Getting to the big decision

For the past 10 years I’ve received a letter once a year from the Ontario Pension Board indicating that my earliest date for retiring with an un-reduced pension would be October 27th, 2008. I’ve taken that at face value and just thought that’s when I’d retire. When work felt rewarding I’ve kept that date somewhere in the back of my mind. In times when work’s more frustration than fulfilling I’ve counted the days left until I could retire. I began giving serious thought to this in the early spring of 2008 when I realized that to put this into motion I needed to actually write my Director a letter indicating my retirement date, and that once that letter was submitted there was really no turning back.

I’ve always worked – since I had my first summer job at the age of 12. What process did I need to go through to come to the decision to write and submit my retirement letter?

QUESTIONS FOR THE CRONES:

  • How did you decide that this is the right time to retire?
  • What did you take into consideration?
  • Where did you look for guidance in making this decision?

My working history

I had my first job when I was 12 years old and worked as a junior counselor in a day camp. Each day I’d be up and waiting on the corner before 8 a.m. for my ride (a Mom taking her kids to camp) to pick me up and take me to work. Camp went until 4 o’clock and I’d be home by 5. That was the same summer I was taking my Bronze Medallion swimming course; the test was after work one day and I fell asleep in the car on the way to the test which didn’t make swimming laps and laps and laps any easier. Loved that job; I came home with $5/week for the first three weeks and then, recognizing my ability as a counselor, I got a raise and it was $10/week. I don’t even want to think about what that meant on a hourly basis. At the end of the summer I had saved up $45 and bought my mother a beautiful pink eyelet cotton bathrobe with my earnings.

Other than get out of London, Ontario I didn’t really have any solid plans for my future. I somehow ended up with a B.A. in Social Sciences and my first professional job was as a social worker. I learned a great deal from my first job. The most important thing I learned was that although I might put people first, government and other bureaucracies don’t necessarily work the same way. I was fired from that job for “not representing the philosophy of the Orange County Welfare Department.” which meant that the total pay-out on my caseload in the Aid to the Disabled Program increased over my first 5 months on the job because I thought it was my job to let all of my folks know what they were entitled to that they weren’t getting. They fired me when I was 7 months pregnant with my first child and so looking for another job at that time just didn’t make any sense at all. I gave birth to a beautiful son, did some part-time arts/crafts teaching, and life continued to unfold. Indeed, getting fired from Orange County Welfare became a very good recommendation; said something about my own sense of ethics I guess.

Diversions in the path:

Two years later I found myself with both a son and a daughter, a husband that – how to say this graciously – wasn’t working out, and the need to figure out how to be able to leave him and support my children. At the time I was working in a doctor’s office and although he encouraged me to stop fooling about and go to medical school – which, if I ever did have a dream of what I wanted to do, would have been the ticket – but that wasn’t going to let me gain marital independence quickly and I had no way really to fund all of those years of study while raising two children myself. Teaching. Seemed like a reasonable thing. I’d always liked to teach things, it would only take one more year of study, and it seemed like a good choice for a single parent. So teaching it was.

I spent nearly 20 years in classrooms (not counting the years as a student), teaching everything from behavioural and gifted classes, to graduate teacher training, to high school politics and drama (in that order). Thirteen years ago – and with a third child to love – I made the move from actual teaching to working at the Ministry of Education.

Cost-benefit analyses:

Some of my years at the Ministry have been fulfilling and exciting. Some not so much. As governments changed and management changed I was either heartened to think that much could be accomplished or disheartened and marginalized. About seven years ago, during a particularly unhappy spell at work, I started, for the first time, to think seriously about retirement. I remember sitting at my desk and counting out the days left in my working life; it was a very large number with three digits but at least it held out some hope for the future. Years passed, work “picked up”, and still the thought of one day being free to think and do and work at things that are important to me kept lurking around the edges.

As the years turned into months I started to think more seriously about this. Each year I’d get a missive from the Ontario Pension Board indicating that October 27th 2008 was the earliest non-reduced pension retirement date. In the back of my mind I’ve always held on to that date, thinking that once I was “clear to go” I’d leave. I signed up for retirement workshops, but mostly those focused on financial planning (good information but too late to do anything about it) and a kind of in-depth, day-to-day planning that’s exactly what I am hoping to leave behind. I wrote draft letters to my Director; some days those were short and to-the-point and other days they included my lists of frustrations and grievances.

Body messages:

I started paying more attention to the messages that my body was giving me. I guess that one of the hesitations around retirement is its connection to aging. Alright, truly it’s more than aging; it’s about being old. I’m not going to dwell on the ways in which our bodies seem to turn against us as we age because that’s far too gruesome and depressing an exploration. Suffice it to say that one of the new physical realities of my life is that I don’t have as much energy as I used to. That said, it’s only fair to say that my energy level has generally been at the supercharged level; I’m grateful that the identification of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder came after I was mostly done with formal schooling because from an early age I haven’t been able to do only one thing at a time or limit the number of things I do at any given point in time by anything other than my own interests. Today I have to think more about where my energy goes because I just don’t have as much and certainly can’t sustain levels of high energy output in ways I could when I was younger.

Will I be poor?

Many years ago I accepted the reality that I didn’t function well without some real financial security. I stayed away from business ventures because the very thought of worrying, month to month, about whether or not I’d be able to support myself and my children was more than I could bare. I traded the possibility of making a lot of money for the security of knowing precisely how much money I’d have each month. It wasn’t already as much as I wanted, or needed, but I was much happier with the security of working within a fixed budget. Although I had access to all of the formulas about how much my pension would be in at least a theoretical way, it took me a long time before I actually got the answer from the Pension Board that I needed and this information gave me a real framework on which to work out how much finances would be an issue in making this decision to retire. I’m still not exactly sure what the dropped income is going to mean, but what I do know is that with a combination of some budget-tightening and some income generation I should be alright. Notice that I’m still not sure. I’m prepared to take the risk though, knowing that the worst that will happen is that I’ll have to work for income more than I thought or that I’ll have to simplify life more than I thought.

That’s likely the last thing I’m going to say related to financial planning. There are lots of other places to go for more information about planning for your financial future after retirement and I’ll leave that to the finance experts.

Finally deciding:

One of my colleagues is retiring the end of this month. Her willingness to share information about the process – the paperwork, the forms to complete, the timelines – has been of great benefit. One of the key things she warned me about is that it takes close to 6 months to get all of the paperwork in order and so that put a read mark on my calendar for when that letter needed to go to my Director. In the end I submitted that letter with the same kind of thinking that I used when I jumped off a crane attached to a bungee chord; you can’t procrastinate forever and sometimes you just have to take the jump and trust that you’ll enjoy the flight. So I waited for a particularly happy day while keeping an eye on the calendar and, without writing any final drafts at all, just typed up a letter and hit “send”. Done! Oh my … and now the real thinking about this begins.

 

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5 responses to “Getting to the big decision

  1. Laurie Krever

    I know what you mean about making the decision and doing the paperwork. For me, it was would I retire that June or the next. But my every three year evaluation was coming up. In teaching, if you declare your intention to retire that June, you are spared an evaluation. Sounded like a plan to me. So, I went into the principal’s office to pick a date for my supposed evaluation. Instead, I pulled out of my bag, 2 champagne flutes and non-alcoholic fizzy and we toasted my retirement. To this day she says that’s the most unique retirement declaration she has received.
    Once I made the decision, the paperwork was just a formality. But yes, it really does take 6 months.
    And then, life began.
    Cheers to all my sisters out there1
    Laurie

  2. Sylvia Bereskin

    What a great story Laurie. I wonder how many people have anything that can even come close to that. Wish I’d been there!

  3. Ah, the decision to retire – so different for someone who has no pension, worked in the private sector, tucked a little away here and there, but knew that they would be living on what they had been able to accumulate, but would be subject to the vagaries of the stock market for ongoing income. I remember well the day when the decision came. I had spent the last two years of a very happy and satisfying 17 year career with a high tech company in a job which was neither satisfying nor happy – helping determine which of many very capable employees would be laid off. One day, after many stressful days (not to mention having developed high blood pressure, heart palpitations, working 12 hour days, and allowing my weight to creep up and up), my husband said to me: “You know, you can retire if you want – we have enough put away if we’re careful” – I met with my VP and said “any chance I could be one of the layoffs in the next round?” He laughed, said not a chance, but agreed to do anything he could to make my last six months at the company as good for me as it could be. I retired six months later, spent two months in Mexico with the husband, then moved back to Toronto from San Francisco and started the business of retirement. The first few months were very busy – buying a house, moving in, seeing my kids and grandkids as much as possible – but I was still unhealthy and overweight. I then started my first retirement project which was: get healthy – no more excuses. I worked out and watched my diet (added incentive was my son’s upcoming wedding, where I vowed not to be the heaviest person there!) – and managed to drop 45 pounds. I now enjoy my 4 – 5 aquafit classes a week at the Central Y, and am probably now in the best shape I’ve been in my life. There are lots of other things that fill my days, which would take another page to describe, but bottom line, this is my #1 priority to make sure I’m around to see my grandchildren grow, and spend time with my kids and mother who tended to be rather lower on the priority list when I was the career exec.

  4. For me it was a change of guard where I worked and I knew my passions and hopes were not theirs. it was time to leave and re-invent myseld at York U and the mInistry and finally as a consultant. I block vacation time and time with my husband and then I am open to work that is compelling, makes a difference and brings me in contact with warm and interesting people. I am blessed. bev

  5. Sylvia Bereskin

    You are one of those very rare people who has the strength to not only see their dreams but the courage to recognize when they need to move on because they can’t get closer to that dream without a move. Many years ago a wise Principal I had, after completing her monthly performance review of her nanny (don’t ask!) and recognizing that the nanny was not living up to the standard set for her, she responded to my asking her what she would do by saying: “lower my standards.” That advice has often been much appreciated. Your example has taught many of us, though, that when it’s about a passion or a hope there’s only the real standard and you need to live by that. Thank you.

    I wonder how many women retire because they recognize when it’s time to move on, and how many women are spending how many years waiting for retirement so that they can finally move on? Would be interesting to know.

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