This is part one a two part series that explores the emotional, practical, and financial aspects of retirement. Are you tired of working but ambivalent about leavening the workforce? You are not alone, many people would like to start the next phase of their life but have concerns over what that will look like.
Work as our identity
Most of us spend the better part of adulthood in the workforce. Many people stay in the same organization and, even the same role, for decades. Deciding to leave is one of the greatest decisions of your life. There are significant financial and emotional consequences of retiring from your job. People are living longer and longer, so trusting you have a large enough nest egg to live on is a critical concern. Even with savvy financial planning, faith that you have enough money is required.
Emotionally, we are very much tied to our careers as a part of our identity. For example, in some countries, if you ask someone what they do, they respond with their hobbies. In the USA, we typically reply with our profession. Leaving that, knowing we may have several decades to fill, can feel overwhelming. To gain more insight, I reached out to recently retired Adreon Hubbard.
Insights from a recent retiree
SF: How did you know it was time to retire?
AH: I retired from Baltimore City Public Schools as soon as I became eligible. Most of the joy had been removed from the job due to the scripted, flawed curriculum, too much testing, the focus on “data” at the expense of meaningful and engaged learning, and micromanagement straight out of a Dilbert cartoon. I appreciate all I learned and was able to contribute over the years, but it was clearly time to go. In addition, I wanted the freedom to make my own schedule and work on projects I cared about.
SF: How did you hone in on what you wanted to do during your retirement?
AH: In the last 5 years of my teaching career, I was the school Greening person. I ran recycling, the school garden, a monarch rearing project, nature field trips, tree plantings, and more. I learned that although I don’t have a science background, I could still make a difference.
My interest in promoting native plants to restore habitat actually started by accident 22 years ago when I bought my house. An enormous Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus) tree, an extremely aggressive non-native invasive, had colonized the backyard, sending up dozens of Ailanthus tree seedlings. When the tree was removed, the seedlings disappeared immediately–wow! Habitat loss caused by invasive species like Ailanthus is one of the reasons we are losing biodiversity globally at an alarming rate. I hope to learn enough to help educate people on actions they can take in their yards, like refraining from using herbicides and pesticides and planting native plants that support native wildlife. People and nature have to learn to co-exist, or there won’t be people anymore.
Some of my other interests are family genealogy, social/racial/environmental justice, art/illustration, writing, working with kids, humor, and rapping (yes.)
SF: How did you pace yourself? Was it frustrating to not do more with your hobbies while working?
AH: As a teacher, I had the summers to myself and usually did a lot of yard work then. I mostly got interested in nature work in the last 5 years of teaching, so I wasn’t frustrated by a lack of nature work opportunities before then.
SF: Any advice you would give to a woman retiring?
AH: If you don’t like your job or need a change and you can afford to, go for it! If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably self aware and into self care, so you’ll probably be able to do well in retirement.
“Make goals, stay connected socially, stay physically active, and have a purpose. When you catch yourself worrying and stressing, remind yourself: I’m retired–does it really matter?”
One thing I would add: figure out what keeps you cheerful. I tend to be a little on the gloomy, serious side. It’s easy, with all the world’s problems, to get discouraged. Working with elementary students, I had an obligation to model being cheerful and positive. I’d like to find ways to keep working with kids, partly as a reminder to be cheerful. Oh, and a sense of humor goes a long way!
What if you are more uncertain about retirement?
Adreon was clearly ready to retire and armed with a plan! Her community is certainly better for it. You can read more about her work here (page 17).
But what if you are more apprehensive? Stay tuned, next week’s post will delve into how to decide the right time, consider financial factors, and how to structure your day once you do retire.