Life From This Point

A Blog About Retirement & Aging

A New View of Retirement

My husband, Mike, taught and coached in public schools for more than 30 years. The day he retired was a carefully planned event. The kids lined the hallways for a ceremonial farewell and his colleagues all wished him well. Exit. Finito. 

Although I was well shy of retirement age, we had plans to celebrate his retirement with a travel adventure.  This required me to leave my counseling job as well. I didn’t retire—I just quit. I left work behind with a completely different mindset than my husband. When people we met in our travels asked Mike what he did, he unhesitatingly told them he was retired.  I, on the other hand, described myself as “taking a sabbatical” or “temporarily unemployed.” I felt some embarrassment because of my age—I hadn’t earned the “right” to be retired.  But mostly I just could not envision myself never going to work again. Now, years later, “retired” is a word that still doesn’t fit for me. I don’t define myself as retired because I like working too much to contemplate leaving it permanently behind. My challenge has been to find a way to balance my love for adventure with doing the work that provides meaning and structure to my life.

What do you think of when you think of retirement?  Leaving the workforce? Or maybe just a job you no longer like? A life of leisure?  A permanent vacation? Our examples illustrate that retirement is not a one size fits all concept. And it’s not necessarily even a once and done event. There’s no “right” way to do it. Here are 3 retirement models  (and there are probably more being conceived as I write this):

Traditional retirement.  You work until you can afford to stop and then you stop.  There is a clearly defined end to your working life.  Your paycheck is replaced by a pension check or by passive income from investments. This type of retirement has declined as defined benefit plans (employer pensions) have been replaced by defined contribution plans (do it yourself 401(k) and 403(b) type plans.)

Cyclical retirement. You cycle in and out of the workforce as financial need and interests dictate. The cycles can be long or short. In this model, exits from the workforce are temporary as you take time off to travel or pursue other passions.

Semi-retirement:  This model is about finding balance between work and personal life.  The trade-off for more disposable time is usually reduced income. Some people stay in the same profession but in a different role.  Others try a new profession where the psychological paychecks are much greater than the monetary kind.  Still others just supplement their income with low-stress part-time jobs they find enjoyable.

Which is the right model of retirement for you? You can pick one or combine them. And yes, I am well aware that for many people the choice would be ‘none of the above.’ I’ll talk more about that in the next post.

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