When my husband decided to retire, it was as if he heard a voice from heaven one morning saying: “Quit!” At least that’s how it seemed to me as he described how he came to the decision to turn in his resignation, “effective immediately.” He literally pushed the “eject” button on his job of seven years, and bailed out. Well, perhaps that’s a little too graphic a description, but that’s how it seemed to me, looking on in shock–and some trepidation. There was no warning. This momentous announcement dropped from nowhere. Just imagine a “thud” sound. That was it–just “plop!”

Fact is, he had already successfully completed a twenty-two year career in the US Army where he was a paratrooper who routinely bailed out of high flying airplanes–sometimes into foreign territories. That was Retirement # 1. Now, here he was, doing it again–only this time, the landing was to be very different. After life in the military, finding work commensurate with his training and experience was daunting, to say the least. For him, Security assignments seemed the most natural fit, so that’s what he pursued for eight of the eleven years of our marriage–working day shifts as a Security Officer at a large city hospital.

One day, when he was thoroughly fed up with the boredom of his routines: making rounds to check on locked doors, monitoring illegally parked cars, interceding in patient and visitors altercations with hospital staff, and answering endless questions on the same topics, he drafted his notice of intent to retire. He had just turned 62 and couldn’t wait to apply for Social Security! He could smell the coffee and feel the wet grass of his favorite golf course beneath his feet. “Sweet!” “Sweet!”

After an emotional Retire Reception at the hospital, where he said goodbye to colleagues, supervisors, and friends he had met there, the big question loomed up to confront him just as soon as the car wheels hit the exit driveway: “Okay, what now?” He was quite caught off-guard. He had not stopped to think about anything more than the leisure of retirement–the part about not having to get out of bed to go to a job. Contemplating an answer to that question was haunting, and very uncomfortable. He was clueless. He had not cultivated any hobbies, the closest “buddies” were his ex-soldier comrades who had scattered throughout the country, and all of the kids were grown and gone, too.  Cheez! What a predicament! What was a guy to do? The idea of having a plan had evaded him. Now, all he could do was hang around the house, waiting for ” Wifey” to come home from her whereabouts to fix him a meal and watch the games with him. He had way too much time on his hands! Finally, after two long, boring years, he enrolled in school. The change is remarkable! Learning is another form of work; it is far more rewarding.

Over and over again these days I hear similar stories. People seem incredibly anxious to leave the 9 to 5 gigs in exchange for an imagined life of leisure and adventure–only to find that their goal is not exactly as attainable as they imagined. Truth is, successful retirement requires intense, intentional planning and preparation. You can’t just “bail out” without a map. Retirement is an expensive journey–depending on how long you’re on the trip, so you have to be able to afford the ticket. It pays to do the research: a) How long do you expect to be retired if you start now? b) Who will you need to support? c) What’s it likely to cost you to do what you think you want to do? d) How much do you have of that cost right now? e) How much do you need in “contingency” money? e) What skills and knowledge can you “re-employ” if you need to make some money later on?

Here’s the thing: No matter what your age, you can stop at any point from doing work you don’t like, and start doing work that you do like. But, if you’re still young-ish (in your early 60’s or 70’s), healthy, and don’t have a plan for filling your days with meaningful activities, my advice to you is, “DON’T QUIT!” Be sure. Be very sure, that retirement is really what you want if you’re “clueless” on the answer to “What’s Next?”






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