a new thing. I realized what I wanted was to retire. I liked my work, but thought to myself, ‘is this the best thing I could do with my life?’

I had started taking creative-writing courses back in 2000 and, a few months before I retired, I bought a video camera and took some courses on how to use it because I wanted to make documentary films. I made a short film called Growing Up Grateful about a friend who followed the Grateful Dead, which ended up being shown at a few film festivals later in 2014. That felt like a pretty good way to embark on a second life.

I had concerns about climate change while working in the oil industry, but the discussion always felt very polarized between the government, industry and environmentalists. I wanted to tell the story of what’s happening in the middle, thinking maybe we could move forward as a country. I started writing opinion pieces on energy policy, which have been published by various media organizations over the years. In 2015, I enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts program at Saint Mary’s College of California, studying poetry and environmental writing. In 2020, my poetry collection was named one of the best Canadian poetry books of that year by the CBC.

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Retirement is scary. It’s like stepping into the abyss. You don’t know what’s on the other side. I had no idea any of these things that happened to me in the past eight years were possible. Also, for many, the workplace provides an anchor. It can be difficult to let go, especially if you’ve been highly valued. You get good feedback about what you’re doing all the time. Nobody’s doing that for you in retirement.

I also got divorced in retirement and both of my parents passed away in recent years, so there has been a lot of turmoil. I also have four children and four grandchildren. Family is a big part of retirement. I’m also in a long-distance relationship with a former classmate from California, who lives in Oregon, so I go back and forth from there as well.

People in retirement often say, ‘how did I have time to work?’ It’s true. My advice is to be open to what retirement can bring. For me, a lot of it has been incredibly challenging, but taking on new things and really stretching myself has been exciting. For those who are ready to retire I say, ‘close your eyes and step off the cliff!’

As told to Brenda Bouw

This interview has been edited and condensed

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