At the end of this month, I will celebrate my one-year retirement anniversary. I have enjoyed quite a few days of the endless weekend during this year. More than a few times, however, I have found myself wondering if maybe I should not be doing this. I could have stayed on the job longer. Many men and women continue their working lives into their late 60s or even into their 70s and beyond if they are able. I sometimes feel just a little bit guilty about ending my career at 63.
In spite of these tender misgivings, I feel fortunate that I had a choice about whether to retire. For many—too many—retirement is not a financial possibility due to the absence of employer-sponsored retirement plans and lack of retirement savings. Those who need to continue working in order to build up their savings for retirement do not have the option to retire at 63.
But, should I feel guilty because financial necessity did not dictate a delay in my retirement date? Even if the need for more money were not driving me, should I feel guilty for giving up the job that I was capable of doing for years to come? Did I throw in the towel too soon? Did I chicken out?
I had opportunities and worked hard. I made choices in my work-life. I chose a career that was lower-paying than what I might have earned based on my training and experience, but it had a decent retirement plan, which might not have been available to me elsewhere. My wife and I lived within our means, paid our bills and put away savings. Being careful about money throughout our working lives made retirement possible for both of us at relatively young ages. What do I have to feel guilty about, after all?
I feel that I have earned the right to retire. I need to remind myself of this whenever I feel the urge to lament my early towel-throwing behavior. The alternative to retirement—staying on the job longer—would not have been any solace to other people who have no choice in the matter. Nor would it have ultimately meant greater success at work—unless success must be earned by simply not stopping until you cannot go any longer.
Continuing to work for the sake of not giving up has a dark side, though. Life does not last forever; nor does good health. In making my decision about when to retire, I could not help but think about my father, who died of a heart condition at age 60. Makes you think. I am not genetically without hope of continuing to be around for a while longer, however, considering that my mother lived into her 80s (after retiring at age 62).
As I approached and passed age 60, one recurring nightmare for me was the thought of keeling over at work, suffering a fatal heart attack or a debilitating stroke. I am retired now, so I don’t have to worry about that nightmare. I realize, of course, that a heart attack or a stroke might still get me, but at least it won’t be happening at the workplace.
Retirement is a day-by-day process. I am hoping that the twinges of retirement guilt that I have felt more than a few times this past year will gradually fade away and that by the end of year two I will wonder why I ever felt them.