I was talking to T at dinner about how good I felt. He said, “yeah, you feel relief, right?” I thought about it and decided it was a tripartite process, this "happiness in retirement." First there is relief. Then there is a sense of freedom, followed by the feeling of possibility. That is what I mean when I say I am happy. Could it be that mind-numbing boredom is right around the corner? Financial concerns? Lack of purpose? Probably I will experience all of those things at one time or another. For now, I am just trying to figure out this thing called retirement as I go along. I was not prepared for it. I did not expect it. Truthfully, I did not think about how I would feel once I was retired. I retired because I was done. I had an epiphany last summer. Some lame crisis came up and I, of course, had to find a way to resolve it. It occurred to me while solving the problem that the thrill of “Problem Solving” was no longer present in my work life. As my friend SH S would say: “Bam, Pow.” I was over it. I was over my job. Damn! Time to retire.
Problem Solver was a role I loved. I was the administrative manager in an academic department with over 100 people. I had minimal control over what would happen next, and maximum responsibility for resolving it. That pretty much defines office jobs everywhere. I was not the only office worker in the department doing this kind of work. Office workers are heroic, self-sacrificing, and extremely productive. Many people do not seem to appreciate how hard office staff work and how much they care about others. Add to the office mix all the management stuff and you have some idea how I have spent the last 37 years. During my working years I genuinely loved whatever job I had; however, in recent years it all started to get old. One of the only things that made it worthwhile towards the end (besides the people) was the rush I felt when problem solving. It was creative. It was fun. It was challenging. However, by the time I made the decision to retire my shoulders were constantly up around my ears. I took only shallow breaths. My brow was furrowed. My hair turned gray. Okay, okay, maybe the hair turning gray was just a natural part of growing older. Still…the hair turned gray. I gained a ton of weight by stress eating, and I drank like a fish. A couple of years ago I developed a mysterious rash on my face and hands. I ignored it. All of this seemed acceptable as long as I still got a creative rush from the job. So when I had that particular epiphany last summer and realized the thrill was truly dead and gone, I knew it was time for me to retire. Because if I was not having fun, then I would not be creative. And if I was not creatively inclined towards my work tasks, then I would not be doing a good job in the future. After that the decision to retire was easy and obvious for me.
My Mom retired in her mid-70s, and then only because she had Parkinson's Disease. She loved her job. She did not retire because she wanted to and she was certainly not happy to make the decision to stop. I am still sad she was unable to continue doing what she loved and wanted to do: work. I have other friends and family who worked into their late 60s and early 70s. They did so because they loved working, or because they needed the money, or both. All excellent reasons to avoid retirement. When to retire is, like I said, personal. You will know when you are "done." We are all so different. There is no-one-size-fits-all model for human behavior. Do what makes you happy.