Episode 424(177) - When Should I Retire ?
This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.
This is an update of the very first podcast I did to launch Retirement Talk. It was almost nine years ago so even if you heard it you have undoubtedly forgotten it. It might still have value for you. And if you never heard it you may find it stimulating concerning one of the most basic questions of retiring: when should I retire?
Glen never got a chance to retire. He died at age 39. He worked with me in Alaska; taught physical education and was a living example to his students of good health and exercise. He was fairly short and very stocky: all muscle. He came home late from work one winter night. "Where's your truck?" his wife asked him. “I don’t know”, he said, “I walked home”. He didn't remember. Now this was winter in Alaska; it was cold, dark, icy, and snow packed. He had left his truck at school, pulled his collar up around his neck; pulled his stocking cap low and walked 7 miles straight up the side of a mountain.
Three months later he was dead. My friend Glen: brain tumor. No warning, no prevention; no rhyme or reason. Of course, things like this happen all the time. You probably have a similar story. Lots of people put off retirement. Lots of people put off retirement until it is too late.
When to retire is not a question that is always easy to answer. Many of us live as if we don’t know we're going to die. Oh, I know, we know we are going to die but we ‘live’ like we don’t know it. We get a job, go to work, and work until we drop in the traces. We work like we think we are going to live forever.
When it comes to work - and retirement - and death, I sometimes wonder just how closely people are examining their lives. Judging by their actions it appears that many people rarely consider what they are doing with their life. Socrates old quote sticks in my mind, "The unexamined life is not worth living".
I'm reminded of two other friends in Alaska who met a similar fate as Glen. The first was a science teacher who worked until around 60. Then he and his wife climbed in an RV and headed south to circumnavigate the continental US for a few years. They got as far as Southeastern Alaska. Car accident. He died. Ruth, a neighbor of mine, also a teacher, saved and invested for years to make sure retirement would be great. She talked, she planned, she dreamed of life after work. Then she retired. Within two years she died - cancer. She was barely fifty years of age.
In l987 our employer, the state of Alaska, offered my wife and I an early retirement incentive option. This was in the mid 80’s and the Prudo Bay oil boom was over. People were leaving the state. Schools needed to cut back on staff. At the ripe old age of 44, I was one of the “older” teachers, meaning I was at the top of the pay scale and they wanted to get rid of people like me, and my wife.
Now, I was one of those people who claimed to have “loved” my job. During my early years of teaching, I just hated it when the school term ended. The kids would leave and I would be left standing in an empty hallway wishing I could just teach every day - forever. But by the time I turned 44 I felt like I knew teaching. There was another big world out there of which I knew very little.
My life experience had probably been very similar to many of you up to this point. As a child I had played and studied under supervision of parents and teachers. As an adult I had worked under supervision of various bosses or supervisors. I had never been “free” to direct or create my daily life as I saw fit. At the ripe old age of 44, I found myself with the option of doing that very thing.
Of course salary increases kept coming and I was encouraged to continue on this common pathway throughout adulthood. Next year I would make more money. And the next year I would make more money. I started ask myself, "How much money is enough?" When will I be able to say and do what I want with each day of my life?
Working to maintain a livelihood is a very good reason to keep your job. But what if that motive is absent? What if you have enough money to satisfy your needs? How great are your needs? Do they expand with every paycheck or salary raise? Were we kidding ourselves about how much we loved our job and really were working for the money? I mean if we quit working and receiving a check do you suppose we would still go in every day and help out for free? We needed to answer all of those questions.
Well, we sat down and answered them. Then we retired.
Perhaps you really would rather do nothing more than working at whatever carrier path you are now doing. Then you have no business retiring. Count yourself as one of the blessed. But if you find yourself dreaming of doing something other than working then Retirement Talk is for you. Brenda was 41 when we bailed. What did we do with our new lives? What could you do with yours? What have others done with theirs? That is what Retirement Talk intends to examine. We just want to think about it.
I'll try to follow this up with another podcast or two that directly relates to this topic. One a week. Until then...
This is Retirement Talk.