Deciding when (or even if) To retire

Deciding when (or even if) to retire is a very personal matter and there is no one size fits all template.  Instead of advice, may I suggest some questions you might want to ask yourself.  If you are already retired, it might be fun to look back and try to remember what your own answers were to these questions at that time.

What are some of your reasons for continuing to work?  Research conducted by Elizabeth Fideler found that the top ten reasons given by adults “past retirement age” for continuing to work (in order) were:

  1. Satisfaction, find meaning in work
  2. Use abilities, skills, training
  3. Help others, contribute, make a difference
  4. Enjoy clients, patients, students, or customers
  5. Love my work
  6. Enjoy colleagues and co-workers
  7. Enjoy good health, high energy
  8. Mentor younger workers
  9. Keep busy, get out of the house
  10. Need the income

Note that “need the income” came in at number 10.  Surprised?  Ask yourself which reasons you relate to the most.

How do you feel about your current job? Here are five questions to ask yourself.

  1. Every Sunday night, as I anticipate returning to work, do I look forward to finishing tasks, seeing friends and colleagues, and perhaps learning something new?  Or do I dread another week of tedious tasks and difficult people?
  2. What do I love the most about my current job? What personal and social rewards do I get from it? What would I miss the most?
  3. What do I dislike the most about my current job?
  4. What would I change about my current job if I could?
  5. How much of my hesitation revolves around a lack of clarity about what I would want to do with my time if I were not still working?

Pay special attention to the last two questions.  #4. What would I change about my job if I could?  Many folks yearn for more flexibility about when and how much they work. Ask yourself if there may be opportunities to go to part-time, pursue a phased retirement and/or to eliminate those parts of the job that are least satisfying to you. And #5, addresses concerns you may have about what you would do with your time. If so, you may profit from starting to build a “Curious List” of anything you might want to explore or learn or do someday.  You may surprise yourself (as I did when I made one myself) at the number of interests you have.  Go for quantity.  You will need a long and diverse list of activities you might pursue that can last not just for weeks, or months, but quite likely for decades. 

You may want to consider the signals you are getting from others at work and the opinions of those close you.

  1. What are some of the signals you may be getting from your boss, colleagues and customers regarding your continued service?
  2. What do your already-retired friends, relatives and colleagues think?
  3. What role is your partner or extended family playing in your decision?  What pressures, subtle or overt, are you sensing?

#1. What external signals are others at work sending your way such as being passed over for promotion or training opportunities or not being asked for advice. An article in the Wall Street Journal “The case for quitting your job- even if you still love it” calls these flashing yellow lights.  #2. You are unique but can learn a lot from people you know and trust. And #3. Is your partner or family urging you to retire? Ideally the decision should be yours as much as possible. You don’t want to blame your partner if things go wrong, as tempting as that will be.  It is important to understand the motivations behind your partner and family’s advice and it is worth a lot of conversation sooner rather than later.

And in closing, here is a much shorter quiz for deciding if you are ready to retire.

  1. Do you have enough?
  2. Have you had enough?
  3. Do you have enough to do?

That sums it up nicely, don’t you think?

Pamela Karr is a Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselor specializing in career counseling and a Certified Professional Retirement Coach.

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