The Grind. It is real. Day after day, watching the minutes of your life tick by as you do the bidding of others. Meanwhile, the age of 62 can be (or seem) very far off. What to do? For some people, retiring can be a very straightforward process. Others may find, though, that the decision to retire can be a complicated one.
My own retirement came out of the blue. Due to some unexpected circumstances, I made the choice to leave my full-time employment at age 54. It wasn’t what I’d planned, but I’m excited and optimistic about the future nonetheless. Several variables influenced my decision to leave my career — hopefully they will help you find parallels in your own life and know when it is time to retire, too.
1. My Physical Health Was A Mess
The primary driving force behind my early departure from the 8-to-5 work world was my physical health. After 29 years as a teacher, I found myself face to face with a three-level spinal fusion surgery. I’d had back trouble on and off for a while, but at this point, my pain had reached a new level.
Deep down, I knew 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 accounts) decisions within a day. (“Can I go to the bathroom?” “Do we need to answer all of the questions?” “What time is recess?” “Can I work with a partner on this writing assignment?”) The stress of so many decisions, known as decision fatigue, adds up.
Additionally, 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’m convinced that bending over to tie shoes and apply band-aids ad nauseum was a major cause of my back pain.
My surgery was at the beginning of January. Six weeks after my successful procedure, my surgeon declared me officially ready to go back to work. Yikes! That was a bad call. I’ve subsequently communicated with him and his staff that six weeks is not enough time off. Every day after teaching, I went home to lay on my ice pack until dinner time, then continued to rest until it was time to go to sleep. After a few weeks of this routine, the choice to leave my job was an easy one to make.
As much as I love teaching, what I had wasn’t a life so much as it was an existence. I simply 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. There was no way I could keep teaching until “official” retirement age and have any kind of satisfying life afterward. My mind was made up.
2. My Mental Health Was Suffering
In addition to my poor physical condition, my mental health was also suffering. I’d always been fulfilled through teaching, but was finding the daily challenges increasingly difficult to overcome. Especially through the pandemic, I saw the emotional and mental health needs of my students become unmanageable. Teaching a class of 25 students is a formidable task on the best of days, but when student mental health goes unchecked, it’s even harder.
Even before the surgery, my exhaustion in the evening prevented me from doing anything beyond cooking dinner in the evening. No movies with friends, no yoga class, no evening walk. Too tired and too much left to do for tomorrow. The lack of decompression from working started to wear on my attitude, and that certainly didn’t help with my stress and anxiety levels.
3. My Job Was No Longer Fulfilling
Another factor in my decision to retire from my job was my lack of fulfillment. I’d always loved being a teacher, but due to the above reasons, I was no longer satisfied with my job. I was constantly stressed out, not sleeping well, and not able to make time for the self-care I needed (exercise, healthy cooking, et cetera.) The joy I took away from teaching all day was overshadowed by the tension and strain that came home with me at night. Something had to change.
4. Our Finances Were Manageable
My spouse and I have always been frugal. During our nearly-30-year marriage, we’ve always practiced reasonable spending habits. So when this decision started creeping into my subconscious, I knew it was possible. That doesn’t mean my husband was on board with me from the beginning, though. He took some convincing.
It gave us great confidence that I will begin receiving my teaching pension in only 18 months. In the meantime, I will continue to work to bring in money — I just won’t work full-time as a classroom teacher.
In fact, as a contract worker (one who doesn’t get health benefits), I can bring in more money than I could 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 and part-time jobs available to me. Some of these jobs include scoring scholarship applications, teaching parenting classes, editing manuscripts, and writing for fabulous websites like this one!
5. I Couldn’t Get ‘Carpe Diem’ Out of My Mind
Life is short — cliche but true. I lost my father and my brother many years ago, when each was far too young to die. In fact, my father was exactly six months to the day away from his retirement.
The bottom line is that I don’t want that to happen to me. I have way too much living to do to be stuck in a job that is sucking the life out of me. I am willing to make sacrifices and use my talents to creatively finance my life in exchange for more freedom and a higher quality of life. And guess what? You can, too!