January 17, 2020

Retirement's False Starts and Stops


A reader who offers suggestions for blog posts (which I love and encourage from anyone), dropped me a note some time ago to ask about the path to a satisfying retirement. She and her husband have been moving toward that goal for a few years now but something always derails their plans. One partner gets cold feet and decides that working longer would be good for their long term financial health. Or, the decision to retire brings the realization that no firm plan to fill all that free time exists so retirement is put off.

Another "false start" involves one partner going back to school in order to try a new career. But, soon comes the realization that studying and sitting in class for hours at a time doesn't mesh well with the desire to volunteer, go to church more often, travel, or spend time cooking. Retirement and starting a new, full time career can't work together.

So, she wonders how many almost-retirees make a few false starts on their plans as they get ready to leave their old lives. The short answer is, "Many." Like any stage of life we rarely proceed smoothly from step A to step B. Unexpected problems arise or life goals are adjusted. Just being alive means you are in a state of constant change.

With something as life-altering as retirement, having second or third thoughts is only natural. Trying to figure out how to use all that free time can be daunting. Trying to balance the desire to learn something new with the eagerness to spend time doing what you already know you love is not easy.

The last eighteen years of retirement have taught me to allow myself to change plans, direction, even lifestyle. In fact, come to think of it, I'm not sure there really is such a thing as a false start. Retirement starts when you are mentally, emotionally, and financially able to take that final step. Everything before that is just a test or a feeling out of various aspects of a life change.

So, for the person who wants to retire but can't quite cut his or her ties to work, then it is more likely you aren't quite ready. For the person who stops work and then realizes there are still motivations to have a job, whether full or part time, then there is no "failure" in satisfying that need.

For the person who is simply afraid of the unknown and needs encouragement to jump......do it. Jump in with both feet, knowing that retirement is simply a part of your life's journey that you  adjust, modify, or even revoke, as things change. Retirement is not an end, but really a new beginning.

False starts? Not really...just a different path.



20 comments:

  1. I have retired three times before I actually got around to retiring and accepting that it was time. First time I was too young, 38 (after 20 years in the USCG), second time left teaching to regain my health, the third time was after the too soon death of a relative and even then I was not really retired in my mind until I hit 62 last summer and was "old" enough to actually retire, even though I had been in and out of the workforce since 2011. Retirement now is a good thing, but you have to be ready to accept that you are retired. It is a mind shift and can be difficult to wrap your head around.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Retirement is a major shift in attitude and perception. How your life has functioned up to that point changes. Your relationship to time and money is altered.

      These are reasons why retirement doesn't always take the first time or two. As you noted life altering events, like a death, may shake your world just when you are already anticipating a major shift.

      Now that you are "official," enjoy the ride!

      Delete
  2. I enjoyed reading your article, and concur with your thoughts. Change is a part of the journey. And embracing it leads to a happier, more contented life. As well as any stage in life, retirement has no guarantees. I think it's important to release our fears and live within the field of all possibilities.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Life comes with one sure thing: death. Everything else is about adjusting to whatever comes. Retirement is no different except for the freedom it brings.

      Delete
  3. No false starts for when my husband retired, but it sure wasn't an easy decision for him. It took him a year and he didn't tell anyone he was doing it when he finally pulled the trigger. He grew up in a family who went through a lot of hard times and was brought up to always take any work that came along thus he was a workaholic his entire life starting at twelve.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. His situation was certainly not unique. Changing from being validated by a job and then having all that stop is not an easy shift for many. Some of us come from a background that has major strains of the Puritan work ethic ingrained in our DNA. Working is what we do. It is how we define ourselves.

      I know I struggled for awhile after I stopped working. I had been in the same career for 35 years. I had to figure out who I was without that label.

      Delete
  4. Thanks for the insightful post, Bob. Last Summer I got the retirement bug and my husband said I could retire the end of this year (I'm 64). I started wondering what I will do with myself. When I calculated how much my job retirement will be, it was even more sobering. He isn't retiring but works from home so we talked about traveling while he's still making money. I enjoy my job and now I have cold feet so I fit your post description well. Guess I'm not quite ready but hope when the time comes, I'll know it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You will know. When working feels like a chore and an interruption, you are getting there. When you can't wait to get home to do something that really turns you on, like a hobby or passion that excites you, you are getting there.

      Once you are comfortable with both your financial foundation and have some idea how you will fill your days, you are ready.

      Delete
  5. We had a few stops and starts at our house. DH was laid off in the recession of 2008 and then found another job, but over time it got crazier and crazier. The company ultimately went under, too. The economy around here was just not good. I worked for about five years after that, and I changed jobs three times. Same dance, except the industry was being consumed by private equity. Each job got progressively more crazy until I finally hit my limit. It was a frightening adjustment to have no paycheck but overall it worked out well. We are fine and my mental health is SO much better. Insurance was the only thing that kept me in the game. As soon as I was 18 (COBRA) months from Medicare, I bailed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Health insurance is often an important consideration as to when to call it quits. Especially for those who are too young for Medicare or don't have COBRA as an (expensive) option, staying on the job to maintain health coverage becomes a necessary step. Among wealthy countries, only America has this stumbling block to the retirement stage of life.

      You and DH experienced what so many of us do: a work environment that becomes unstable, or toxic, or just not worth the exchange of our time and energy for the check.

      Delete
  6. I was one of those people very nervous about retiring from a job I loved, so I asked for and received a year's leave to "try out" retired life before making it permanent. However, before anything was really put in place officially about my leave, my employer offered a very generous retirement incentive package to all those who were eligible, including me. The trade off was giving up my leave status -- I wouldn't be able to come back. It was like the universe was telling me to go ahead and take the leap, that everything would be all right. So I did, and it was.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know you have never regretted that decision and it was quite a wonderful offer from your employer. Not many get that option, but you were obviously ready to make the leap.

      Delete
  7. Isn't false start just another way to say "exploring" -- which is what retirement is all about, isn't it? So (as you kind of suggest) we should all reach out for false starts, and try out at least a few before we settle on our new lifestyle.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, there is nothing wrong at all with a two step forward, one step back approach until everything feels right. Trying on a new lifestyle, even in stages, is a wise approach.

      Delete
  8. I was recently standing in line at the DMV and two retired men behind me were having a conversation. One said, "I don't mind standing in line, this is the only thing I have to do today." When the day comes that the only thing I have to do is stand in line at the DMV....just shoot me. I turn 70 in July and am easing into retirement. I too have worked since I was 12. Now in my 4th and final career I'm working about 18 hours a week and teeing off by noon. By the end of my normal 3 day weekend it's hard for me to wrap my head around "those 3 days" going on and on and on. I have a retirement timeline, but it keeps getting changed. lol. I must be crazy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You will know when it is time to full disengage from the work world. It sounds as though you are really close. Just take the plunge...you are already part way there!

      Delete
  9. I retired in 2009 and it was a great choice for me. I figured out how much money from pension and social security I would receive, and decided to work two extra years to attain a bit more retirement income. Each person is different of course.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Retirement is a unique journey for each of us. Staying on the job until comfortable with the financial foundation for the future is a wise choice more often than not.

      Delete
  10. I retired two and a half years ago. I had sufficient financial resources, I no longer enjoyed my specific job (though could have shifted to a different role), I was starting to have health issues, and my husband who had been retired for more than a decade wanted me to join him in retirement so we could do things together. And I still had a very hard time deciding whether to retire. It took about two years to make the decision. I kept open options to go back as a consultant, and I maintained my work affiliation. But, as it turns out, I love retirement and now have no intention of going back to work in my field in any formal way (although I have continued to do a little academic work not for pay).

    Jude

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Betty and I were so lucky to be able to retire at the same time, so they last 19 years have been a joy. Having a retired spouse while you continue in a job must be difficult. I'd be interested in having you help me write a post about the special problems, adjustments, and even joys that come from a situation like yours.

      Delete

Inappropriate comments will be deleted