I am approaching that Certain Age when thoughts of retirement start migrating from the back of the mind toward the front like wildebeests on the savanna. Some people proudly declare that they will never retire. Sometimes they claim that this is because they would miss the social interaction of their workplace (implying that they socialize more than they actually work). Others say that they fear that they would not know what to do with themselves in retirement – presumably because without a “boss” assigning them tasks and regularly checking on their progress they would just sit in a chair and stare at a blank wall with an equally blank mind like an advanced Alzheimer’s patient.
Then there are others who whine that they can’t retire because they can’t afford it. Well, that’s too bad, but retirement is not a “right”, you know. It is a goal that you can achieve for yourself if you put your mind to it and sacrifice for it and work hard at it for many, many years. Being retired is like becoming a top professional musician or sports star or Nobel laureate. It doesn’t just happen on its own and no one is obligated to “give” it to you – you have to earn it for yourself with your own sweat and dedication. Anyone who buys into the common myth that “Social Security = Retirement” and that this leisurely comfort is and should be “automatic” for all is an idiot, and they will be in for a nasty shock when they finally get around to running the numbers because SS was never designed or intended for that purpose.
Anyway, I have been dreaming of retirement as a Life Goal (and working for it, and saving for it) for 30-years and after all this time we are not in bad shape. I have no concerns over whether we can “afford it” or not – and I use very conservative numbers and assumptions. No, the real question is – do I really want to retire?
I am not a social person and I don’t care about the human interaction of the workplace. In fact what I love most is being home and completely alone for a day (or several). I also think that not knowing what to do with yourself without an official “job” to go to is a pitiful indication of a complete lack of imagination, discipline and self-motivation. In addition to working on numerous “personal projects” around our home, I have several places that I plan to volunteer at once my time is my own. The world is too big and too wonderful for there to be any question of “having nothing to do”.
I actually have some perspective on retirement that most folks don’t get the opportunity for. A few years ago, when I was 58, the company I had worked at for 10-years shut our facility and laid-off a bunch of people, including me. Although a little early by my own strategic plan, and therefore a little tight financially, I decided to take the long and generous layoff severance and just declare myself “retired” then-and-there. I was able to wallow in this “practice retirement” for almost a year. I did eventually go back to work though, after much anguished soul-searching, because (and don’t hate me for this) “The Perfect Job” just happened to fall in my lap right as my severance package was running out. I actually got this job on my first resume and only interview. Yeah, yeah I know – I’m revoltingly lucky – but it’s not my fault, this shit just Happens to me. I have now been at this Perfect Job for 2-years and I have just turned 61 and the old dreams of retirement are starting to become more persistent again.
I do have to report that in spite of yearning for it for 30-years, I found my “Practice Retirement” year to be vaguely unsatisfying somehow. For the first 3-months I was a maniac, running around doing all sorts of things and completing projects that had been bottled up and pending for years because I had never had the time to get to them. After that first burst of activity however (and just as winter set in), a subtle lethargy started to emerge. I found that when I had “All the Time in the World” to get stuff done, that it got way too easy to put that stuff off. Although I was never “bored” I found that I wasn’t very “productive” either – at least not as much as I had envisioned being. It also seemed embarrassingly decadent for a healthy and physically capable “youngster” of 58 to be just lying around home reading and puttering and fooling around with hobbies. It felt like I should be doing something more even if I didn’t really want to.
Now that I have been working full-time again for a couple of years, I find that I am thinking nostalgically about that “Practice Retirement” year and I am wondering if I should give it another shot soon. I have no illusions about my luck being endless and I am very sure that the next time I quit working will be my last. When you walk away from “The Perfect Job” The Universe will not hand you another one. What I have been doing is trying to pull together the “Lessons Learned” from the practice year so that I can make my second (and final) attempt at retirement successful and satisfying.
Lesson-1: I think that the first thing that I will do The Next Time I decide to retire is go to my employer and float the idea of working part-time. Actually, it would be great if this were the official definition of retirement – when you turn 60 you automatically go to 20-hours/week until you turn 70 (and maybe SS pays a supplementary stipend in this window too, which would help make SS solvent also). This gives a little money, it gives you purpose and someplace to go 2 or 3 days a week, but you are still able to slow down, “rest” more and spend more time in the other arenas of your life.
Lesson-2: I don’t really expect to be able to work PT for my current employer, so the next thing that I would do in retirement is get out there and volunteer some of my time at local places of personal interest (we have a community theater, for example, that is always looking for free help). Most importantly, I would do this quickly, within the first couple of weeks of quitting FT work. Although this had been my plan the first time, what I found was that the longer that I delayed and just sat around the house, the more inertia there was. For The Next Time I retire I will recognize this danger of falling into bad habits and make (a few) outside commitments for my time early in the process. This will also insure that I have a reason to get my ass out of the house once in a while, because I am so a-social that I could easily turn into a complete recluse left to my own natural preferences.
Lesson-3: When The Next Time gets here (probably another 2 to 4 years) I am going to set more reasonable expectations for myself. I think that part of my dissatisfaction the first time was not that I was doing nothing, but that it was just less than I predicted that I would be doing. By the time that I am 65 (the very latest that I plan to do this) I will be old enough to feel like I deserve to move slowly and accomplish less. If I have a day free of volunteer work and all I want to do is read a book and take a nap – well – that’s just fine. After all, I’ve worked and saved for over 30-years for that privilege.