August 18, 2021

Deciding to Retire

Deciding to Retire

The small stack of books decorating the corner of my desk tells my story: The Psychology of Retirement, What color is your retirement?, Blue Horses poems, Life is in the Transitions, and my Bullet Journal. Four years of retirement, with its ups, downs, and zigzags, and I’m still a work in progress.

But first things first – and looking back to why I decided to retire seems like a good place to begin my blog. Even now, I’m surprised that I found my way here. And I’m grateful – having this time is a privilege. But, as it happened, retirement wasn’t a decision I was looking to make; in fact, I was doing my best to avoid thinking about it. Yet with a few moments of quiet grace, retirement found its way to me.

It wasn’t because of an offer of another position, a buy-out package, or other circumstance that could force your hand. It was more like kismet – the combination of finally understanding what retirement meant to me and then daring to believe I could do it.

***

It was about five years ago, while still engrossed in my work, that the notion of retirement was starting to churn below the surface. Turning 60 that year was a milestone — one that brought an obligation to stop avoiding and start thinking about a future on the other side of my career. Yet, rather than feeling excited, I was disquieted and confused. I’d done a good job of saving and even hired a financial advisor to guide my future. But retirement was an ending, and adages about “new beginnings” rang hollow. On the other hand, the career where I’d thrived and that had sustained me for some forty years was changing, growing more demanding and somehow less fulfilling, and I didn’t feel like I still fit in.

Where was the path forward?  I was uncertain and hesitant to make a mistake, so I turned back to the familiar: my work, which had always required a singular focus. So, I kept pushing and pushing myself.

Until a sudden pull came along from someone for whom change seemed to stand still – helping me understand that perhaps I shouldn’t stand in its way.

***

It was a typical day in the office when a colleague stopped by to chat about an upcoming retirement celebration. But this was no regular celebration — it was in honor of the firm’s longest-tenured employee, who was retiring after sixty-seven years. We talked about her remarkable accomplishment and our own long-ish tenures as well. Afterward, my colleague asked, “So, are you going to follow in her footsteps?” I managed to smile but felt as if I’d been hit with a bucket of ice water.

I couldn’t seem to shake the chilly feeling and figured it was just my old fears about retirement surfacing; after all, I wasn’t done yet. But during the next few months, I came to understand that it wasn’t that I feared retirement. I was afraid of not retiring – because I’d begun to realize that retirement meant something different to me now. I certainly wasn’t done yet, but I wanted time for other pursuits, to reach for other accomplishments, perhaps become more of myself in the years ahead. And I didn’t want to wait to start until it was too late.

Insight into what retirement might hold for me was the first step, but the next step – taking some kind of action – would require a leap of faith. Instead, for months at a time, I found myself tugged back into my work life, mired there.

Until a blizzardy day in March. I was working peacefully at home, snow mounding on the windows in the pin-drop quiet, when I was startled by a random idea. I realized that I had two fundamental choices: keep reinventing my work and lock in my value to the firm, or retire and reinvent myself.

While that may sound like simple logic, it was a complete revelation to me. Even the sun radiating off the piles of snow that illuminated the room seemed to be cheering me on with my own firework salute, as the excitement about retirement rushed in and the push-pull ebbed away. I had given my law firm career all I had, and I was now ready for more. I submitted my notice the next day, and after seven months of phasing myself out and my successor in, I retired.

***

I realize this is only my story and that there are as many reasons to decide to retire as people doing it. Since then, my life has seen its share of hits and misses, the expected and the unexpected. And I relish it.

I wish the same for you: to find the promise of new beginnings as your career ends and your retirement – whatever it means to you – starts.

© Judith Nadratowski 2022

Photo by Kristaps Grundsteins on Unsplash