When I decided to take early retirement, it was not a choice that I made lightly. Actually, not to put too fine a face on matters, I waffled about the whole decision until my very last day – hours! – of employment. A staff person at the pension office had sat down to a one-on-one with me, showed me charts, and explained my options. But I was absolutely terrified. I am the sort of person who can agonize for ten minutes over which of two tea towels to buy; how could I possibly make a decision of this magnitude, one that would affect the rest of my life?
The pleasant and efficient woman whom I saw at the pension office was succinct; displaying financial charts that demonstrated how much money I would lose by continuing my employment past a specific date, she said, “I really can’t advise you to wait.” Yet still I equivocated. I asked advice from everyone I knew, even people I really didn’t like. With one exception, I was instructed, “Take the money and run.”
In the end, that was the advice I took – but not without serious preparation. Knowing that my finances were about to plunge for a long, stringent eight months before I could begin collecting Social Security – if I even decided on that option – I stockpiled. I hoarded pet food and paper towels, toilet paper and tissues, shampoo and deodorant and toothpaste. I stockpiled dish and laundry detergent, cat litter and coffee and canned goods. If Armageddon had struck just prior to my retirement, I would have been prepared. I took my car into the shop and had mechanics repair everything that could be repaired. I bought new tires. I ditched my outdated cell phone and bought a better one before initiating a much cheaper carrier. I haggled with my internet service provider for a better rate. I got rid of my overpriced landline and installed a service that carried a home phone over my wireless at half the price.
I prepared at the office, too. I was an Administrative Assistant for a large office, a job I frequently referred to as “Caretaker Personality for the Asylum”. My coworkers had come to take for granted any number of tasks that I regularly performed that fell far outside the normal responsibilities for an AA. And since I had inherited messes at several jobs throughout my career, I was determined to leave my own work in the best possible order for my successor. So I wrote detailed job manuals, updated multiple databases, and cleaned out files.
And finally I partied, accepted cards and congratulations, and left.
Dickens already has a monopoly on that “best of times, worst of times” phrase. But it pretty much applied to retirement, I discovered. I missed the camaraderie of my coworkers, but not the stresses of my job, nor the unreasonable demands of petty power despots. For the first time in living memory, I felt rested. Personal errands no longer piled up like welfare babies. And when family needed me, I was available. I could help relatives pack to move and prepare their new home and walk their dog. When someone was rushed to the hospital, I could be there quickly. Retirement gave me the ineffably precious gift of time.
But, living alone, I was often agonizingly lonely. It took me months to become accustomed to the long stretch of evening hours spent solitary, and there are times still when my loneliness is almost unbearable.
A decade before my retirement, I’d ridden the morning bus to work on an absolutely horrendous winter morning, riding through plummeting temperatures and thigh-high snow, while a bus buddy spoke of her upcoming retirement. It would be marvelous, she said, to not ever again drag herself out to slog through a snowstorm to the office. The envy I felt for her was so strong I was surprised when no one asked me where I got the green face paint! So now, taking retirement myself, I anticipated others’ envy. Envy, but not resentment.
Resentment was the one reaction I hadn’t expected from my circle of acquaintances. The snide remark, the veiled insult – those came as a shock to me. I’d worked full-time since I was 18, yet I was given to understand by some (not many) that retiring early on the pension I had earned over 37 long, weary years at just one of the jobs I’d held essentially made me a leech on the neck of society – an indolent and disgusting slug.
It’s hard to shrug off that sort of remark; guilt and shame are always my go-to emotions. Yet this time, just this once, I managed to dismiss the nasty remarks.
After all, I consoled myself, tomorrow morning those same acquaintances would be struggling through rush hour traffic to deal with unsympathetic supervisors and backstabbing coworkers…while I would be sipping my morning coffee on my patio, lazily penning words for my blog.