Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Will This Be the Year You Retire?

All the recent talk about the "fiscal cliff" and related matters has included a lot of talk about retirement.

Talking about retirement is a little like talking about spider webs. We don't know what they are made of until we look at them closely. As a result, the subject becomes a little scary and mysterious. So let's explore the retirement a bit.

There are only a couple of different attitudes regarding retirement. Some people say, "Yup. I qualify for retirement so I'm outta here." Others say, "Gee, I don't know how to feel about retiring. What will I do with myself? All I have ever done is work. How will I fill all my time?" Another group says, "I'll never be able to retire. I have too many expenses and my income will not continue to grow. I'll keep working for as long as I can."

I belong to the first group.

I retired over three years ago. Admittedly, it was a little scary at first. I didn't know what I would do when I was no longer going to a job every day. But I made the decision, despite the unstable stock market. No regrets.

Like many things in life, we can never predict how something will play out. Marriage. Careers. It's hard to know how that new chicken recipe will taste until we actually prepare it according to the instructions. Some times we are pleased with the results. Other times we have a disappointment and probably won't make that dish again. Life is somewhat of a crap shoot. You have to roll the dice.

When I was a young bride, I knew I was way too young and immature to think about having children. It was not on the agenda, at least for the present time. People used to say to me, "Don't wait until you can afford children. If you do, you will never have kids." It was very wise advice indeed. By the time we thought about having children, we were no longer interested in staying married. So it all worked out for the best.

I grew to feel the same about retirement. You can wait until everything seems right -- the market is on the upswing, etc. But that time might not come and -- let's be frank here -- we never know how long we have. So in my case, when it seemed right, I made the decision.

But there are plenty of folks out there who are afraid to make the decision. I know some of these people. One, a great man, was a hard-working working partner in a local business. He had plenty of folks who relied on his business acumen and was busy every day with people who sought his answers to business questions. He could not make the decision to retire because of his pivotal involvement in the business. One morning a few months ago I picked up a local paper and saw his obituary. He had died at the office. Several people have met a similar fate during my years in the working community. Despite their best plans, a clean break was not meant to be. They are gone and there is nothing they can do to change how the story plays out.

Some have made the decision and regretted it immediately. They whine such statements as "Why did I quit? It was a horrible decision." What they are really saying is, "Why didn't I see it coming? Why didn't I find something to fill my time? I should have had another interest waiting in the wings but I was too busy doing the job at hand."

I doubt that anyone really knows what to expect in retirement. It's like stepping into a marriage. People can shout and persuade all they want trying to share their opinion, but the final decision is a personal one. Follow your instincts, weigh all the facts you can gather. Listen to your inner voice and then -- make the decision you feel is best for you.

If this isn't the year, then set some type of arbitrary deadline. Don't spend the next decade (or two) trudging to a job you dislike because you don't know what else to do. Start thinking about other options and at least get familiar with the idea of stepping outside of your field of comfort.

The entire process can be immensely freeing. Just imagine doing what you want, when you want. Just avoid being scared and remember that you are in charge of this decision.

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