Milling. It’s real. Day after day, watch the minutes of your life slip away as you obey the orders of others. Meanwhile, turning 62 can be (or seem) a long way off. What to do? For some people, retiring can be a very simple process. Others may find, however, that the decision to retire can be complicated.
My own retirement came unexpectedly. Due to unexpected circumstances, I made the choice to quit my full-time job at age 54. It wasn’t what I had planned, but I am nonetheless excited and optimistic about the future. Several variables influenced my decision to leave my career – I hope these will help you find parallels in your own life and also know when it is time to retire.
1. My physical health was a mess
The main driver of my early departure from the 8 to 5 world of work was my physical health. After 29 years as a teacher, I came face to face with spinal fusion surgery at three levels. I had had back problems on and off for a while, but by this point my pain had reached a new level.
Deep down I knew that the reason for my pain and my inability to heal enough was my job as a teacher. It’s no secret that educators make many decisions (up to 1,500 by some accounts) in a day. (“Can I go to the bathroom?” “Do we need all the questions answered?” “What time is recess?” “Can I work with a partner on this writing assignment?”) stress of so many decisions, known as decision fatigue, adds up.
Besides, I spent 7 years as a kindergarten teacher. Someone really should have mentioned that at 6 feet tall, I was over the height limit for teaching kindergarten. I am convinced that bending over to tie my shoes and applying bandages until I was nauseous was a major cause of my back pain.
I had surgery at the beginning of January. Six weeks after my successful procedure, my surgeon officially declared me ready to return to work. Ouch! It was a bad call. I subsequently communicated with him and his staff that six weeks is not enough. Every day after teaching, I would go home to lie on my ice pack until dinner time, then continue to rest until it was time to go to sleep. After a few weeks of this routine, the choice to quit my job was easy to make.
Although I love to teach, what I had was not a life so much was a existence. I just couldn’t see this scenario continuing for another 8 years.
I wanted to regain and maintain my health – and my back surgery was the ultimate wake-up call. I had no way of continuing to teach until the “official” retirement age and having a satisfying life afterwards. My decision was made.
2. My mental health suffered
In addition to my poor physical condition, my mental health also suffered. I had always been fulfilled by teaching, but I found the daily challenges more and more difficult to overcome. Especially during the pandemic, I have seen my students’ emotional and mental health needs become unmanageable. Teaching a class of 25 students is a formidable task on the best of days, but when students’ mental health is unchecked, it’s even more difficult.
Even before the operation, my evening exhaustion prevented me from doing anything other than preparing dinner in the evening. No movies with friends, no yoga classes, no evening walks. Too tired and too much to do for tomorrow. The lack of decompression from work started to wear on my attitude, and it certainly didn’t help with my stress and anxiety levels.
3. My job was no longer satisfying
Another factor in my decision to retire from my job was my lack of fulfillment. I always liked 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 wasn’t able to take the time to take care of myself (exercise, healthy cooking, etc.). The joy I derived from teaching all day was overshadowed by the strain and tension that came to me in the evening. Something had to change.
4. Our finances were manageable
My husband and I have always been thrifty. During our nearly 30-year marriage, we have always practiced sensible spending habits. So when this decision started to creep into my subconscious, I knew it was possible. That doesn’t mean my husband was with me from the start, though. He took some convictions.
It gave us great confidence that I will start receiving my teaching pension in just 18 months. In the meantime, I will continue to work to earn money — I just won’t work full-time as a teacher.
In fact, as a contract worker (i.e. not collecting health benefits), I can bring in more money than when I was also collecting benefits. Now that my husband’s job provides our family health insurance, I am free to say yes to the many lucrative short-term, part-time jobs available to me. Some of these jobs include scoring scholarship applications, teaching parenting classes, editing manuscripts, and writing fabulous websites like this!
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 they were far too young to die. In fact, my father was exactly six months to the day from retirement.
The main thing is that I don’t want this to happen to me. I have way too much to live to be stuck in a job that is draining my life. I am willing to make sacrifices and use my talents to creatively finance my life in exchange for more freedom and a better quality of life. And guess what? You can also!