Did I retire at the right time? It has been just over a year now since the date of my retirement. I have seldom found myself thinking about whether I should have retired when I did. I suppose the fact that I do not find myself plagued by the question implies the answer. If I am not consumed with regret about retiring, it must not have been the wrong time to retire.
I am among those who have been fortunate to have a choice in the matter. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I was able to choose to retire. I was not forced out of my job because of a physical or medical condition that would have prevented me from doing the work. I did not have to leave my job due to the economy or downsizing. I could have continued working in my job for another five or ten years, perhaps. At the same time, I felt enough confidence in my financial position that it was not necessary for me to remain at my job for the sake of increasing the size of my retirement nest-egg.
Whether retirement happened at the right time would be a different kind of question if I had had no choice about when it was going to happen. Being able to choose whether to retire puts the focus of the right-time question on the choice and not so much on external circumstances.
But, first things first. Before deciding when to retire, I had to decide whether to retire. Two or three years before I retired, I accepted the concept of retirement. I do not remember when this happened. The timing is not significant—whether it was two years more or less is not important. What matters is that at some point, I began to think about retirement as a real option for me rather than an abstract state of being that happened to other people. I began to conceive of retirement as a period of life when employment—for the purpose of earning a living—would no longer be a necessity.
Retirement is not the same as unemployment, which is not having a job when one desperately wants one. (I know about unemployment, having lived through that experience for a period of time.) Nor does retirement mean never working again. Getting paid for doing work does not necessarily disqualify a person from being “really retired.” Paid work during retirement, however, is not about the money, although extra income is always welcome. Work, like anything else that I choose to do as a retired person, is about enjoyment of life. In retirement, the living has already been earned.
When I realized that I could conceive of myself becoming a retired person, I started thinking about when I could make that happen. The decision to retire, it seems to me, is a two-step process: first, you have to accept the concept of your own retirement; second, you have to select a retirement date. The date may change, but ultimately you commit to a retirement date and follow through.
Selecting a retirement date and sticking to it can be complicated. I enjoyed my job, and I was always interested in doing it well and finishing what I started. Part of job satisfaction, for me, was completing the assignment, seeing things through to the end, taking care of loose ends. My job entailed multiple assignments, each at different stages of completion at any one time. There was hardly any possibility that a time would come when all assignments would be finished before a new one started. Even if a date of “completing my work” were possible, predicting when it would occur was not. I could not select a retirement date based on when my job would be done.
I considered several other factors in selecting my retirement date. I wanted to give my employer a lot of lead time. At first, I told my employer that I was thinking about retirement in about two years. That two-year window slid forward a bit, and so my employer’s advance notice was actually more than three years before my final retirement date. In deciding when to retire, it was important to me to give my employer the opportunity to do some transition planning—ideally, to hire a replacement while I was still around to provide training and mentorship.
Another factor was my age. When I passed age 60 by a few months, I had outlived my father. Fortunately, my mother lived into her 80s, so any genetic disposition that I may have toward an early demise is tempered somewhat by the maternal contribution to the mix. Nevertheless, I am aware of the brevity of life. If I were going to enjoy the status of retirement for a period of more than a few years, then I could not delay too long in selecting a retirement date.
An additional significant factor was one that I could not predict two years out. The character of my workplace began to change in subtle ways. Due to retirements (and one shocking early death), my colleagues—the people that shared my history and experience on the job—began to disappear. Management changed. Institutional knowledge eroded. Experience seemed to lose value day by day. Progress was not always for the better. There was a gradual deterioration of the work culture. The decline and fall of my workplace made it easier for me to stick with my final retirement date. Easier, but in a sad way.
Money is always a factor. In deciding when to retire, I had to consider whether I could afford to become a retired person. If I gave up my income from work, would my wife and I have the financial resources necessary to enjoy retirement together? For us, the question has no certain answer, because we are not excessively wealthy and we do not know what unexpected costs the future might bring. Nevertheless, we could count on retirement income from defined-benefit pension plans. Our generation may be the last to have this kind of pension, and so we feel fortunate. It was a calculated financial risk for me to retire when I did.
I weighed these and other factors and then gave my employer a firm six-month final notice of my retirement date. I do not remember having any second thoughts during those last six months of work. In the year since my retirement began, I have not suffered from retiree’s remorse, and I have lost no sleep regretting my decision to retire. So far, so good. It was the right time.
Some other stuff for later,
- 84When I mentioned my impending retirement, a retired friend advised me: “Make sure you have a plan.” The reason why this is important, he confided, was so that I would not end up spending my days in retirement sitting around in my underwear watching television. It seemed like good advice. …
- 66Robert C. Atchley, an expert on retirement, aging and spirituality, has described retirement as a transitional process consisting of distinct phases. The phases of retirement that have been identified by Atchley and others provide a framework for thinking about the process of retirement and understanding the transitional nature of retirement.…