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.
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.
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.
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.