Sunday, March 15, 2009

I didn’t chicken out. My retirement decision is now irrevocable.

I didn’t chicken out. My retirement decision is now irrevocable. I had the choice between a retirement incentive of one year’s salary (no benefits) and a sabbatical (a half-year’s salary and benefits) with the option of retiring or returning at the end of the sabbatical. March 15 was the deadline for the decision.

Before the financial meltdown, I wouldn’t have given it a thought—I was taking the retirement incentive. I didn’t need to hold onto that option to return.

The economic mess made me think twice. I have one of these dithering, ambivalent- about-everything personalities. I would have spent that entire sabbatical year fretting: Should I go back or not? I decided that I needed finality. An irrevocable decision is scary, but it’s a relief that a decision has been made.

If I had any serious doubts about the wisdom of retiring, they were laid to rest when I opened my work email yesterday and saw a bereavement notice: the husband of a colleague, a man I think in his late 60’s, had died. I come from one of those families where people keel over from heart disease at an early age. If genes count for anything, the best I can hope for is low 70’s. I want to use this time well.

My husband and I are both (we think) healthy and although not as sharp as we once were (or thought we were) we have our intellectual interests and the capacity to pursue them. I don’t want to spend whatever time I have left doing the same old thing I have been doing for over 3 decades. Now on to the next stage.

These "should I or shouldn’t I retire" conversations are going on all over. According to my own unscientific survey, people with partners are more likely to take the plunge. There will be 2 social security checks, maybe 2 pensions, 2 greatly diminished 401k accounts. But then as that bereavement notice brought home to me, 2 can suddenly, unexpectedly become one.

My husband and I can live happily in retirement on less money (as long as we have each other). Much of what I like to do doesn’t cost money—-reading, puttering in my garden. My one expensive taste is travel and, in recent years, my husband I have been traveling upscale (for us). He thinks we can still travel, if we scale back.

I can deal with cutting back but I can’t go back to the way I traveled in my 20’s. (Not that he’s suggesting anything this draconian.) I bummed around Europe in the late 60's staying in youth hostels and crummy flop houses. I traveled around South America in the early 70’s in rickety little buses. Now the buses have to be air-conditioned, the bath rooms in the room--not down the hall--and no lumpy mattresses. Getting a good night’s sleep can be challenge at this stage of life.

So the traveling plans may have to be scaled back or maybe put on hold, but that’s okay. In 7 weeks, I will be free!!!!


  1. It sounds like you have the lovely balance of knowing what it is you're ready to leave and knowing what you want to move toward, Karen. Enjoy the countdown--which perhaps will have some bittersweet moments?--and the time that follows. Take care, Reni

  2. I have wanted to post a response to your blog for a week now but I have just been too exhausted after work to do so and that tells me everything I need to know. I am in your position - retiring in June of this year. As a teacher working with students who have serious physical disabilities, I definitely realize that time is valuable commodity and that life can change on a dime. So I am very appreciative of what I will have going forward - a pension, a partner and hopefully, the energy both to try new things and spend more time doing things I enjoy like gardening, reading and traveling (sound familiar?). As I try to find my way, I look forward to reading and connecting to your blog.

  3. My late husband taught for 35 years at a PA State University and was happy to retire. Among our many friends and collegues who have done so, very few have had any regrets about that decision. Those who found they really missed teaching above all else have gone back to it as part time adjunct faculty at private colleges in the area.
    Most; however, are delighted to be able to pursue other interests they didn't have time for before. Some do more traveling; others become active in various organizations, pursue hobbies, write, read all the books that they hadn't gotten around to while teaching full time, and even run for public office!
    Anyone who has been engaged in a variety of interests, rather than in one narrow field based entirely on employment, is likely to enjoy his or her retirement. So, all things considered, Karen, you're in for a fine time!

  4. Reni, thanks for the support. I had hoped to retire when I was still engaged enough in teaching to have some of those bittersweet moments, but I think I waited too long. We’ll see how next 7 weeks go.

    Thanks, Barbara, for your comment. I know what you mean about exhaustion. There is a reason why we don’t see too many public school teachers/ community college teachers working late in life. (University professors with light teaching loads are in a different category altogether.)

    Susan, you’ve hit the proverbial nail on the head! Those who have a range of interests have no trouble with retirement.

    In recent years, I’ve started to view my job as getting in the way of pursuing my interests.

    My only worries are financial. Our age cohort sure didn’t expect to be hit with a 50% loss on our investments, but then if we had been paying more attention to underlying economic trends I guess this wouldn’t have been such a surprise.