I find myself at a strange intersection on my life’s highway.
At 53, many colleagues my age, particularly those who have been teachers right out of college, are doing all they can to drive their annual earnings as high as possible so that they can use their three highest income years as the basis for their retirement pensions. Indeed, while they are working themselves out of the building, I am settling into it. They are counting down their remaining days; I am counting on being around for a while.
To be honest, the thought of retirement scares me a little.
This is not to say that I am wary of a life of leisure. On the contrary, I would very much appreciate a schedule that is free of a sense of monetary responsibility. Wouldn’t it be grand to wake up early and be able to do exactly what pleases you, no matter the cost? I’d go to snooty garden centers and not care about buying spring bulbs on sale. I wouldn’t waste time comparison shopping for anything – instead, my days would be spent considering everything I might imagine except actually paying for them. If this is retirement, by all means, sign me up.
The reality of retiring, however, is not quite this carefree. Most of my friends who are considering it are simultaneously obsessed about the part-time job they’ll need to supplement their income. In some cases, the part-time job appears considerably more challenging than the cushy job they want to leave.
Take my old colleague, Frances, who was a long-time counselor at a school a couple of jobs ago. She had been on the job almost 40 years. One day, she spoke at length about how she was going to work retail to supplement her pension after she stopped working full time. She told me about how long she’d have to be on her feet at this new job, and how much overtime she would have to work during the holidays.
“Gosh,” I said, “sounds like hard work.”
“Yes, but at least I’ll be r-e-t-i-r-e-d,” she spelled happily.
I remember not being entirely convinced that her retirement would be that great. Why would she want to quit a job that had become easy while she was at the top of her pay scale? Retirement paid considerably less, and the job to make up for the deficit took far more effort than if she just stayed employed.
I know another friend, also at the top of his pay scale, who is looking to retire after 30-plus years in the classroom.
“They say to count on half your working income,” he told me recently. He’s thinking of going into rehabbing homes when he retires.
I wish him the best, of course, and I’m positive he’ll be a success. But if I’m being completely honest, I can’t see how a second career in construction is any way to spend my leisure years. One of the things I really appreciate about teaching is that family holidays and summer months are nonworking days. Home repair, however, is just the opposite. People mostly hire remodelers on their weekends and on vacation. Essentially, he’ll be working while everyone else is taking time off.
Personally, I’d keep teaching, which happens to be the reality I face. I will not retire from teaching any time soon as I’m new to the field with less than 10 years of service. In fact, by the time I have accumulated enough years to be sufficiently vested in my pension, I will be quite advanced in age.
And that’s just fine with me, because the second thing that terrifies me about retirement is that I know too many people who die when they stop working. And isn’t it curious that you never hear of anyone dying on the job that they hate? It’s because any kind of work has to be good for you; at the very least, work will keep you alive.
So I say, keep working. Work if you love it, work if you don’t like it. Work if you’re happy, work if you’re sad. Because there is no guarantee that retirement will offer leisure or happiness. You may as well make money easily while you’re worrying about it.
Dan Ho, a native of Agat, is a writer and teacher and holds a Ph.D. in indigenous studies. Follow his garden adventures on Instagram @HoandGarden.