coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Retirement: Should you retire?

A few people have asked me in recent months if I thought they should retire.  I answered each one differently, because there is no single answer to that question.  It depends on the person and their situation.  In the process of thinking about this, 7 great universal truths emerged that I am compelled to share, somewhat irreverently, with the world:

1.  Are you sure this is what YOU want?

I retired at 62, almost two years ago.  My husband, T, knew I hated my job.  He saw the toll it took on me.  That job was stressful and truly hateful.  I was physically and emotionally burnt-out on even the best days. 
He wanted me to retire for a long time before I actually did.  Many times during those last years he would send me off to the office with the retort, “Don’t forget to retire today!”  That was funny at least a couple of times. 

He was afraid I would get sick, occupational stress being a proven fertilizer for many major illnesses in this modern world.  Which brings me to the following very important disclaimer:  if you have a major and/or life threatening illness, ignore this entire post and find the best way to stop working as soon as possible so you can devote your energies to healing. 

OK, now back to the irreverent stuff.  I loved T for caring so much about me. I wanted to make him happy.  I wanted him to stop worrying about me.   I shared his concerns and I thought he was right; but when to retire had to be MY decision. 
Ultimately, I waited longer than he liked because, well, retirement is a big honkin’ decision!  If I had not made the decision myself, I would have resented him on those odd days, and there are always going to be those odd days, when I get bored with retirement.  It seemed best to behave like a grown up and make my own decision so that he would be free of my childish blame game.  Yes, I play that game more often than I would like to admit.

When I finally made the decision to retire, I was absolutely, positively sure. The skies opened, angels blew their celestial horns, and lightening struck a few times.  I am not sure that will happen to everyone, though.  I wrote about this
in a previous post.

I am glad I stopped working because retirement changed my life for the better. I like being retired, and so do most of my retired friends and family members.  I know a few people who deeply regret having retired and I feel bad for them.  It is a tricky situation.  A person needs to think hard before making this decision.
  Changes will ensue. Best to know what to expect in advance.

2.  Are you prepared to do nothing?

“Retirement” always sounds great when you are overworked and under-appreciated.  At about 50 you start thinking of retirement as your next career goal.  You talk about it, joke about it, plan for it, and wonder how soon you will actually be able to do it.  Before I stopped working I had this mental image of the retired me as a thinner, taller, and grayer version of myself running off screaming into the night.  Kind of like the banshee in Darby O'Gill and the Little People.

But seriously, you need to understand and prepare yourself for this thing called retirement. You are not switching jobs or taking time off if you choose to “retire.” It is also not a vacation, although it will definitely seem like the best vacation EVER until napping in the afternoon and staying up past midnight starts to seem like an entitlement.  It is the vacation that never ends.  Your life will never go back to pre-retirement “normal.”  R&R becomes the new normal.  Think you can handle that?  Dig deep before you answer.

For example, today the bug guy came to spray the house and pool area.  It's a Florida thang.  He comes quarterly and he is a super nice guy.  When he sat down to write out the invoice he paused, looked at us in pure wonderment and asked how things were going.  T was lying on the couch playing around with his iPad and I was nestled into the easy chair reading a book.  Mr. Bug Guy joked a little and said he could not help but notice how peaceful our house and lives seemed, was it always like that?  I said “YES.  This is retirement.”  He laughed, clearly not knowing what to think.  I will admit at that very moment I felt a little guilty.  Not for being retired, we most certainly earned the right.  However, I try not to talk about how great retirement is to working people. It is like bragging about your wonderful husband to a friend who is married to a creep.

Keep in mind that in retirement you are ending your working-outside-the-home, achievement focused, on the way up, kicking ass, big money earning years. Suddenly life is no longer about productivity.  At all.  There is no longer anything to prove and nobody to prove it to.

When you worked you had to be ready for anything.  In retirement you must be ready for nothing.  THAT takes some getting used to...  I am not kidding.  It really does.  At first you keep thinking you should do something productive.  But eventually you come to realize that you do not have to do anything at all.  You only have to do something if you want to.  As corny and trite as it sounds, that is the absolute best part of retirement, that “only if you want to” thing. It is pure magic.

3.  Retirement requires personal initiative.

You also have to reinvent your self as a fully functioning and personally satisfied retired person on your own.  You must become self-motivated; consider the horror!  I am kind of bad at this one, so I really do not want to dwell on it...

4. Do you have enough money?

First and foremost you need to make sure you have enough money saved/invested to provide you with a comfortable income until you are about 1,000 years old.  Then you have to hope China doesn’t gut the world economy with dramatic stock market declines.  You also want to have good health insurance with prescription drug coverage, especially if you are retiring before you are old enough to qualify for Medicare.  Medicare does not pay for everything, so if you are lucky enough to retire with health insurance, for crying out loud keep it!  If you are in a position to afford long term care insurance premiums you probably want to continue that policy into retirement, too. 

5. You WILL lose your work identity.

It is not just about having enough money to retire, although that is the most critical concern.  Retirement is a total lifestyle change.  When you stop working you lose your workplace identity, giving up a role that defined you for most of your adult life.  Be clear on that. 

Chances are you were valued in the workplace.  People knew what you are capable of.  When you retire, that role, that identity is left at the workhouse door.  It does not come home with you.  Your employers do not retire your jersey, they replace you ASAP.  Afterwards, very few people will know what you are capable of, even fewer will care.  Can you stand it?  Be honest with yourself. 

6.  Can you "really" get another job if you change your mind?

If you retire in your 60's and then decide to go back to work or get a part-time job to supplement your retirement income, chances are your time will no longer be worth as much as it used to be IF you can even find someone willing to hire you. There are lots of ageist assumptions going on out there in the workplace. Young people think we are stupid and they are afraid of our mortality.  I know this because I used to be a young person.  I know how they think.

7.  Can you do less with less?

Last but not least, your discretionary income will be reduced.  One friend specifically asked me about this one, and I felt kind of bad telling him the truth.  But I did.  There are luxuries that you will have to give up or find cheaper alternatives for, even though you formerly did not think of them as luxuries.  This is different for everyone.  I stopped getting my hair cut on a regular basis.  I let my hair grow long and now just pull it up in back with a clip.  I see no reason to spend the money to keep getting it cut and styled.  I only buy new clothes if I have to go to a wedding or a funeral, and then I shop the sales.  I go to the library now instead of buying books.  I do my grocery shopping at Publix instead of Whole Foods. On New Year's Eve I buy prosecco instead of champagne.  You get the gist?
Personally, I would rather have less discretionary income than have to get up every morning at 6 a.m. and get ready for work.  I am SO over that.  It is all about who you are and what you want. 

What I am trying to say is, retirement can turn your well ordered, predictable, safe and manageable world upside down.  Retirement giveth and retirement taketh away.  It involves many changes, so you really need to be sure you can live with those changes before you sign on the dotted line.  I am not just whistling Dixie. 

If you are healthy, happy and still feel passionate about your job then you probably should not retire. 
However, if you are completely over the work-a-day world, feel the thrill is gone from your chosen career, know you can stomach all the losses alluded to above, are able to nap without guilt, can motivate and amuse yourself every damn day for the rest of your life, all on a restricted budget then I think you are a good candidate for retirement.  You will love it.  Cheers!


  1. Retirement requires personal initiative.
    This statement is critical. I know of two marriages that failed after the husband retired for the reason Mr. Husband could think of no higher purpose than trail his wife all day, either to "improve" her life, or just to stare as an occupation for the waking hours. Pathetic.

    1. Sounds grim for all involved. Some people should never retire.

  2. Awesome! I am so happy that I already practiced the last one! :)

  3. It was hard the first year that I retired. I eventually got used to it and adjusted. Now my husband has retired and it is hard again. It takes time and I am hoping for the best.

    1. My husband and I retired about the same time (he retired a few months before me) so we have been able to adjust at approximately the same speed - still it is rough not having as much privacy as I once had. It must be rough to have taken a few years to adjust and THEN the spouse retires. I am also hoping for the best for both of you.


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