The grind. it’s real Day after day, you watch the minutes of your life pass as you fulfill the commandments of others. Meanwhile, the age of 62 may be (or seem) a very long way away. What to do? For some people, retirement can be a very simple process. However, others may find that the decision to retire can be complicated.
My own retirement came out of the blue. Due to some unexpected circumstances, I made the decision to leave my full-time job at the age of 54. It wasn’t what I had planned, but I’m still excited and optimistic about the future. Several variables have influenced my decision to give up my career – hopefully they will help you to find parallels in your own life and know when it is time to retire too.
1. My physical health was a mess
The main reason for my early exit from the 8-to-5 work force was my physical health. After 29 years of teaching, I faced a three-stage spinal fusion surgery. I had intermittent back problems for a while, but at this point my pain had reached a new level.
Deep down I knew that the reason for both my pain and my inability to heal sufficiently was my job as a teacher. It’s no secret that educators make many (up to 1,500 by some reports) decisions in a day. (“Can I go to the bathroom?” “Do we have to answer all the questions?” “What time is break time?” “Can I do this writing assignment with a partner?”) The stress of many decisions, known as decision fatigue, adds up.
I also worked as a kindergarten teacher for 7 years. Someone really should have mentioned that at six feet tall I’ve crossed the line for teaching kindergarten. I’m convinced that bending down to tie my shoes and applying band-aids ad nauseam was a major cause of my back pain.
My surgery was early January. Six weeks after my successful procedure, my surgeon officially declared me fit for work. Oops! That was a bad call. I then informed him and his staff that six weeks was not enough free time. Every day after class, I would go home, lay on my ice pack until dinner, and then continue to rest until it was time to sleep. After a few weeks of this routine, the decision to quit my job was an easy one.
As much as I love teaching, what I had wasn’t life as much as it was existence. I just couldn’t imagine this scenario going on for another 8 years.
I wanted to regain and maintain my health – and my back surgery was the ultimate wake-up call. There was no way I could continue teaching until “official” retirement age and have a satisfying life after that. My decision was made.
2. My mental health suffered
In addition to my poor physical condition, my mental health also suffered. Teaching has always been fulfilling for me, but the daily challenges have become increasingly difficult to master. Especially through the pandemic, I have seen my students’ emotional and mental health needs become unmanageable. Teaching a class of 25 students is a daunting task on the best of days, but when the mental health of the students isn’t controlled, it’s even more difficult.
Even before the operation, exhaustion in the evenings prevented me from doing anything other than cooking dinner in the evenings. No movies with friends, no yoga class, no evening walk. Too tired and too much left for tomorrow. The lack of decompression from work was starting to take a toll on my attitude, and that certainly wasn’t helping with my stress and anxiety levels.
3. My work no longer fulfilled me
Another factor in my decision to retire from my job was my lack of fulfillment. I’ve always loved being a teacher, but for the above reasons, I was no longer satisfied with my job. I was constantly stressed, didn’t sleep well, and couldn’t make time for necessary self-care (exercise, healthy cooking, etc.). came home with me at night. Something had to change.
4. Our finances were manageable
My wife and I have always been frugal. Throughout our nearly 30-year marriage, we’ve always practiced sensible spending habits. As that decision crept into my subconscious, I knew it was possible. But that doesn’t mean that my husband was on board from the start. He needed some convincing.
It has given us great confidence that I will be on my teacher’s pension in just 18 months. In the meantime, I’ll keep working to make money – I just won’t be a full-time homeroom teacher.
In fact, as a contract worker (someone not receiving health care benefits), I can make more money than I could if I also receive benefits. Now that my husband’s job supports our family health insurance, I can freely say yes to the many lucrative short-term and part-time jobs available to me. Some of these jobs include evaluating grant applications, teaching parenting classes, editing manuscripts, and writing for fabulous websites like this one!
5. I couldn’t get ‘Carpe Diem’ out of my head
Life is short – cliche, but true. I lost my father and brother many years ago when both were far too young to die. In fact, my father was exactly six months to the day from retirement.
The bottom line is I don’t want that to happen to me. I’m way too busy to get stuck in a job that’s sucking the life out of me. I am willing to make sacrifices and use my talents to fund my life creatively in exchange for more freedom and a better quality of life. And guess what? You can also!