Retirement Guilt

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.

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Never-ending Weekend

Although I actually enjoyed my job before I retired, I was afflicted for many years with Monday Morning Dread, a sinking sensation that usually crept up on me sometime late Sunday afternoon.  It was the sensation that the weekend was over and that I would soon have to shift into work-mode.  On Monday morning, I would have to dress in work-clothes and engage my work-mindset.  I would have job responsibilities to take up my time: meeting deadlines, answering the phone, replying to email, completing assignments.  Some Monday mornings were worse than others, of course, but regardless of the actual demands of the job, all my Sunday nights were plagued by MMD.

Now that I am retired, there is no reason to dread Mondays, but nevertheless, the affliction persisted during the first months of retirement.  I would get the creepy feeling on Sunday evenings that I needed to prepare myself for whatever dragons might appear on Monday morning.  But now there are no dragons on Monday morning.  I did not so much enjoy having to face dragons, but now I am missing them.  At first, it would take me most of Monday to get over phantom MMD.  That is one reason why retirement has been a period of adjustment.

Phantom MMD persisted for months after the beginning of my retirement, but it is fading now in the last months of year one.  Retirement has displaced MMD with the slightly euphoric sensation of the Never-ending Weekend.  Monday mornings might just as well be Saturday mornings, given the lack of dragons.

Retirement, actually, has much in common with weekends.  For the non-retired, weekends provide recreational time and opportunities to have fun, but weekends are also when the non-retired person must do all those things he put off doing during the work week because he did not have time for them.  Occupying much of the weekend to-do list are routine household chores and yard work.  Weekends are the only time available for the non-retired person to do all the minor repairs and improvements that beset the happy-homeowner.

In retirement, you can do this stuff seven days a week!

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