As I muse about and begin to plan my own retirement timing and process, I have been quizzing Rob about how he made the decision to retire when he did, and whether he felt anxious about it. I didn't know him then; we didn't get together until nearly two years after he retired.
He tells me that, unlike me, he had no angst about retiring. He was delighted to retire, and has fully embraced and enjoyed the retirement lifestyle ever since. He has never missed his workplace, even though he worked for the same company for more than thirty years. He often tells stories about people and past events at work, but his main orientation is to the present.
There are a number of ways in which Rob and his situation are different from me and my circumstances. For one thing, Rob saw his employment as "work to live" whereas my approach can be described as "live to work." Rob worked in the transportation industry, and his job, although it came with responsibilities and safety concerns, was not highly stimulating. His job did not help him self actualize or define his identity, but rather took time away from the pursuits that were his main interests. When he had an opportunity, he did take on special roles, like shop steward for the union, and health and safety representative. But for the most part, boredom was the defining feature of his job.
In contrast, although I have a rich and satisfying life outside of work, for most of my career, my job also has been something I have greatly enjoyed. My most recent position has been an exception to this, but in previous years, my job has been so interesting and fulfilling, and such a big part of my identity, that I would have chosen to do certain parts of it even if I was not getting paid. In some ways, it has been the dream job, and I know I have been very lucky. But the very long hours my work has demanded have been problematic and stressful, especially during my most recent administrative role.
Another way in which Rob and I are different is in our characteristic approach to life. Rob lives in the present, enjoys life as it unfolds, and handles troubles as they emerge, whereas I am a planner. I plan our holidays, our visits to friends and family, and the events of our weekends. I have spent a lot of time thinking about and planning each life transition, such as moves, new jobs, and becoming grandparents. I also plan in order to forestall certain predictable troubles - e.g., financial planning. So I suppose it is not surprising that when Rob hit retirement age just at the same time that his daughter graduated from university, it seemed obvious to him that he should take early retirement. He recognized that his work was hard on his health, and he knew he could afford to retire. So why not?
In contrast, I am thinking it through from every angle. Will we be financially secure? Where will we live? What are the advantages and disadvantages of retiring soon, retiring gradually, or postponing the whole thing for awhile? Have I finished with my career, or will I keep a hand in it? What will I do after I retire, and what will we do together?
Of course, I know that I will love retirement. I will have more time to spend with our grandkids, with friends, and with Rob. I have writing and art projects that I have been deferring for too long. I want to travel, and do more skiing, hiking, camping, gardening, and so forth. I want to become more active in the community. Really, all I have to do is look at Rob and how much he enjoys his time as a retiree to know that retirement will be great, and we will enjoy our time together.