Early Retirement: An Inspiring Visitor to NYU Law Abroad in Shanghai

When I was younger I used to dream about retiring on the beach—the warm ocean winds harmonizing to the sound of my thoughts; the sand becoming my best friend, following me everywhere I go. Just me, the salty waves, and a good book. This is my heaven. This is how I envision life after working hard for 40+ years.

Carla Hills (third from right) gave us a lot to think about.

One of the many benefits of attending undergrad at the University of Miami is that it allowed me to live my dream at the premature age of 21. A good book under the sun, above the sand, while perpendicular to tanned locals and beach volleyball enthusiasts, was at my disposal. It was heaven. To my surprise, however, the life of a beach bum got old after a few months. If life is meant for living, and moments are meant for sharing, why were the returns on my heaven diminishing?

Then, it all made sense this week after lunch with Carla Hills. Her son, Roderick Hills, is an NYU Law professor teaching an undergraduate constitutional law course in China for the semester. Carla came to chat with a few of the law school students at NYU Shanghai, informally, over lunch. Given her impressive background—lead US negotiator of NAFTA, former US trade representative, and current foreign relations consultant—I jumped on the opportunity to meet her. This vibrant woman carries the spirit of a young, ambitious 25-year-old. Optimism jumps from her words as if it were racing the passion spewing from her aura. The only hints to her age were her anecdotes about working alongside President Ford as the US trade representative.

What surprised me most, however, is that she flew to China for business (we just happened to be lucky enough to fill an open slot in her schedule). Why is an 81-year-old still flying around the world on business trips?! Why isn’t she retired? Of course this begs the question, what is retirement?

“Do something that makes you want to get up every morning at 5:00 a.m. and work until 11:00 p.m.,” says Carla, grinning from ear to ear. It seems as if Carla lives her heaven every day. She loves her career so much that she chooses to keep working to make the world a better place rather than indulge in the stagnant realm of retirement.

Vacations and trips to the beach are much-needed escapes for the sheer sake of balance. But for many of my Type A classmates, myself included, a life laden with perpetual rest is not heaven. Leveraging our passions to design the life we desire, chasing success after success, and refusing to settle are what differentiate most of us from the masses. Outliers. Carla Hills, along with many great leaders like her, is continuing to use her talent to fight for changes that will make the world a better place. If that’s retirement, then sign me up.